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Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
The Stand of the Education Workers to the Coronavirus Outbreak
International Cooperation to Help Countries Cope:
Cuba's Timely Assistance to British Passenger Ship
China Bolsters Global Effort to Combat Coronavirus
Fight for the Rights of All:
International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
The current unprecedented pandemic is revealing the essence of healthcare, that it is a matter of human relations: the relations between people themselves, and between people and nature. The organised form healthcare takes, including its funding and form of public ownership, has to reflect and serve this essence. Care for health has to be deeply engrained in the psyche, the social consciousness.
One thing that characterises the response of government and big business to the pandemic, whether before or after the policy U-turn, is that everything is reduced to an individual matter. This is particularly clear in the situation regarding the distribution of food and other essentials, which has effectively been concentrated in the supermarkets. Just-in-time supply chains have broken down under increased demand; this, combined with the first-come, first-served and fend-for-yourself nature of distribution, which has generated hysteria, has led to widespread shortages and queueing. This situation, combined with the breakdown in delivery systems and schemes such as click-and-collect, forcing people to congregate within supermarkets and use checkouts, is completely at odds with the measures required at this time.
What is being brought into sharp relief is how everything is connected together into an integrated whole. In every respect, each person exists in relation with each other person, the various collectives of people and the whole of the natural and social environment. Even the self-isolated person is not an isolated individual. There is no separate "here" and "there" in conditions where wellness and illness are so interchangeable.
The demand is that all take up their social responsibility. Meanwhile, the egocentric I of big business is shirking all social responsibility. Just one example is the mass sacking of hundreds of workers by Wren Kitchens in the midst of this crisis under the pretext that they were "underperforming".
This self-centred outlook has the inability to see what human relations are. There is nothing we can do about Armageddon, and there is nothing we can do about infection - nothing exemplified that more than the government's criminally complacent initial stance towards this pandemic. This outlook is blind to the ability of people to organise themselves to change the situation.
The needs of capital come first. Businesses are being seen to take various measures, such as switching to home working where possible, but everything is done in order to ensure but the business remains profitable. It is down to the employee to shoulder the burden; everybody has to get behind their employer to pull out all the stops and go all out to make their employer continue to be successful in these conditions.
The health and safety of the people cannot be guaranteed when relations such as these prevail.
The health of each and every individual is a collective matter. The entire community and indeed society as a whole mobilises itself to protect the health of every individual. When an individual becomes sick, it is not an individual matter: it is that the human relations have to be activated so that everybody is aware of that person's condition and is part of the solution. People, including of course the affected individual, act to ensure that the person gets the treatment they need. The mechanisms and institutions have to exist in society in order to treat that person; the economy is geared towards ensuring that those institutions have what they need to perform that function; the basic standard of living of every person is guaranteed, so that no individual falls short and people are not left to fend for themselves.
Workers' rights are coming under attack from all quarters at this point. To stand up for those rights is also part of the social responsibility that is crucial to take up at this time. Instead of subjugating and marginalising workers further in this time of crisis, the mechanisms need to exist to mobilise workers for the aim of defeating the virus. Despite the much-lauded switching of production to produce medical equipment, the fruits of which are not to be seen, the reality is that workers are blocked from both keeping the initiative and being mobilised in this way. But workers are not reconciled to this situation, and are releasing their own initiative to see that their rights and the rights of all are defended.
Neo-liberal society is being exposed. People do not want to hear how bad the situation is. They want to become involved to change the situation. The whole society, gripped in this crisis, is in essence fighting for the New.
Interview with College Representative of the National Education Union (NEU)
WW: What are the issues facing teachers with the coronavirus outbreak?
NEU Representative: Since the schools and colleges have been closed, what has been happening and what was happening in the weeks as the coronavirus outbreak was getting more and more intense, is that many of the schools have adopted the use of communication technology to teach group classes on-line. This has raised an immediate question for staff because they have had to, in many cases, work overtime at weekends and evenings to prepare classes for that eventuality to teach on line. Although a number of schools have said they are are not asking for extra work from their staff - the reality is just that! Throughout the country staff are being asked to provide this extra commitment. Staff are responding because this on-line work safeguards education and their jobs. But it means that teachers are between a rock and a hard place as far as protecting jobs are concerned because of the changes in the scheme of work in order to provide all these things.
