Organising to Keep Our Schools Closed to Save Lives

Leicester began the new year by entering in “Tier 4,” a horrifying way to begin any year, but made even worse by the Tories insistence that many of our city’s schools should open as normal on Monday morning. At the same time our city’s Labour-run Council has remained silent on such matters of life and death; and as if that were not bad enough, the person in charge of overseeing the safe running of Leicester’s schools, Martin Samuels, continues to belittle the fact that children represent a critical contributing factor pushing the spread of Covid-19 in our communities. His deep level of bureaucratic incompetence was exemplified by his most recent tweet where Samuels’ explained:  

“As we get ready for #schools to return, latest data in #leicester shows infection rates amongst #cyp remain far lower than in wider community. Minimal evidence of spread within schools. Delayed start is to arrange testing so we continue to keep #COVID out of classrooms.” (December 31)

But there is no reason for believing such nonsense, as national surveys undertaken by the Office for National Statistics make it clear that infection rates remain highest amongst children; while the government’s own SAGE advisors are also of the belief that the evidence shows that Covid-19 is being spread within schools.

(Source: https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/interactive-map)

Of course, one reason why Leicester has now been placed within the “Tier 4” owes to the fact that our city infection rates have been increasing ever since December 8 when the rate was 240.5 cases per 100,000 population. Leicester’s current infection (as of December 30) shows our infection rate is now 366.2 cases per 100,000 population. Moreover, some parts of the city have much higher rates of infection with the top three areas being:

  • Colchester Road – 712.2 cases per 100,000 population
  • Hamilton and Humberstone – 625.3 cases per 100,000 population
  • Evington – 565.0 cases per 100,000 population

As it turns out these three areas all happen to fall within the constituency of Leicester East, which also happens to be the only constituency in Leicester where the local MP (Claudia Webbe) is publicly supporting the demand that all schools should remain closed. Leicester’s other two Labour MPs, Jonathan Ashworth and Liz Kendall have evidently taken a leaf from the Blairite City Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, who has nothing to say about the Tories reckless reopening of our city’s schools. Indeed, instead of organising against the Tories earlier today Sir Peter keeps away from politics and just tweeted:

“Happy New Year – 2021 has to be better, doesn’t it!? Let’s keep smiling.” (January 1)

As if smiling alone would make anything better?

As ever what we really need is a political leader who is willing to stand up to the Tories, and unfortunately Sir Peter Soulsby is neither capable or willing to do this.

But not all elected Labour representatives are like Sir Peter Soulsby, and earlier today one more combative councillor, Lindsay Broadwell, published an open letter to call upon Sir Peter and the rest of our city’s many many Labour councillors to “stand up for what is right” and demand that schools remain closed. She wrote:

“As someone who had my own brush with death thanks to COVID in April 2020 I am writing to all Council members, the City Mayor, and the Strategic Directors alike as a matter of urgency — we must oppose in the strongest possible terms and with every means at our disposal any push to reopen schools, colleges, and universities in face-to-face teaching.

“It is my opinion that we as a Council must do everything in our power to avert this outcome. I know we all have the best interests of the people of this city at heart, as its elected representatives, and now more than ever we all must stand up for what is right.

“Westminster is acting recklessly, foolishly, and dangerously.

“We cannot allow more needless harm to come to people if there is anything at all we can to to stop it.

“At minimum I wish to see us collectively release a statement saying that we oppose the reopening of schools, colleges, and universities.” (“Open letter: Schools, COVID B117, and Young People in Leicester”)

This is a very positive step forward for our city. And it should be said that the importance of publicly campaigning against the government has never been clearer. I say this as earlier today the Tories were forced to U-turn on their stated plans to reopen schools in London because their plans were actively and collectively resisted. Commenting on the government’s latest announcement that they were now going to close all London primary schools until 18 January at the earliest, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“It is welcome that, albeit in their usual last-minute fashion, ministers have corrected an obviously nonsensical position – one that it could not justify by evidence or sense.

“And what is right for London is right for the rest of the country. With the highest level of Covid-19 infection, and hospitals buckling under the tsunami of very ill patients, it is time for ministers to do their duty – to protect the NHS by following SAGE advice and close all primary and secondary schools to reduce the R rate below 1.

“It is time for the government to protect its citizens, and in particular its children, by shutting all primary schools for two weeks in order for the situation to be properly assessed, schools made much safer and children and their families protected.”

Words alone however will not be enough to force the government’s hand again. What is needed is the threat of industrial action being taken by our country’s education workers, so it is high time that all the education unions helped lead from the front on this critical issue. Socialists who are part of the Education Solidarity Network are already pushing for such necessary industrial action; while one NEU rep from a school in London has announced that he is meeting with his members on Saturday to discuss how he and his co-workers can act collectively to resist the government by using Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act if necessary. As James McAsh, who is also a Labour councillor in Southwark put it:

“I’ve called a union meeting at my school tomorrow. I’m going to propose that we all refuse to go into work next week, even if the govt says we should. It’s not safe for us. It’s not safe for the communities we serve. Wish us luck.” (January 1)

Notes

*James McAsh also recently penned the follow useful article “The government has pitted England’s schools against health. It didn’t have to,” The Guardian, December 31, 2020.

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