Boris Johnson was forced on Monday evening to announce a new lockdown across England. It followed Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement of a lockdown in Scotland earlier in the day.
Johnson’s previous refusal to take effective measures means that thousands of people died unnecessarily.
The Tories had delayed implementing new restrictions for weeks—despite spiralling cases of coronavirus and an NHS on the verge of meltdown.
The scale of the crisis, and divisions among the Tories, pushed Johnson to shift. But significant action by workers was crucial in piling pressure on the government.
Large numbers of primary schools across England were closed to most children on Monday as workers refused to return on safety grounds.
The NEU union had asked workers not to return to fully open schools. It said workers could refuse to return citing Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act.
Workers’ refusal to return forced many schools to abandon plans to reopen to all children.
There were 16,784 primary schools across England last year. On Monday morning, the NEU tweeted, “S44 letters have gone into over 6,000 primary schools.” This will have grown throughout the day.
Emma Parker is secretary of the NEU in Durham. She said early on Monday morning that 429 NEU members had used Section 44 in 88 settings. And 67 would be closed to most children on Monday as a result.
Many schools in Coventry were closed to most children, with parents at Allesley Primary told that this was due to a lack of workers.
NEU joint district secretary for Coventry Chris Denson said many more schools would not be fully closed “but will be having to close large sections”.
In Saddleworth, Holy Trinity CE primary school closed to most children “due to lack of staff” said head teacher Liz Travis.
Many schools across Lancaster and Morecambe were closed to most children. Moorside Primary School in Lancaster closed “as a result of advice from unions”.
Dallas Road Community Primary School closed citing “Industrial action, excessive staff absence, 2/3 of teaching staff have written claiming S44 and S100 of health and safety legislation.
“Therefore there are insufficient staff to safely open the school.”
Figures last month showed that nearly a quarter of all coronavirus cases in the Lancaster district are among children and teenagers.
Lancaster and Morecambe district NEU secretary Sam Ud-din said, “It is no longer possible to just ‘hope for the best’.
“Schools are not currently safe enough for any adults working in them.”
NEU members in the north west detailed scores of primary schools that had not fully reopened on Monday. They included schools in Liverpool, Manchester, Oldham, Sefton, Chorley, Blackburn, Wirral and Bolton.
Captain Cook Primary School in Marton, Teesside, has closed for two weeks after workers raised safety concerns.
Head teacher Amy Young said concerns had “resulted in some trade unions taking action in relation to safety in schools”.
"Following union discussions, a number of school staff have decided to take the advice given by unions,” she said. “There I have had to make the very difficult decision to close school for the next two weeks.”
Knavesmire Primary and Copmanthorpe School in York were not reopening for most children.
A local news report said, “Knavesmire is unable to open to all pupils because of the number of staff who have submitted letters under Section 44.”
Southampton council listed eight schools that would not be opening on Monday, citing staff shortages for three.
In Oxfordshire, at least four schools were not fully reopen on Monday. Nettlebed Community School said it was “unable to open due to lack of staff”.
Hertfordshire County Council said not all its schools would open “due to insufficient teaching staff”.
There were many, many more.
Monday represented a huge slap in the face for Boris Johnson and all the Tories who wanted to force schools to open “as usual”.
It showed the power workers can have when they get organised.
Johnson spreads the blame
Boris Johnson wants to blame coronavirus chaos on the new strain that was identified last year.
In his address on Monday he claimed, “There is no doubt that in fighting the old variant of the virus, our collective efforts are working and would have continued to work.”
This is rubbish. The carnage was entirely predictable before the new strain emerged.
Unions, scientists and others warned that allowing tens of thousands of students to return to universities last September would send cases soaring.
The government knew that reopening schools to all children, with no proper safety measures, would mean more cases.
And it knew that failing to properly resource the NHS would cause more deaths.
The new strain was not inevitable.
The government’s failure to take measures to control the virus allowed Covid-19 more time to mutate.
The Tories, not a new strain, are to blame for Covid chaos.
Fight for social support under lockdown
The Tories’ lockdown will cause further harm if they are not forced to protect people’s jobs, income and welfare.
Workers must be financially supported to avoid more households falling into poverty and unemployment skyrocketing further.
There should be an enhanced furlough scheme providing 100 percent of wages, not the present 80 percent.
Many ordinary people cannot survive with an endless 20 percent wage cut—particularly the low paid.
Parents who are now forced to stay at home to look after children have to be protected from sackings and bosses’ pressure.
Sick pay needs to be boosted to a real living wage so that people can afford to stay at home if they are ill or may be ill.
We need action to close all non-essential workplaces. Johnson said on Monday night that construction and manufacturing, for example, can continue. That’s also true in Scotland and Wales.
There needs to be a battle to halt redundancies, stop planned cuts in Universal Credit, increase support for disabled people and more mental health support.
Food bank use has risen by 89 percent since March—lessons must be learned from this. Those without access to food cannot be abandoned as they previously have been.
The Tories are yet to announce how the new lockdown will affect housing. Evictions bans have previously been brought in, but were to end at the beginning of this year.
People’s housing rights must be protected.
Union leaders have to fight for all these measures. Otherwise the new restrictions will fail to protect people from the virus and will push more into poverty.