Reopening Schools In Ireland

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The issue of reopening schools in Ireland has been pushed front and center over the past week, with establishment mouthpieces all over the media demanding the full reopening of the schools in September. People like Dr. Ciara Kelly who appeared on the Tonight Show last week with well known former right wing Fine Gael politician Ivan Yates to vilify teachers, accusing them of “not wanting to pull their weight” or wanting preferential treatment to other groups of workers. This is the same person who called for cancellation of the leaving cert exams while at the same time calling for primary schools to reopen in June!

Just as happened with the nurses, gone is the applause for teachers who worked around the clock providing online courses while many also homeschooled their own children. Now they want to turn the public against teachers and their unions in order to force a full return to school so that big business can get back to making big profits regardless of the risks involved.

People Before Profit understand the anxiety that workers and small business have about getting back to work as soon as possible this is why we pressure the government to continue to fully support workers and small business throughout this pandemic. But this must not be achieved at the expense of people’s lives.

By trying to blame teachers as the obstacle to reopening the schools these right wing media hacks are obscuring the real issues involved, namely that the state refuses to invest in making schools safe for teachers, students, their families and their communities.

Teachers as much as any other group in society want a return to school, they have children suffering social isolation too. Working in isolation trying to relate to students online is demoralising and labour intensive, especially with inadequate digital resources.

And what are these stubborn selfish teachers unions demanding that is so outrageous to the establishment? Well there is the hiring of extra teachers to reduce class sizes to allow for social distancing! Oh now isn’t that terribly selfish of them and to think that students might benefit from a lower teacher pupil ratio, which by the way is currently one of the highest in the EU!

Then there is mandatory temperature checking, what!? How dare they? And wait…. they’ve called for mandatory wearing of face masks to be provided freely by the state – oh the cheek of those pedagogical pests! Never mind the fact that masks are mandatory on public transport!

The government published their “interim recommendations” document last week which completely goes against the public health advice and WHO guidelines for social distancing and the use of PPE. Inferior social distancing of “1 metre if possible” is to be applied in classrooms, masks are not recommended and neither is regular temperature checking.

Teachers unions have rightly rejected this reckless policy to fully reopen the schools without key safety measures in place. Many teachers and students are vulnerable or have family members who are vulnerable to Covid-19 and they have a right to be protected. It is vital to bear in mind that a second wave will be even more deadly in terms of lives lost but also more devastating in terms of social and economic hardship. A cautious and safe reopening of schools is paramount to preventing this second wave.

It looks like the teacher union leaders are prepared to take a serious stand on this. In a response to People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny’s question “What will classrooms of over 30 students look like in September?” Kieran Christie the General Secretary of the ASTI replied “They’ll look empty because our members won’t be there without adequate safety measures”. This is a good sign and we would encourage all teachers to join a union and get active inside it to build resistance from below to protect yourselves and society at large.

But why is the state taking this high risk approach? There are two main reasons, firstly the state refuses to meet the costs of making schools Covid-19 safe for teachers and students. This new right wing stitch up government will never tax the huge wealth of the top 5% or the corporations, vultures, developers, or banking elites to protect ordinary working people. They will in fact force the cost of the pandemic onto workers.

Compare this to the ease with which the state forked out €115 million per month to private hospital owners like Denis O’Brien and Larry Goodman while the new Health Minister Stephen Donnelly refused to release the details of this deal.

Secondly, the Irish state is acting directly on behalf of IBEC, the bosses union and lobbyist in chief for the Irish capitalist class who are under the competitive compulsion of the global market. The Irish elites are afraid of losing out on their share of global markets if they don’t get the economy up and running alongside their competitor nations. So, in the final analysis the profit motive is driving this reckless policy of reopening the schools unsafely.   

Once again the problems caused by the pandemic have highlighted the complete inability of the chaotic profit driven system to meet the needs of working people. It exposes the class biased nature of the state and has deepened the inequalities already existing in society.

If we are to avoid a second more deadly wave of the virus we need to mobilise the productive forces of society to reopen society safely, this will mean public ownership and democratic control of all facilities capable of producing PPE, thermometers, and vaccines. Instead of mass unemployment the state should be hiring workers directly and investing directly in public services. All private hospitals should be taken into the public system and run for medical need not profit on the basis of an all Ireland National Health Service.

But let’s not kid ourselves to realise this will take a massive working class revolt on the streets and in our workplaces. We call on all working people to support teachers and students in leading this struggle.