Schools Safety Fiasco: Politcal parties gamble with our childrens lives.
Schools Safety Fiasco: Political leaders gamble with our childrens lives.
There’s so much conflicting information and advice about Covid.

Infact that much that you would be forgiven that it is a specific government tactic to cause confusion.

Advice – U turn – different advice – U turn – repeat.

Covid.

New strain of Covid.

New new strain of Covid.

What is certain is that there is a huge and deeply worrying rise in Covid cases, hospital admissions and deaths. And this is prior to Christmas Day festivities. Yes more mixed messages and more confusion.

What is also now undoubted is that schools and education facilities have been a breeding ground for the virus. It’s likely that it always was, but some reports indicate that the new strain is more prevalent among school children.

While children may only have minor symptoms or in some cases none at all, they can still carry the virus which is then literally killing older adults they come into contact with.

Prior to the Christmas break some schools were reporting that 30% of teachers and other workers were absent with Covid related issues.

Since then the curve across the whole U.K. has risen.
But don’t take my word for it, listen to SAGE who on New Year’s Eve, published statistics that said the R rate will not drop below 1 while schools are open.

This advice was actually presented to the government 9 days previous. It has been supported by academics at Imperial College London and other scientific professionals.

So that’s it then. Schools are dangerous. Dangerous for teachers, teaching assistants, cleaners, caretakers and other low paid staff, and dangerous for the families of every single student.

So that’s it right? Shut schools until the virus is being contained better.

Sort of.

More mixed messages.

The argument presented by government to keep schools open is that of the detriment a lack of education or a broken education for our kids will result in.

This is an argument that outside of Covid, we would all agree with. However, the problem has arisen from the government’s spectacular failure to find a way to continue to safely educate our children during this pandemic.

Many in working class homes don’t have effective wifi, technology or even just a quiet space for children to sit and learn. Online learning is great if your child has their own room, a laptop and a good wifi signal, it’s not so great if they don’t.

What support structures have the government put in place for children with learning difficulties? Or young people with disabilities? Where is the guidance on providing safe, remote learning for all of those who may struggle to access it.

The current situation was predictable yet the gap between no learning and safe learning has not been effectively addressed. If it had our kids, their teachers and all education workers would not have to put themselves at risk of death in schools, colleges and universities across the country.

Although this situation isn’t the same for all, Harrow and Eton are shut. They won’t send their kids to school, just ours.

To add to all of the confusion, there is no consistency. Some Primary schools in some areas are shut, some are open from today.

Some areas where they are open have higher rates than some that are closed. In many cases decisions on school closures are being driven by workers complying with trade union advice or by parents who are making their own decisions to keep their kids at home.

So a stand has had to be taken. And that stand has come from teachers and other school workers themselves. Mainly from their union the NEU.

Ah trade unions, remember them. You could be forgiven for thinking that trade unions went out of fashion with flares and sideburns.

That’s what the bosses want you to think, and the government, and the Labour Party leadership, and the press. But millions of workers are still members of trade unions.

Yesterday something amazing happened, the NEU called a online meeting on zoom and over 20,000 teachers took part.
Over 100,000 people watched the whole of the meeting on social media and 400,000 watched at least part of it.

Some will have been worried parents, many will have been other workers watching in support or looking for encouragement.

Thousand of school workers have joined the NEU in the last 2 weeks, fighting back is a recruitment tool for unions, who’d have thought?

Maybe they are not the dinosaurs that the papers say?
Although their strength has been weakened after decades of attacks and legislation by both Tory and labour governments.

Today the Anti-trade union laws in the UK are more prohibitive than almost anywhere in Western Europe.

And that’s why even though schools are now proven to be literal death traps, the people working in them can’t just “go on strike” as some parents and other workers are calling for.

All of those decades where the government and the press were attacking the unions and their leaders that fought back, have brought us to this point.

If the school workers wanted to legally strike over safety like many are calling for, it can be a 8 week process, and that’s only if 50% of all teachers vote.

If only our MPs had the same criteria. And that’s also without any legal challenge. When postal workers jumped through all those legal loopholes and delivered a successful ballot to defend their jobs, the bosses took legal action to stop any strike.

In the court hearing, the CWU union presented 8 hours of evidence that they had taken every single step within the law. The judge took 57 seconds to rule against them.

So here we are. The last remaining option for the teachers and school workers is something called section 44, in short this is a piece of legislation in the employment rights act 1996 that was written to protect the health and safety of workers.

Any worker has the right to not enter their workplace or the right to remove themselves from their place of work, if they believe there is a risk to their health and safety.

The law states that this can be after any act OR FAILURE TO ACT by their employer.

While section 44 is intended for use by the individual, the NEU have made the correct decision and the only option left, to encourage all of their individual members to refuse to work under section 44.

In a fairer society there would be other easier collective options, unfortunately as workers in the UK, we no longer have those options.

Teachers have offered to work remotely, a job that is harder and more stressful. They have also offered to work in schools in limited numbers for vulnerable children and those children whose parents are front lines workers.

The usual suspects like the daily Mail / the Sun/ telegraph etc will run stories about teachers being led by extremist trade unionists and communists.

We hear it about every group of workers who defend themselves, who strive for fair pay and safety. This time it’s not just their safety, it’s the safety of every individual in this country, because the advice from the experts is clear.

If you are a parent, support the teachers, if you are a worker, support other workers, scared that going to work might literally kill them.

Last week in one of the most important votes in parliament, government and labour whips had hundreds of proxy votes each because it was deemed too dangerous for MPs to attend in person.

Those same people tell us that schools are safe while their private schools remain shut.

Take no lessons from them. Stand by your fellow workers. The only defence we have is each other, when we stand together we are strong.

In these tough times its important you look after yourselves and those around you, please check the links below for help and advice.

https://liverpool.gov.uk/communities-and-safety/emergency-planning/coronavirus/help-for-people-and-communities/look-after-your-mental-health/

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Phil Rowan is a socialist and activist. He is an industrial rep for the RMT on London Underground and sits on the Spirit of Shankly management committee. He was previously in the army where he served in Bosnia and Iraq, and now campaigns against war and imperialism.