Activists at the College of North East London (Conel) in Tottenham won a major victory last week when they kicked the military off their campus.
The army had set up a recruitment stall at the college during enrolment. But protests by workers and students forced college management to agree that the military would not be invited back during enrolment next year.
Ben Jones is a UCU union member at Conel. He told Socialist Worker, “When we discovered the army on our campus we organised a meeting with UCU and Unison union members to discuss it, which was really well attended.
“At our school staff meeting – which around 500 workers attended – people were very angry,” said Ben.
“Some workers pointed out that we are the only country in Europe to recruit people at 16 years old.
“The recruitment sergeant was offering students a £5,000 bursary to enable them to do a course – but at the end of it they would be expected to commit to four years in the army.
“We see it as a grooming process. As soon as you sign on the dotted line you will be chased up. And it is targeting students at their most vulnerable.
“If students turn up at enrolment and don’t get on the course they want, the army is there to offer them an alternative.
“It’s trading on the relationship of trust the college has with the students, which horrified everybody. The students wouldn’t go to the army themselves – so the army comes to them.”
New Labour is bogged down in imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and military recruitment in schools and colleges is a major issue.
Students, teachers and parents are increasingly concerned that young people are being specifically targeted to join up with misleading information.
The NUT teachers’ union passed a motion pledging to campaign against military recruitment in schools at its conference this year.
The UCU lecturers’ union overwhelmingly voted for a similar motion at its annual conference.
Ben says workers at his college were particularly concerned about the false impression that army literature gives to young people.
“The glossy brochures do not talk about the fact that going to war means killing people. Nor do they mention the lasting impact on those who join up,” he said.
A recent report by the Rowntree Trust condemned the army for using misleading propaganda to recruit young people. It found that recruitment of non-officers is mainly targeted at young people living in poorer communities and that many joined “as a last resort”.
The report describes how army recruitment literature “glamorises warfare, poorly explains the terms of service and largely omits to mention the risks”.
Ben said, “We produced a leaflet explaining why the army isn’t a good career option for students.
“The military breaks people down and then sets them adrift – so many people who have been in the army end up in prison or homeless.”
Ex-soldiers are the largest occupational group in the prison system – and their numbers have doubled in the last four years.
The homelessness charity Shelter found that two thirds of the people it helped in 2001 had been in the army.
Some 20 percent of 16-23 year old women who join the army are sexually harassed. And according to the army’s own figures, 10 percent of new recruits experience bullying within the first 12 months of joining the army.
Conel’s management was forced to back down over military recruitment, the success was celebrated by other trade unionists in the area.
Haringey TUC chair Keith Flett said, “We congratulate the UCU and Unison members at the college for taking a stand and ensuring that educational priorities were reinforced in this situation.”
The success at Conel will be an inspiration to the many people who are fighting military recruitment at their schools and colleges around Britain.
“This is a major victory for us,” said Ben. “We’re now planning to set up a Stop the War group in the college.
“Everyone who has been involved in the campaign will know about the Stop the War demonstration in Manchester on 20 September.”
Another UCU branch committee member at Conel added, “We have asserted our right to take a political decision as trade unionists on a national issue, not just over pay and conditions.
“This is an issue of principle. We are questioning the connection between the state and education.
“Teachers should have the right to work independently and not be obliged to back up the state.”