A while ago I came across a reference to Graham Stevenson’s essay on the late history of the Young Communist League. It features a section on communist organising amongst school students.
In 1968, the National Union of Students admitted full-time students over 15 years old to join the national union directly. This was instead of the normal situation of being a member of a university union which then affiliates to the national body. In 1971, the NUS convened Area Conferences at which they debated setting up a School Students Union. In Oxford, 85 people attended the conference. The union was established in 1972 and was dissolved sometime after 1978, Graham isn’t clear on exact dates.
He also mentions the Schools Action Union.
This interests me because I was involved in the ‘National School Student Union’ revival project in 2010. I had no idea we were repeating an initiative which had an established history.
In Cherwell School the established student council was primarily concerned with the organisation of the school prom, it had no power or budget beyond that task. This situation persisted despite the best efforts of a sympathetic teacher who helped us out where they could.
I first came across the London School Students Union in September 2009 with a girl called Tali. At some point that year I must have gone and seen Tali, I definitely remember seeing her in a pub and being shown back to Victoria station by a drunken student called either Simon or Dominic (?). In 2010, a school student in London called Jules Mattsson was suspended for ‘bringing the school into disrepute’ and attempting to form a branch of the union. I drafted a letter protesting the suspension which was supposed to have been sent to his headteacher. I don’t know whether it had any effect or not.
When the 2010-2011 student protests came around I organised a small union group in Cherwell. The Anti-Cuts Alliance called a big march through Oxford in late 2010. After the march lots of students got together to discuss bringing the movement forwards. One group of students went to one cafe and another group went off on their own. The other students formed an organisation called the Joint Protest Group. Meanwhile, a bunch of students agreed to form student union groups in their schools. Cheney had a small branch for a while, then it died, and there was one very enthusiastic person from Warriner school in Bloxham, and of course there was Cherwell. That was about as far as it went.
The Joint Protest Group called a protest on the 1st December 2010, which was duly attended by Cherwell and Cheney students who both staged walkouts. Because of this action the protest group was seen as the central organisation for the student movement in Oxford. It was made up of self-appointed delegates along with local members of the Socialist Workers Party.
At Cherwell we had a meeting, held a vote and elected Robin Coleman as our delegate, but I don’t think he was ever invited to any of their meetings. I was heavily involved in the Oxford Education Campaign and the rest of the student movement so after a while people just assumed I was a member of the Joint Protest Group.
With the exception of Cherwell none of the delegates to the protest group had built any organisation in their respective schools. As soon as the protests stopped, the Joint Protest Group disappeared completely, along with the Oxford Education Campaign. These organisations lived and died in the movement.
I tried to revive the Oxford Education Campaign in the 2011-2012 term, but had little success. At the very first campaign meeting around 180-200 students turned up, and at the last meeting we had just 3. I went on the national protest on the 9th November last year. The remnants of the student movement were outnumbered by police and it was a walking kettle, it was not inspiring.
The first focus of the Oxford Education Campaign was Vince Cable’s visit to Oxford in October 2010, he eventually cancelled the visit after advice from police. That was a proud moment: Vince Cable was too scared to come to Oxford because the students would riot if he did. In the future when anybody asks why tuition fees are so high, at least I can say that I fought it. Yes, we lost, but we didn’t lose without a fight.
At the high point of the student movement, we had mass meetings of 200-300 people, and there was a national protest in which the Conservative Party headquarters were attacked and trashed. The student movement was quite special. Now, the NHS is slowly being privatised and there were a few protests, a brief occupation of the Primary Care Trust offices, a candle-lit vigil, an ‘awareness-raising’ run with two doctors. Lots of community actions, but the (feeling of) movement isn’t there.
Here is a photo of the meeting of the National School Students Union on the 15th April 2011:
You can see me in the back left. At the moment the organisation is mostly led by members of the ‘Socialist Appeal’ trotskyist group, they have a newspaper called Militant Student.