By KD Tait

Following a mass online briefing attended by tens of thousands of education workers at the weekend, trade unionists are taking action to prevent the unsafe reopening of schools.

This action is now essential because the government’s insistence on keeping schools open was a major contributory factor to the spread of a more infectious strain of covid-19.

Despite the evidence, the government continues to delay, adding chaos to confusion, and sacrificing more people with every day that passes.

Shockingly, Labour leader Keir Starmer continues to do everything possible to avoid backing the action of education workers.

Starmer is desperate to avoid the billionaire-owned right wing press attacking his ‘new management’ for being in hock to the trade unions.

Instead of supporting the NEU and other unions who have advised their members not to work in unsafe conditions, Starmer has called for a new national lockdown within 24 hours, though this should not apply immediately to schools – but admitted “we do need to recognise that it is inevitable that more schools will close, and we need a plan in place to deal with it.”

Last year Starmer sacked shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey for supporting the NEU’s campaign for more resources to keep schools running safely.

In August, he infamously told Boris Johnson: “I don’t just want all children back at school next month, I expect them back at school.”

RLB was proved right – and Starmer now shares equal responsibility with Johnson for the devastating consequences of putting the economy before lives and health.

The government says they don’t want to harm students’ education and make life difficult for parents.

But their actions throughout the crisis have demonstrated their real priorities: denying free school meals while paying for eat out to help out, and disgracefully forcing Greenwich council to reopen schools just before Christmas.

Labour and the TUC have demanded new support for working parents – extending the furlough scheme to parents of children whose schools have closed, granting paid parental leave from day one, etc.

To this we must add – sickness benefit at full pay from day one for those forced to isolate; furlough to be paid at 100 per cent from day 1, the provision of free school meals for all students; massive expansion of online and blended learning resources. The resources to fund this exist – we need an immediate and permanent tax on the hoarded wealth of super-rich, big banks, and monopolies.

The whole crisis has exposed the inability of the capitalist system to deal with the consequences of a crisis of its own making. The monopoly of society’s wealth and resources by a capitalist oligarchy has funnelled billions into profiteering companies, while exacerbating the spread of the pandemic.   

At the start of the crisis, the government ended the failing railway franchising system to ensure the railways didn’t collapse.  

The same must be done for education. All schools, colleges and universities must be taken back into public ownership, with the restoration of local authority control where appropriate.

The teachers’ collective action points the way to the critical next step: the implementation of workers’ and students’ control over working and learning conditions.

Inter-union rank and file safety committees must be elected in all education establishments, with a workers’ veto over unsafe conditions. Rank and file networks should be established in all the trade unions to coordinate the campaign, keep up the pressure, bring workers into the union, and support members of unions whose leaderships refuse to call for the necessary measures.

It is vital that Labour mobilise its 500,000 members to support the frontline of the struggle against the spread of the virus in the community.

We already have a policy that serves as the starting point for this – the National Education Service passed by Labour conference.

Under Corbyn this policy was immediately gutted of its most radical and important clause – the confiscation of the wealth and resources of the private schools and their integration into a common comprehensive system for all.

But under Starmer, as the urgency of transforming education into a key service to continue young people’s education and ensure key workers can work has intensified, the policy has simply disappeared from sight. Socialists who we need to fight back against the Tories’ anti-working class measures are being driven out of the party.

Schools, because they are the natural organising ground of the youth, are a key battleground in the fight for workers’ and users’ control of public and private services, in the battle to defeat the crisis. That’s why the fight to keep schools safe must be allied to a wider perspective of bringing education, healthcare, and essential services like transport, housing, and food retail into public ownership, under workers’ control.

At the moment the pro-capitalist Labour leaders are an obstacle to this programme, which is why members must redouble the fight for a leadership and a party that wages the class struggle to overthrow the bosses and their system, and replace it with a real alternative – a socialist society based on common ownership, democratic planning, and a workers’ government.