Early years workers are resisting Tory plans to force them into unsafe workplaces.
The lockdown in England does not affect nurseries or other early years settings.
The Tories expect these to remain open—despite workers reporting outbreaks of the virus last term.
Julie is a nursery worker and Unison union rep in York. Staff at her school refused to return to work, writing to the head and citing Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act.
The action, by around 20 NEU and Unison union members, forced the school to close to most children on Monday of last week.
“Handing in the letter collectively made a difference,” Julie told Socialist Worker. “People were elated about what happened.
“And when the government announced the lockdown they felt vindicated—we were right.”
Julie explained that the action meant staff could plan online lessons.
And she said very young children find it the most difficult to understand coronavirus measures.
“My nursery class is the biggest in school and it’s the most dangerous,” she said. “Hand washing is pointless. Kids immediately put their hands in their mouths or in other people’s mouths.”
Workers took similar action in schools across England last week.
They showed that it’s possible to resist being pushed into unsafe settings.
But the Tories still want to force more children into schools (see column).
Hundreds of people joined an online meeting last week to discuss how to keep early years settings safe.
They demanded the government give financial support to nurseries to support them in closing safely.
Early years teacher and NEU member Elaine said, “I’m completely incensed by this situation.
“If you close, you’re basically going to close your business down. But if you stay open, what is the health cost? This is the time for the union to really step up.”
Nursery teacher Michaela said workers “are in a fight for our lives”. “Funding has come down to the survival of the setting or the life of people who attend the setting,” she said. “This is unacceptable.”
Bella described how workers at her school, mostly non-unionised, had used Section 44 and refused to return to work.
“We’re losing sleep over the fact that we’re not with those children,” she said.
“But at some point you have to weigh up your own safety.
“For us it has been a success. We’ve been furloughed until the February half term at least.
“I wanted people to know that it’s possible.”
Cambridge nursery teacher Paula said the action has a widespread impact. “Children and workers are all connected into the community,” she said. “The transmission goes way beyond our settings.
“What we are doing is stopping this virus from killing people.”
Another nursery worker, Merike, said the government guidance made her feel “my life doesn’t matter”.
“That is the message we have been given and I am disgusted,” she said. “We need to stand up and do something about this.”
Government wants more children in school
The Tories are desperate to undermine the impact of workers’ mass refusal to return to full schools.
Under the lockdown, schools and colleges should only be open to vulnerable students or those with key worker parents.
But the Tories have expanded the number of children in these groups.
For instance, during the lockdown in March, a child could attend school in person if both parents were key workers.
Now they are able to attend if one parent is a key worker. And the government has asked schools “not to limit” the number of children of key workers allowed back to schools.
The Tories have said that children who don’t have the technology or the space to learn at home are “vulnerable.”
Children that are classed as vulnerable by the government include those that are living in temporary accommodation and those who are carers.
The classification also includes children that are adopted and those who are on special guardianship orders as being “vulnerable.”
This is set to massively increase the number of children who can attend in-person classes. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU union, said the number of children in primary schools last week was “far higher” than it was in March.