Youth on the move

A staggering 4,000 students left their school, college or university at midday on Wednesday March 19 to join forces in Manchester for what was an unbelievable demonstration of youth militancy. Swathes converged on Albert Square from every corner of the city, and proceeded to march through the centre for around three hours, stopping traffic on major city routes for most of the afternoon and briefly occupying Piccadilly central bus station. Young people aged from eight to 28 held their banners high, rallying fellow students into the streets, building the demonstration at each step along the way and denouncing the so-called 'war on terror'. Police ended up in a bizarre cat-and-mouse game, unable to predict the next destination of the young activists. From Albert Square, where the police were led to believe there would be a rally, the students marched on, blocking Oxford Road and stopping traffic into and from the main universities. Three hours later mounted police hemmed in around 500 of us near the entrance back into Albert Square - a number were arrested or injured in scuffles with the police. When asked why he could not cross the police line to see his parents, one 13-year-old boy was told: "We've decided you have to be kept here due to the possible threat you pose to public order." March 19 acted to dispel the myth that young people's participation in the anti-war movement is not political, but rather a ploy to 'bunk off' from education. The organisation and political sophistication was impressive. Lenin once noted that youth act as the barometer of struggle, and Wednesday's demonstration of self-organisation and militancy by a layer of previously inactive young people indicates a sizeable shift from the pernicious apathy rife amongst students not so long ago. Yet this has not come from above. The official National Union of Students, which had cancelled an anti-fees march scheduled for the same day in order to avoid a clash, was nowhere to be seen. One problem, however, was that poor stewarding and facile politics by sections of the British left allowed some elements of the event to go sour. The Workers Power youth front, Revolution, encouraged people to vandalise public transport and phone boxes. Although a few comrades attempted to stop this, the unexpected size of the demonstration made stewarding by socialists difficult. This meant that Workers Power, supposedly working class partisans, were able to discredit the march and alienate support. We must demonstrate to youth and WP comrades that these are not the tactics of working class partisans, but the antics of anarchism. But there are far more important lessons. Youth are on the move. They are looking for politics. Left papers were eagerly taken, and school kids debated with students, workers and left activists. We must fully engage with the young people who have embraced the anti-war movement as their own and win them to the cause of the working class. James Bull