A HEALTHY WELL-ORDERED SOCIETY?

In a healthy, well-ordered society, in order to achieve safety, efficiency, fairness  and innovation, activities would be under the control of those workers who possess the relevant direct experience and knowledge to run them. Thus, for example

  • Running trains would be determined by train crew, station staff and maintenance engineers.
  • The fire service would be run by fire fighters
  • Schools would be under the control of teachers.
  • Universities would be under the control of those who research and teach in them.
  • Hospitals would be run by doctors and nurses with suitable input from those who provide the essential support services – cleaning, food etc.

They would need, of course, a few advisers to assist them, but this would be on the basis of ‘on tap but not on top’; and some exceptions would be necessary. The armed forces, police and security services would still need close, democratic monitoring as their activities are too intrusive to be left to generals, police commissioners and shadowy chief spooks.

As we were reminded again this week, our society is neither healthy nor well-ordered.

  • RMT and TSSA opposition to removing  guards from trains and reducing platform staff is  ignored. Whether this had an effect on the Aberdeen train crash this week remains to be seen.
  • Three years after Grenfell, the FBU’s concern about inflammable cladding continue to be ignored.
  • Schools are set to re-open in the autumn while concerns expressed by the NEU are swept aside  and NEU itself is attacked in the yellow press by stooge Tory MPs. Meanwhile, teacher assessments in lieu of exam results are amended by a  government that consistently behaves as if it knows more about teaching than do teachers.
  • Universities are displaying more concern about the loss of income from fees from foreign students than the quality of the education they will be proving in the autumn to students from the UK.

Furthermore, as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic and respond to the ensuing recession, ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option. We face a global climate crisis that, unaddressed, could dwarf the effect of the pandemic. We cannot expect the rich and powerful, or the governments that promote and protect their interests, to come up with solutions. They are too well insulated, financially and physically, from the consequences. Workers lack this insulation. Without their input, the current mess we are in will be nothing compared with what is to come.

Why was Long Bailey sacked?

Hot on the heels of Sir Keir Starmer’s sacking of Rebecca Long Bailey as shadow Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, the actual Education Secretary, is reported to have told the Tory 1922 backbench committee that he is to cease consulting with the teachers unions about the safe opening of schools. Williamson is reported as saying he will get children back to school in September “come what may”.

Long Bailey was supposedly sacked for tweeting a link to an interview with Maxine Peake on the Independent website which contained a brief comment linking Israeli security services with the infamous knee-on-neck hold used by US police. She has, however, been a supporter of the National Education Union (NEU) and its opposition to under-controlled school re-opening  and is supportive of modern teaching methods.

In a further attempt to curry favour with the most reactionary elements in the Tory Party, Williamson said he wants all children to face the front of the classroom when schools reopen in September. He had been shocked to discover that in many classrooms children were actually sitting at round or square tables facing one another!  Apparently unaware of current teaching practice (let alone Covid-19 distancing requirements) or the substantial volume of research in this area, he considers it “wrong” and wants “the class to pay attention to the teacher” when schools reopen. Quite what he thinks has been going on in classrooms since the days of Cider with Rosie is perplexing. Perhaps he has been spending too much time talking to Amanda Spielman, the should-have-been-furloughed Head of Ofsted who has had nothing to do since schools closed than go around expressing her reactionary views. Or is he recalling his time as a Defence Secretary until he was sacked by Theresa May in 2019 for leaking classified documents? As Defence Secretary he might be dimly recalling the traditional army method of teaching soldiers how to dismantle and re-assemble a bren gun:

  • show’em once
  • show’em twice
  • show’em three times
  • get them to do it
  • shout at them when they get it wrong.

if it worked for soldiers, why not children?

 

Meanwhile, what was Starmer up to? Did he sack Long Bailey to:

clear out the last Corbynite from the Shadow Cabinet and return to New Labour principles?

move Labour education policy back to more traditional methods?

appease the pro-Israel lobby?

distance Labour from the NEU resistance to precipitate school re-opening?

ensure Labour is not seen as hindering the wider re-opening the economy?

Perhaps it was one of those occasions when a multiplicity of discreditable ambitions could be furthered with a single discreditable action.

COULROPHOBIA

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.

Link:

Education unions agree statement on the safe reopening of schools