Solidarity 572, 18 November 2020

Schools: workers' control vs closure

Ireland’s second lockdown (21 October to 2 December), with schools open, has brought a 75% drop in infections from around 19-25 October to 14 November. The Netherlands’ (14 October, tightened from 4 November), with schools open, has brought a 45% drop so far from a 31 October peak. Wales’s, 23 October to 9 November, with schools closed to 2 November, ended with rates no lower than 23 October but maybe a third below peak around 29 October. Northern Ireland’s, 16 October to 13 November, with schools closed to 2 Nov, has got rates 50% down from the 12-18 October peak. Belgium’s (2 November for 6...

More student battles brewing

In the week starting 16 November, groups of students are organising workshops, banner drops, and email campaigns to highlight high rents, draconian lockdowns, and general lack of support at UK Universities. The National Union of Students (NUS) is promoting and encouraging local events, but has stopped short of calling for a national campaign of rent strikes. From 12 November, students at Manchester escalated their rent strike by occupying Owens Park Tower. The occupiers say: “We were lied to and brought onto unsafe campuses, forced to pay insane rent for facilities we can’t even access. We’ve...

Losses for communalists in Bosnia

Municipal elections in Bosnia-Hercegovina, delayed because of Covid-19, took place on 14-15 November, and the earliest indications are that the parties based on ethnic groupings have fared badly amongst voter concerns over widespread corruption and what is seen by many as a disastrous response to the epidemic. In Sarajevo, the SDA (Party of Democratic Action, the party claiming to represent Bosnian Muslims) lost out in three of four voting districts and in Banja Luka, opposition parties made important gains. The HDZBiH (Croat Democratic Union of Bosnia-Hercegovina, the party claiming to...

NEU support staff call for rights

The main issue of contention at the support staff conference of the National Education Union (online, 14 November) was a composite motion which called for the NEU to seek bargaining rights and to find a way to be able to actively recruit support staff to the union. The composite motion covered a lot of ground, including pay, conditions, funding, and collective representation. As well as addressing collective bargaining rights and active recruitment, it included calls for Living Wage campaigns for our lowest paid colleagues (e.g. cleaners, catering staff); for mobilising in support of a 10% pay...

Defend Cetin Avsar

Security guard and union activist Cetin Avsar has been threatened with dismissal by his employer, Wilson James Ltd., who said in a letter that his opposition to outsourcing, and role in leading a strike for direct employment in his previous workplace, St. George’s University of south London, represent a “conflict of interest”. Cetin is currently working for Wilson James Ltd. on a contract at the Francis Crick Institute in King’s Cross, London, but has been told his “conduct has not reached the required standards.” The only issue cited for discussion at his probation review meeting is his...

Court win for "gig" workers

The IWGB union has won a legal battle over the rights of gig-economy workers, and couriers especially, during the pandemic. A judgment issued on 13 November means that workers in the “gig economy” are entitled to the same EU-derived health and safety rights as employees. Key rights are: • To be provided with Personal Protective Equipment by the business they are working for and • The right to stop work in response to serious and imminent danger. The UK Government must now urgently take steps to ensure that workers have the same protection as employees. Meanwhile, in Sheffield, couriers working...

Diary of a Tube worker: A bonfire coming

On the Tube, you don’t really notice Lockdown 2 until the weekends and the late evenings. It’s definitely quieter then, but throughout the day the flow of people seems about the same. How many people have returned to working from home is hard to gauge. “We’ll be back in lockdown January to March, won’t we?” N says. “If furlough is on till March, that’s what they’ll do. “And in April, when they do the new accounts, they’ll be getting rid of everyone won’t they. I’m not sure people have seen it coming. It’ll be a bonfire.” F, the supervisor, thinks that “In March we will see a lot of changes...

Right to picket

On 6 November, the police dispersed a covid-distanced picket line over pay at the Optare bus factory in Sherburn-in-Elmet, near Selby in North Yorkshire. They warned strikers they would be issued with penalty notices for breaking lockdown rules if they returned. But after a legal challenge from Unite the Union and the scheduling of a judicial review against the North Yorkshire Chief Constable and the Secretary of State for Health, the government conceded the right to picket should be upheld. It says it will issue guidance to all police forces that workers can undertake covid-distanced...

Kino Eye: An "epidemic" film

Time now for an “epidemic” film: The Killer That Stalked New York (1950, Earl McEvoy). On-the-run jewel thief Sheila Bennet (Evelyn Keyes) unknowingly has smallpox. As New Yorkers start dropping like flies, the police and medics begin a desperate woman-hunt. She is solely concerned to reach her (cheating) husband. The film ends on a ledge outside a hotel room. The husband plunges to his death, but Sheila lives long enough to help the medical services with “track and trace”. The epidemic is defeated and a final credit pays tribute to “the men and women of Public Health — the first line of...

Scrap all GCSEs

The Welsh government has cancelled GCSE and A level exams for 2021 in Wales. This is good in that it increases pressure on the Tories to cancel them for England, too. The Welsh approach is not that good, though: the summer exams are to be replaced by a series of “externally” set and marked tests, plus teacher assessment (which puts pressure on school managements and teachers to compete to manipulate grades upwards because otherwise their students lose out compared to the next school’s). GCSEs should be scrapped outright, for good, and need no replacement. Breaking the whole “exam factory”...

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