THE CRISIS that has erupted this week over the question of the Tory government’s determination to keep schools open in the face of the deadly surge in coronavirus infections, has made the question of building a new leadership in the trade unions the burning issue of the day.
The determination of the Johnson government to ignore all the warnings from its own scientific advisors – that schools are a major factor in the spread of the new Covid strain – has forced the main teaching unions to issue advice to all primary schools to remain closed.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union – the largest teaching union in the UK with more than 450,000 members, said: ‘We are doing our job as a union by informing our members that they have a legal right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions which are a danger to their health and to the health of their school communities and more generally.’
At the same time that teaching unions were urging their members to defy the Tory government diktat on reopening, local councils were also supporting schools refusing to reopen.
Education bosses in Manchester, Newcastle and Gateshead announced they would support primary schools that refused to reopen, while Essex council declared they would unilaterally close schools to most pupils until at least tomorrow.
The unions and these local councils are coming into an open conflict with a Tory government that has made no secret that it is prepared to use new powers, introduced through the emergency Coronavirus Act, to force schools to remain open to enable pupils to attend school full time.
Last month it used the threat of the courts to force Greenwich council and others to back down on school closures.
This highlights the importance that the Tories place on keeping schools open in order to release parents back into work for the profit of the bosses and for the ‘good of the economy’.
It has also highlighted the complete degeneration of the trade union leaders who have openly adopted the role of ‘friendly advisors’ to the Tories and have avoided conflict with them at all costs.
Yesterday the main teaching unions, along with the GMB, Unison and Unite, issued a joint statement calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ‘sit down with unions to discuss a joint approach to ensuring safe working arrangements in all schools.’
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘The Prime Minister should be talking to trade unions about what steps are needed to make sure all schools are Covid-Secure.’
The Tories have no interest in sitting down with the leaders of the unions to amicably discuss how to make schools safe – their only use for the trade union leaders is to keep the working class in check and act as a prop to the government.
At every turn the TUC and the leaders of all the main unions have refused to lift a finger in defence of workers’ jobs, wages or conditions.
At every turn they have sat back and merely begged the Tories and the employers for help.
When workers have risen up against the employers – as Heathrow workers have done against the fire and rehire regime at the airport – the Unite leadership has fought might and main to keep strike action limited to one-day protests, and refused to call the entire membership out.
Now they are turning their backs on schools and parents leaving it up to the teaching unions to offer support to individual teachers who refuse to work.
The point has been reached where the working class must deal with the treacherous leadership that works alongside the Tories to keep a bankrupt capitalist system going at the expense of workers’ lives.
These leaders must be thrown out and replaced by a new leadership that will immediately organise a general strike to bring down the Tories and go forward to a workers’ government – that alone can ensure the health and jobs of workers through expropriating the banks and major industries and placing them under workers’ management under a planned socialist economy.
The WRP is building the leadership that is needed to lead the struggle for power that the situation demands – join today.