Secondly, there is the issue of covering for the children of essential workers in the coronavirus outbreak. The government suddenly announced that essential workers should have every provision and they have called on all teachers to volunteer to physically staff the schools. Essential workers is being defined to include health staff and essential manual workers who are on the front line and have to continue to work through the crisis. The problem is that the way it is being done in many schools is with teachers being pressured to go in - they may be placed on a teacher rota in the school even when they are either not well, or are vulnerable, or have unwell relatives at home.
Thirdly, there is the issue of job security. In my school they said they would lay-off temporary and casual workers with immediate effect and there is no compensation for them at all. Literally across the country hundreds of education workers have lost their jobs.
WW: What was the Union's stand and how did they take up the concerns of their members and school staff?
NEU Representative: It was in this situation, with all these issues being raised by the members that my union, the NEU had to step in firstly in taking a stand to close the schools, when the government had continued to refuse to close them and at the same time instituting a national discussion among teachers and then presenting the response of teachers to the government and to the head teachers.
Back on March 16, the NEU said that they were meeting with Boris Johnson and demanding the schools close and that, if the government would not shut down the schools by Monday, March 23, they would order a mass walk-out of all their members. By Wednesday, March 18, the government had agreed to this demand and declared that all schools would close by Friday, March 21.
On Thursday, March 19, and Monday, March 23, the NEU organised something I had never heard of happening before. Using the modern communication technology, they wrote to all members and said that members could join in a national phone consultation where members could send in their phone number and at 6pm they would be phoned and they could take part in a phone-in where you could comment online and participate in this conversation with both joint General Secretaries, Mary Boustead and Kevin Courtney. I heard that some 190,000 members joined this discussion and on the basis of these discussion, the union lodged the concerns of the members with the government. They formulated their guidance on the issues raised by members in these phone-ins and on-line surveys that they did.
This guidance is concerned with keeping all teachers safe when they are working in these schools and coming in on a rota to teach the children of essential workers. It ensures that any staff looking after vulnerable people should not have to go to school. It tries to achieve social distancing in schools which was one complicated question discussed.
The guidance formulated by the members advises on this and the risk categories of teaching staff and assistants and other staff who would not be asked to come in and teach. The union had determined that at the moment 90% of vulnerable staff had been allowed to work from home but that 10% of vulnerable staff had not been allowed. The union is looking into how to protect the rights of those workers. The NEU had issued a letter following these concerns being raised in the phone-in with the concrete examples agreed with the government where staff should not be pressured to go into work and they would expose those schools contravening this agreement.
There was also the need to look after the well-being of all the teachers and people who work in the schools, as the government's first approach was to deal only with the loss of earnings of salaried staff but not those self-employed with casual or short term contracts. These include, for example, supply teachers, teaching assistants, drama teachers, home tutors, visiting music teachers, physical education teachers and others who were previously not covered by the government's announcement on the protection of salaried employees. Then on Thursday, March 26, in the context of this approach the government made a similar announcement for those self-employed that it had done for full time staff the previous week saying these staff will get 80% of their average earnings from previous years, although this cannot be claimed until June.
WW: What is your view on where you are in activating people to deal with this coronavirus outbreak and its consequences for education workers?
NEU Representative: There has been a positive response at our school and I think this is reflected in a lot of schools. As a union representative, I was asked to join the special group that is now advising the Board of Governors. I asked for the views of members and one member that spoke to me wanted me there, he said, because of the stands I had taken in protecting the well-being of staff and we were about to meet with the head teacher. But then the school closed. What we were going to say to him was to focus on protecting the well-being of staff. I thought about this and put it to the advisory group, which includes the head of the finance committee. The wording which was agreed and put to the head teacher and to the Board of Governors is that we should as best as we can protect the integrity of the educational establishment and that part and parcel of doing this involved protecting the well-being of all the staff, including all the support workers, casual staff and operational staff. This was then agreed by the head teacher and the Board of Governors. At this stage we seem to be unified in maintaining this approach and outlook. However, in this what they term the economic climate at this educational establishment, they have stated that they can only guarantee everyone's jobs until the end of the academic year in 2021 and they cannot guarantee that they will maintain all the jobs after that. Also, we had an agreed 3% pay rise in September which has now been withdrawn, and incremental rises have been frozen. In addition, it should be mentioned that a number of schools are attempting to take teachers out of the Teachers Pension Scheme (TPS) and encourage teachers to adopt a private pension scheme instead. This is a fight which is going to be taken up.
