When workers at John Fisher Catholic School in south London went on strike in April, they showed how united working class action can defend LGBT+ education. Now, a whistleblower has told Socialist Worker that continued attacks from the diocese have seen “several LGBT+ staff leave the school, making morale low”.
During World Book Week in March author Simon James Green—whose books feature LGBT+ characters—was banned by the Archdiocese of Southwark from speaking at the school. The next day governors who supported the event were sacked and replaced by a new temporary board that the diocese selected. This new governing board soon threatened to sack staff who stood up to the bigotry.
John Fisher School workers voted 90 percent to strike and walked out for six days across April and May. It was a brave show of strength that received a flood of solidarity messages and support on the picket line from other trade unionists and students. But after six days of action, the strikes came to a halt.
The NEU education union put its efforts into negotiating with bosses through arbitration body Acas as the diocese and bigots continued their attacks. Misogyny, intimidation and threats were issued by the diocese just days after inspector Ofsted praised the school’s leadership. This included bigoted blogs and WhatsApp groups being used to attempt to justify the ban, which convinced some of the parents.
“The levels of vitriol and the claim that LGBT+ is a lifestyle-choice bandied around during the strike divided the school parents,” the whistleblower said. “There were even rumours of the diocese wanting an inventory of the John Fisher School library books. It’s reminiscent of the days when the Vatican banned The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables.” During the strike the workers’ action pushed the diocese “to find an alternative LGBT+ author being found to visit”.
But according to the whistleblower, “Some teachers expressed it was unlikely anyone would want to after the torrid time James Green had by the complainants.” As a result, the fightback has dimmed, and a layer of pessimism has developed among workers.
The whistleblower fears the diocese will continue developing attacks on workers and education. “It is thought that the diocese has everything in place to begin the process of academisation,” they said. “The Catholic Church is already experienced in setting-up Catholic academies where they wield much more power.
More power over the curriculum, leadership and amount of religious education lessons in the timetable.” Academisation takes the power to make decisions away from the local community and hands it to academy CEOs.
In this case the diocese will use this opportunity to censor ideas that counter their ideology. This could lead to a lack of both sex education and teaching around LGBT+ issues and awareness. It’s part of the process that leads to high levels of bullying of LGBT+ children in schools.
As a result, LGBT+ people grow up disproportionately suffering with mental health issues. Tragically some 46 percent of transgender people in Britain having considered suicide, with 71 percent experiencing anxiety. The experience of the John Fisher School’s workers shows the importance of strong, persistent trade union organisation.
Without this education and curriculums will fail to meet the needs of the students, and bigotry pushes workers out. The NEU must now focus on rebuilding the workers’ confidence. Their united action is a key tool to beat back oppression and incoming academisation. These fights aren’t separate—and it’s strikes that can unite them.
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