Unions with members in the education sector published a joint statement on 27 May saying that schools should ‘only open when it is safe to do so’. According to this statement, the government, in pressing for a partial opening tomorrow, 1 June, was showing “a lack of understanding” about the potential spread of coronavirus in schools and outwards to parents, siblings, relatives and the wider community. The statement was signed by UNISON, AEP, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, NSEAD, Prospect and Unite. You can read the full text of the statement via the link at the end of this posting.
Are the unions correct in saying that the government doesn’t ‘understand’ what it is doing? Can 261,184 confirmed Covid cases and 36,914 deaths overall by 25 May, the third-highest death per population in the world, be simply due to a failure of understanding? Certainly Johnson acts the bumbling clown, prompting in us ‘coulrophobia’, or fear of clowns, but does such clownish incompetence really provide a plausible explanation when the introduction of distancing restrictions were deliberately delayed, when track and trace was deliberately abandoned and when we are now deliberately rushing to be amongst the first wave of nations to relax restrictions when we have no right to be in that vanguard?
There is another, more sinister explanation for the government’s actions and inactions: it has real concerns that, following the Global Financial Crisis and with the next major crisis, global warming, approaching fast, capitalism won’t survive. Their real priority is that, when the pandemic eventually subsides, the bankers must be able to recover their loans, the landlords must be able to claim their rents and the owners of capital must be paid their dividends. This is the priority for which the government will, as it has boasted, do ‘everything necessary’. If that ‘everything necessary’ means killing you, me and a significant proportion of the entire working class, it’s prepared to do it.
So where does this leave school re-opening? Until trade unions are able simply to withdraw labour when their members are at risk in the workplace without fear of injunction, fine, sequestration and attack in the pages of the capitalist press, and until unions can call on solidarity action by other workers to back up such action, they will have to resort to such ’moderate’ actions as the joint statement issued this week. When they can re-assert their rightful power in the workplace, we will not only be on the road to overcoming our coulrophobia, we will be on the road to socialism.