Overall, it is necessary to keep all staff informed and communications have been set up so all can stay in touch over any developments. Our conviction is that the decision we took is one to move forward and build a real strength among the staff and involve all the NEU members in this discussion and perhaps roll it out even further. At our school we have over 100 members of the NEU and that means we can broaden that discussion to involve all staff to see what is needed going forward.
 (Part of the Guidance agreed with the government.) Thank you for supporting your union at this critical time. Thousands joined our conference call on Monday and many more filled in our survey on Monday evening.
From your responses, we know that our advice is in place in many schools and colleges.
We want to remind you of our stance:
1. If you are in one of the vulnerable groups outlined by
Government, you should be working from home.
2. If you are a carer for someone in a vulnerable group, you should also be working from home.
3. The only children in school should be children of key workers, or other vulnerable children who really can't find an alternative. There needs to be a low number of children in school to slow the spread of the virus.
4. If you are not in a vulnerable group, we do want you to volunteer to be on a rota, so that those NHS parents can be at work saving lives.
5. Schools and colleges need to be as clean and safe as possible. We have advice on our website and are pressing the Government for more personal protection equipment and the introduction of testing.
6. When you are in school on a rota, your job is being with the children. It is not tidying cupboards, putting up displays or cleaning classrooms. Only staff needed to be with children should be in school, to minimise journeys and slow viral spread. In a minority of schools, we are hearing of unreasonable head teachers demanding that sort of work from our members. You will have our support in saying no.
7. There can be reasonable expectations for you to do work from home. We will be giving further guidance on that, which we are adapting as we learn more about actual working patterns.
8. Schools should continue to employ and pay supply teachers, peripatetic music teachers and agency teaching assistants.
We know there are different pressures and expectations for our members working in the independent sector.
Many independent schools are making extension provision for remote working. While members want to offer the best educational provision in the circumstances, this must be done appropriately and safely. Our members are seeking to provide the best education possible in the circumstances. But it is not business as usual. It is not possible, nor reasonable, to expect to replicate the normal school day online.
Shortly before dawn on March 18, the British passenger ship MS Braemar of the Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, with over 1,000 passengers and crew aboard, docked in the port of Mariel, Cuba. Since March 12, the ship had been denied permission to dock in several of its scheduled ports of call around the Caribbean or in the US by authorities of those countries, due to the fact that one of its passengers and four crew members had confirmed cases of COVID-19, with a further 28 passengers and 27 crew members, including a doctor, in isolation after displaying symptoms.
The Cuban government arranged for tour buses to transfer all those on board to Havana's José Martí international airport, where four chartered British Airways planes were waiting to fly them back to Britain that evening. Those without symptoms were flown on three of the planes to Heathrow airport in London. Those with flu-like symptoms, those who had tested positive for COVID-19 and their companions were taken aboard a separate flight to an airbase in England. Those not well enough to travel were given the opportunity to remain in Cuba for treatment.
The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement informing that its decision to receive the MS Braemar was in response to a March 16 request by the British government. It said that given the urgency of the situation and the risk to the life of those who were ill, the Cuban government decided to allow the ship to dock and to receive all those on board, while strictly following the protocols established by the World Health Organisation and the Cuban Ministry of Public Health. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in conclusion, "These are times of solidarity, of understanding health as a human right, of reinforcing international cooperation to face our common challenges, values that are inherent in the humanistic practice of the Revolution and of our people."
Photos and videos posted on the internet showed passengers rejoicing at being told of Cuba's decision to assist them, with crew members holding up a banner reading "Te Quiero Cuba" (I love you, Cuba) as they disembarked the ship.
In a statement, Peter Deer, the managing director of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, expressed his gratitude to Cuba, saying, "I would like to extend my sincere thanks on behalf of Fred Olsen to the Cuban Authorities, the Port of Mariel and the Cuban people for their support. Other countries would not allow Braemar to dock once we had confirmed cases of coronavirus on board. Thanks to their kindness we are now able to get people home. Your support will not be forgotten. From the bottom of my heart, thank you."
The British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Dominic Raab, also thanked the Cuban government in parliament on March 18, saying, "I spoke to the Cuban Foreign Minister twice over the weekend and we are very grateful to the Cuban government for swiftly enabling this operation and for their close cooperation to make sure it could be successful."
