By a Luton NEU member
In November 2023 hundreds of students at Luton Sixth Form College walked out of their lessons and held a protest in support of Palestine. This was not an act of ‘gesture politics’ but targeted direct action at the college over the issue of their ties to Leonardo – one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers, responsible for the creation of Apache helicopters.
On the day of the event, the college response was minimal – students were not prevented from leaving and members of the National Education Union (NEU) within the college were permitted to stand out near the protest, which was taking place on college grounds, with the agreement that their presence was in a safeguarding capacity. Shortly after, however, the student council lost access to their email account and were told they were being disbanded so that they could focus on their exams.
The student organisers, one of whom was a member of the student council, claim their dismissal was a term earlier than normal and intended as a response to the walkout. This led to the organisers to apply further pressure, including setting up a social media page and distributing a petition calling on the college to end the relationship with Leonardo.
Following the walkout, the principal of the college held a debate with two of the student organisers, on local radio station, Inspire FM. During the debate, it was announced that the college had suspended links with Leonardo ‘until further notice’. This is a big win for direct action, with the student organisers claiming they would continue to apply pressure to make the severing of the link permanent.
Luton is not the only college that has links with Leonardo, – Yeovil College is another – and the issue exposes a gap in the policy of the NEU. Though the NEU takes strong stances on issues of international solidarity, it currently lacks a policy calling for complete demilitarisation of education – which would include a call to end links like those between colleges and arms manufacturers like Leonardo. Left activists in all unions, not just the NEU, should lead a wider campaign to end the complicity of schools and colleges with arms manufacturers.