school students get organised

Tali Janner-Klausner spoke to us about the new London School Students’ Union

How did LSSU come into existence?

A group of school student activists from Edinburgh had already set up a group, and a loose group of school students down in London discussed the idea and agreed that it will be increasingly important for school students to organise in the next few years. We held a meeting in early February to discuss the need for a School Students’ Union and what issues we should be campaigning on. We also had a member of the Edinburgh School Students’ Union come down to talk about their group and campaigns, and about the student movements in Europe.

What precedents are there for such an organisation?

There are strong student unions across Europe, this is no new idea – in Lithuania, Norway, France and in Spain, where 90% of school students are members of the powerful Sindicato de Estudiantes. They recently organised mass walkouts against cuts and privatisation brought in by the Bologna process – 96% of school students walked out in October in protest to these attacks on their education system. Sindicato de Estudiantes also organise on broader political issues, as we would do. They organised an 80,000-strong protest in January against Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Furthermore, in France, school students joined in the January 29th general strike, and have held huge protests against the government’s proposed ‘reforms’ of France’s prestigious teacher training programme – these would see huge funding cuts, and the course brought down to one years instead of three.

What issues will LSSU campaign on?

School students should unite to campaign against cuts and school closures, and to stand in support of staff. We will also work with student campaigns in FE colleges and universities against tuition fees, as higher education should be available to all, not just those who can afford it. Privatisation is a problem facing increasing numbers of school students. So-called Public-Private Partnership schemes (PPPs) are being pushed forward by New Labour, whereby school buildings and grounds are sold off to a private company to be rented back by the school itself. These companies are then completely unaccountable and need no previous experience working in education. The schools are run solely as a profit venture, so of course situations arise where, for example, students have to pay for photocopying or can’t do retakes of exams because they are not considered ‘economically efficient’. It is disgraceful to see schools being run as businesses instead of for our wellbeing.

What do you think of the existing structures meant to represent school students?

Well school councils are a farce, everyone knows that. We need a real, democratic representation for school students that would be a force to contend with – on national issues, but also in individual schools. At present, for example, if a school wanted to stop teaching certain subjects, or to take on a PPP scheme, the school council would of course be powerless. But a School Students’ Union group could threaten walkouts, could apply real pressure on the school and provide a way for teachers, school students and parents to work together on important issues.

Do you think that the anti-war movement shows that school students can also play an important role in protests in society at large?

Absolutely. Young people have historically been very active in important social movements, as in May 1968. The walkouts over the war in Iraq showed that school students can and will take mass action, and can be very effective and militant organisers. More recently, Britain has seen a wave of university occupations in solidarity with the people of Gaza. A fighting union for school students could grow into a powerful mass movement, as we have seen recently across continental Europe.

To find out more about the LSSU, contact londonssu@gmail.com or 07800 921828

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