(TML Weekly, March 21, 2020)
Assistance to Italy and Other EU Countries
On March 12, a group of nine Chinese aid professionals arrived in Rome with tons of medical supplies, including 700 ventilators, monitors and defibrillators, as part of China's efforts to help Italy contain the novel coronavirus outbreak.
"This evening I wanted to show you the first aid arrived from China," Italy's Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio said during an emotional speech in a Facebook live broadcast, shortly after the Chinese team's landing. He pointed to his laptop which showed a group of Chinese nationals coming off the plane.
"These are the specialised medical staff who faced the coronavirus emergency in China, and at this moment have arrived in Rome," Di Maio said. "This is what we call solidarity."
The expert team was organised by China's National Health Commission and the Red Cross Society. The group is the third sent abroad by China following previous ones to Iran and Iraq.
Also that week, medical protection supplies donated by Fosun Foundation of the Shanghai-based Fosun Group, Longfor Group and Beijing Taikang Yicai Foundation, including 5,500 protective suits and 40,000 N95 respirator masks, arrived in Milan, Italy.
On March 17, a cargo plane loaded with donated supplies departed from Hangzhou in eastern China and arrived at Liege Airport in Belgium. The goods were handed over to the French health ministry, said the Alibaba Foundation and the Jack Ma Foundation in a press release. On board the plane were also medical goods donated to other European countries, including Belgium and Slovenia.
Also on March 17, another batch of medical supplies sent by China arrived in Paris, including protective masks, surgical masks, protective suits and medical gloves, according to China's Ambassador to France Lu Shaye.
"At the crucial moment when China waged war against the epidemic, France provided us with precious support and assistance," said Lu. "Now as France and the whole of Europe are facing the serious challenge of the pandemic, China is ready to provide aid as far as possible."
"This is a gesture that must be appreciated," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. "We showed our solidarity with China by delivering protective equipment, especially to Wuhan. The Chinese, who are gradually starting to emerge from these difficulties, have returned this solidarity," Le Drian said.
"We're grateful for China's support," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on March 17. "We need each other's support in times of need."
Team Sent to Iraq
A seven-member Chinese medical team is in Iraq and is going all out to help that country fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Their activities include advising the government to take stricter prevention measures, sharing China's treatment experience with their Iraqi counterparts and promoting pandemic control know-how among residents.
Iraq is in urgent need of nucleic acid test kits, team members told the Global Times. The dearth of test kits may have been the reason for fewer confirmed cases in the country, and therefore the Chinese experts are assisting Iraq in building a polymerase chain reaction laboratory in Baghdad and donated 50,000 nucleic acid test kits to improve Iraq's diagnostic capability.
The Chinese volunteer medical team was dispatched by the Red Cross Society of China at the request of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, and arrived in Baghdad on March 9.
Beijing Municipality Sends 30 Tons of Aid to Iran
Beijing Municipality has sent 30 tons of medical and health care items to Iran in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Islamic Republic News Agency reported on March 18.
The donation has been delivered to the capital city of Tehran by 11 trucks. Thanking China for the measure, Tehran Mayor Pirouz Hanachi called for mutual cooperation in various areas.
Iran's Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi said on March 18 that there are 17,361 people in Iran infected with COVID-19 of which 1,135 have died.
Serbia Seeks Aid from China Due to Lack of EU Solidarity
Chinese Ambassador to Serbia, Chen Bo, informed Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on March 17 that Beijing had approved a donation and decided to send experts to help Serbia fight the coronavirus pandemic.
President Vucic said Serbia was not yet in the same crisis as European Union (EU) countries when it comes to the coronavirus but that it would soon happen. "Serbia now turns its eyes to China," he added.
"To avoid that worst-case scenario, we need your help and support. That is why I am asking that you send us anything you can. Money is not a problem, we need everything, from masks, gloves to ventilators, literally everything, and most of all we need your knowledge and people who would be willing to come here and help," Vucic said.
"All my personal hopes are focused on and directed toward China and its president," he said, emphasising that Serbia was not asking for money. "We are waiting for our Chinese brothers here. Without you, it turns out that Europe is having difficulty defending itself, we do not hide the fact that we cannot [defend ourselves]. Without China and our Chinese brothers, we are incapable of doing so," Vucic said.
The Chinese ambassador said that "ordinary citizens" in China had reacted very positively to Vucic's call for help, and that more than 300 million people had watched a video recording of his statement.
The requested aid from China became all the more urgent since the European Commission decided to limit exports of medical equipment outside of the EU.
