“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!--Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!”
In under a month the political landscape has completely changed. Before 1oth November, trade unionists could look you in the eye and grumble 'we can't take action now, we still need to win the arguments first.'
Just try telling young people to be patient... Us activists in Education unions have been watching with total admiration as occupations spread around the country, and school, college and university students have walked out of classes to attend inspirational days of action, bringing cities to a standstill.
These actions were mainly called from the bottom up, since the 10th November demo, by activist groups and spontaneous movements, whilst the leadership of the NUS has been trying to play catch-up to the mood.
Students have organised their own weekly assemblies and all occupations are democratically run. Many journalists have noted the level of democracy at the occupied universities, and listened in awe of their debates, and hoping to see their action catch on. As Paul Holmes, fellow UNISON NEC member rightly says:
"All trade union branches should be inviting students to a branch meeting and trade union activists should visit University demonstrations and 'sit-ins'. We should show mutual support."One of the things we're doing successfully at London Met is building on the unity between staff and students (see our 'Save London Met' banner with all three union logos and our continued support for their occupation). Rather than remembering 1979, the student occupations I've been to have been discussing 1968, and slogans like 'Students of the world, ignite!'
And whilst us trade unionists are constantly reminded of the anti-union laws to keep us from taking 'wildcat' action, tens of thousands of students have been walking out of classes, risking suspension from school or college.
Some students had to break open gates to join demonstrations in recent weeks. Others had to climb over gates and face down threats from head teachers. They've been 'kettled' and charged by police, beaten and then vilified by the media. And still they march in their thousands, defying authority in a way that is so natural to young people.
Today I attended my first Higher Education Service Group Exec meeting, and tomorrow is my first National Executive Council... I wonder if the inspiring students movement will stir our 'labour leaders' into action.
Whatever happens, I'll see you on 'Day X'.