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Submitted by martin on Sat, 19/09/2020 - 16:58

Stuart's second text advocated that school workers "refuse to return in September until [various measures were] organised", which obviously weren't going to be organised over the holiday weekend between him writing and start of school. I can only read that as demanding an immediate walkout.

His argument for that walkout was that the walkout would be "a signal for other groups of workers to refuse to attend work... a very rapid escalation that would pose the question of power", i.e. it would in short order trigger a general strike and a socialist revolution.

I read his new response as stepping back from those arguments, and that's good. Maybe he didn't mean to say that in the first place. But traces remain.

On the whole I'm favourable to the idea of the NEU now calling a ballot giving it a mandate to strike in case demands on school virus-precautions are not met. When Workers' Liberty teachers discussed the idea recently, most of those with more experience in the union thought it was not a workable proposition. We'll see.

However, the answer to our current problems cannot be wishing that the NEU had organised a ballot in May. I stand by my arguments above on that. In any case it didn't happen.

The traces remaining of the old argument orbit around the idea that lockdowns are the best, or at least best available, responses to the virus, and therefore "workers' action to impose lockdowns", rather than social measures, should be our focus.

The current resurgence in Europe in fact shows the inadequacy of lockdowns. Spain and France had strict and long lockdowns, heavily enforced by larger police forces than we have in Britain (over a million people fined in Spain).

Order a lockdown, and when the lockdown ends, as it must, unless you have put through social measures, the same problems will recur once you ease beyond the lockdown elements which were ineffectual anyway.

The area round Buenos Aires in Argentina has had a lockdown, nominally strict though very difficult to enforce because of the size of the "informal economy" there, from March right through to today. Virus infections and deaths have continued to rise.

Countries like Japan which haven't had a general lockdown are doing better.

Social measures like

• isolation pay

• public-health organisation and staffing of test-and-tracing and elderly care

• publicly-provided alternative accommodation for self-quarantining people who would otherwise be in crowded housing

• furlough pay to facilitate work-from-home

• bringing private hospitals, and PPE logistics, under public ownership and control, and increasing NHS pay and staffing

would help a lot with virus-control. They would need to be supplemented by measures of covid-distancing, but on the evidence measures such as closure of pubs, cafés, churches, and nightclubs, and maybe putting universities all-online, would do that.

Full lockdown measures like closing schools and banning people from meeting friends are probably little help.

We should push for the social measures first. Substantial parts of them have been won in many countries.

Lockdowns, everywhere in the world, have been triggered not by workers' action or even by general popular pressure, but by bourgeois governments seeing virus-escalation as likely to get to the point where hospitals may be overwhelmed, and seeing no other quick fix to buy time.

In circumstances like March in Europe, we shouldn't oppose full lockdowns, even though better measures by governments earlier might have avoided them. But they are not our "first-do-this" recipe.

Even stripping off the speculation about a quick escalation to socialist revolution, it is not true that school closures will paralyse factories and offices. Particularly not in a period of mass unemployment where employers can easily find alternative staff. When the Tories reopened pubs and cafés from 4 July, no capitalist in the sector replied: no, we can't do that unless you also reopen the schools.

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