Vucic further said that he had guaranteed Serbia's "strong as steel friendship" to the Chinese president.
"European solidarity does not exist. That was a fairy tale on paper. I have sent a special letter to the only ones who can help, and that is China...," Vucic said on March 15, the day when Serbia declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus. He said at the time that governments in Western Europe had pressed Serbia to change its tender procedures to reduce imports of Chinese goods and import from Europe instead. But now the same governments do not want to help Serbia, even in exchange for money, he said.
The EU later issued a statement saying there was no ban in the EU on the export of medical equipment, masks and ventilators. Rather, the EU adopted a regime of permits for the sale of medical equipment to non-EU states which may submit a request to continue deliveries to the Balkan and other countries outside the union.
The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats of the European Parliament also issued a statement calling on EU authorities not to ignore the western Balkan region in the fight against the coronavirus.
"[We must] include the Western Balkan countries in our common European response, and in measures to prevent and combat the effects of the epidemic," Socialists and Democrats Vice-President Kati Piri said.
(TML Weekly, March 21, 2020)
Since 1966, March 21 has been designated by the UN General Assembly as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (IDERD). March 21 was chosen to commemorate the day in 1960 when police opened fire and killed 69 peaceful protestors demonstrating against the so-called "pass laws" imposed by the apartheid regime in South Africa. Those tragic events became known internationally thereafter as the Sharpeville massacre.
This year it was necessary to postpone the national demonstration that would have taken place in central London, but an online rally was held on Facebook instead, during which there were video messages from trade unionists, MPs, faith groups and other campaigners. However, as has been customary, there was no official recognition of the day by the government.
The resolution of the UN General Assembly in 1966 declared that racial discrimination and apartheid were "denials of human rights and fundamental freedoms and of justice and are offences against human dignity". It further declared that they were "a serious impediment to economic and social development and are obstacles to international co-operation and peace". The UN condemned racism and declared that such "policies and practices on the part of any Member State are incompatible with the obligation assumed by it under the Charter of the UN". Members of the UN were obliged to take measures to combat and eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. From 1969 the UN also established an International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) which has been signed and ratified by over 180 countries including Britain.
Since the 1960s the UN has taken a series of other measures to eliminate all forms of racism, paying particular attention in the 1970s to manifestations of racism that were a legacy of colonial rule in Africa, in such countries as South Africa, Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Namibia, as well as in Palestine. In 2001, the UN hosted the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which was particularly significant for condemning colonialism as a major cause of racism and for acknowledging that that "slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so, especially the transatlantic slave trade and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance". The UN declared 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent in order to "redouble efforts to fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance that affect people of African descent everywhere." In 2013, the UN General Assembly proclaimed an International Decade for People of African Descent, from 2015-2024, "to further underline the important contribution made by people of African descent to our societies and to propose concrete measures to promote their full inclusion and to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance". Since it is now at its mid-point, the UN has proposed that in 2020 IDERD is focused on the "midterm review" of the International Decade for People of African Descent.
Although the UN has championed these significant initiatives for over half a century, many people may be entirely ignorant of them, not least because they have almost no official recognition in Britain. It could be argued that although the British government is a leading member of the UN Security Council, and has ratified the ICERD, the actions and policies of successive governments, as well as the British state, have been at variance with spirit and aims of the UN General Assembly's aim to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.
Many examples can be found in the recently released Windrush Lessons Learned Review, which reported on the actions of the Home Office from 2008-2018 in relation to the status of citizens who were mainly of Caribbean and African heritage. The Review concluded, "Members of the Windrush generation and their children have been poorly served by this country," and that the actions of the Home Office "were consistent with some elements of institutional racism". In particular, the review was critical of successive immigration and nationality legislation enacted over half a century and of the British government's so-called hostile environment policy.
However, many other examples could be presented, from government support of the apartheid regime in South Africa for many decades, to the refusal to accept that the trafficking of Africans across the Atlantic for centuries, as well as Britain's vast colonial empire, constituted crimes against humanity for which reparation must be made.
There is no doubt that racism directed at people of African descent is not the only form of racism, nor the only form of racism for which Britain needs to make reparation. However, what is significant is that Britain's governments fail to even recognise the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Indeed, for the British state and its governments, racism remains a preferred policy used against not just one section of the people but to attack the rights of all. It is the task of the working class and all progressive people to continue to fight for the elimination of all forms of racism and to fight for the rights of all.
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