The bosses are clamoring to know when schools will reopen, so that parents can return to work. It is teachers, not the Tories, who care about the safety and education of children. This is why we need to put workers in control.
The Tory government has repeatedly shown that they are prioritising profits over the safety of teachers, the health of local communities, and the education of children.
At the start of the pandemic, schools were closed due to the threat of the virus. But rather than using the lockdown period to implement the necessary changes to make schools safe, the government twiddled its thumbs.
The NEU [National Education Union] was clear: In order to prevent schools from becoming major vectors of transmission, class sizes had to be decreased; more staff needed to be brought in; exams had to be reorganised; and preparations were required to ensure that online learning would be accessible to all children.
All of these measures could be easily paid for out of the profits of big business and the expropriation of the super-rich. Unsurprisingly, the Tories have no interest in such a plan; and so nothing was done at all.
Logic of profit
In reality, the bosses and their government do not see schools as centres of education, but as daycare for the children of workers. Reopening schools, therefore, would allow working-class parents to be sent back to work en masse. This was the logic behind prioritising Early Years and primary over GCSE and A-level students.
When schools opened in September, teachers did the best they could. But with average class sizes of 30-plus, the idea of social distancing was a cruel joke. As a result, the inevitable happened and COVID cases skyrocketed.
Between the September opening of schools and the October half-term, infection rates in 11-16 year olds increased 50 fold. By December, half-a-million students were self isolating.
Teachers vs Tories
In response, at the beginning of January, the NEU called for Section 44 to be implemented with union backing. This is a legal protection in the Employment Rights Act, which entitles workers to walk out if a workplace poses a risk to their health and safety.
If any staff member faced repercussions, the NEU promised that an official strike ballot would follow. Large numbers of staff refused to go into schools as a result, forcing another government U-turn.
To be clear: teachers did not take this action because they don’t want children to be educated, but because the government has refused to implement the necessary measures to make schools safe. Those who care about the education of our children and the health of our communities are the teachers, not the Tories.
All of this could be avoided if education workers were in control of schools, deciding when they are safe, and given the power and resources to put in place the measures required to ensure this. But instead the situation has been inflamed by the actions of the Tories and the profit-seeking bosses that they represent.
The Labour leadership has acted shamefully, with Starmer refusing to back teachers in their struggle for safe schools. We therefore call on grassroots activists in the labour movement to show solidarity with NEU members by raising the following motion in their Labour and trade union branches.
Model motion: Support teachers in the struggle for safe schools!
This branch notes:
- That fully reopening schools would put teachers, pupils, parents, and communities at huge risk of exposure from COVID.
- That those in Early Years settings are the most at risk, having been forced to remain open despite the dangers of transmission.
- The shameful lack of support for the teachers’ unions from the Labour leadership, who refused to back the NEU’s call for the closure of primary schools until after the Prime Minister had announced a national lockdown.
- That the government has consistently refused to engage with organisations representing education workers’ and with the advice of SAGE.
- That, as a consequence, education workers, pupils, and their families have been put at risk, with an infection rate amongst teachers that is 333% higher than the general population.
- That now – as in September, and June before that – teachers and their elected representatives have been proven correct in their demands to make education safe
This branch resolves:
- To demand the immediate closure of Early Years settings to all but vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers who cannot work from home.
- To demand that the Labour Party leadership support and push for the uptake of the NEU’s 10-point plan for the safe reopening of schools – including the procurement of public buildings and re-engagement of staff who have left education, in order to enable smaller class sizes.
- To demand the immediate provision of laptops and broadband for all 1.8 million pupils who currently have no access to online learning.
- For the above measures to be carried out under the democratic control of teachers’ and education workers’ unions.
- For the above to be paid for out of the profits of big business and the expropriation of the wealth of the super-rich, who have seen a massive increase in their fortunes throughout the pandemic.