Back to school
Unions push back against education workers revolt
9 February 2021
At the beginning of February INTO and FÓRSA agreed a phased return to school for Special Needs pupils in special schools, followed by a return of those in mainstream settings, to be followed by the re-opening of primary schools and secondary schools, this time beginning with Leaving Cert classes.
The agreement reeked of the culture of social partnership. Protections for pupils and staff were vague, with the main issue being follow the health advice, whatever that happened to be, and ignoring how that path had led to an out of control pandemic.
After a brief campaign thousands of teachers met on a "Voice for teachers" online meeting to oppose the deal. The union leaders were forced to retreat and there was a sharp dogfight with the government, who accused them of backtracking, and the unions pleading that no-one should play the blame game.
But now the partners are back with plan B, which turns out to be plan A all over again, stretched out to try and avoid further opposition.
The upset of the union deal with the government showed the power of the spontaneous action of workers and classroom assistants. The instant revival of the deal shows its limits.
To beat back the union bureaucracy and provide an alternative direction for the union the workers need to organise around a programme and then organise to implement. That programme is quite simple - Zero Covid! In Ireland this means cutting out concessions to tourism and business generally, fighting for a single all Ireland strategy, test, trace and isolate, with the vaccine as follow up rather than an alibi for government failure.
The elements of this strategy are around us in the form of countries that have successfully tackled Covid and in the example set by teachers in the US, who are mobilising against the authorities and the union bureaucracy to fight for real protections for workers.
The struggle in Ireland is not at that level, but the skirmish with social partnership lays the groundwork for a longer term mobilisation.