Australia: Committee for Public Education online meeting opposes reopening of schools, calls for grassroots committees
The Committee for Public Education (CFPE) in Australia held a successful online meeting on Sunday to discuss the development of a global movement to prevent the reopening of schools under conditions of rising Delta variant infections.
Reports from speakers — Patrick O’Connor from Australia, Prageeth Aravinda from Sri Lanka and Zac Corrigan from the United States — sparked a lively discussion among over 100 people in attendance. Streamed live on Zoom, the entire event can be viewed below.
Participants included teachers, academics, university students, pupils and parents of TAFE from across Australia and others from the United States, Germany, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
The participants adopted the following resolution: “This meeting of the Committee for Public Education sends greetings of solidarity to striking teachers in Sri Lanka, educators, students and parents in the United States, and others in the United States. internationally who oppose the reckless and homicidal policies of reopening schools. . We are committed to advancing the fight for Grassroots Educators Committees in Australia to partner with the International Grassroots Committee Workers Alliance.
CFPE National Coordinator Sue Phillips chaired the meeting, explaining the historical and international significance of the event. Educators and children, she said, were on the front lines of a very dangerous ruling class campaign to remove COVID-19 security restrictions and reopen the economy to keep big business profits going. and financial capital. The opening of schools has been a key part of this homicidal strategy.
The first speaker, Patrick O’Connor, teacher and member of the CFPE and the National Committee of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP), examined how capitalist governments around the world have responded to the pandemic by putting profit before security and human life.
O’Connor quoted a February editorial from BMJ (formerly the British medical journal) who called the collective response to the pandemic by international governments a “social murder”. The editorial noted that the government was claiming “to have done all it could or that the pandemic was uncharted territory, there was no playbook. None of these are true.” These are selfish political lies from the “chief gaslighters” around the world. “
The speaker explained how this hostility to scientific advice was reflected in Australia’s ruling class and its rush to reopen schools, even as the country faced its worst wave of infection on record.
This campaign was entirely bipartisan in Australia, he continued. Liberal and Labor, federal and state governments have adopted the mantra: ‘We must learn to live with the virus’ and refuse to introduce the measures necessary to stop transmission and end the pandemic. Teacher unions, acting as the spokesperson for the government, play a central role in the teachers’ straitjacket and in the pursuit of this policy.
As popular anger and opposition forced a temporary withdrawal from the reopening campaign, teachers, students and working families had to take matters into their own hands, O’Connor said.
Prageeth Aravinda, teacher and chairman of the Sri Lankan Committee for the Safety of Teachers, Parents and Students, examines the ongoing online strike of 250,000 teachers in Sri Lanka for improved salaries and to oppose the denial of the Rajapakse government to implement serious measures to combat the pandemic. Sri Lanka now has the fourth highest COVID-19 death rate per capita in the world.
Aravinda said the Rajapakse government has opened schools from time to time, despite the increase in infections, but that “schools have been closed since April due to strong opposition from students, parents and teachers.”
The speaker reviewed the online teachers’ strike which lasted more than two months, explaining the widespread hostility of teachers to the government’s refusal to respond to wage demands that have been going on for decades. Teachers are among the lowest paid public sector workers in Sri Lanka.
Along with the ongoing strike, “teachers withdrew from tasks related to practical exams for regular GCE levels, major Sri Lankan exams for grade 11 students, and preparing student applications for level exams. advanced and 5th year scholarship exams, ”Aravinda explained.
Despite this, “the main teachers’ unions have fully endorsed the government’s assertion that” an immediate salary increase is not possible due to the current economic crisis in the country “,” said the speaker. At the end of last month, the Sri Lankan Committee for the Safety of Teachers, Students and Parents hosted a successful online meeting with more than 100 people in attendance.
Zac Corrigan, member of the Socialist Equality Party in the United States, was the last speaker. Corrigan plays a leading role in the Michigan Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee and was part of an on-site WSWS reporting team responding to educator strikes across the United States in 2018.
Corrigan warned that the United States faces “impending disaster of monumental proportions.” The pandemic disaster, he said, is the result of the homicidal prospect of the US ruling elite to lift and eliminate COVID restrictions and open up the economy for the benefit of big business.
More than 60% of schools in the United States have reopened, with 180,000 cases of COVID-19 children reported in the week ending August 19, a 50% increase from the previous week, resulting in death tragedy of 24 children.
In Mississippi, Corrigan said, nearly 6,000 children had tested positive for the disease, 30 times more than the previous semester. A six-fold increase in infections among teachers and staff, 1,496, had been reported. Florida has set an all-time high for COVID-19 deaths with one person in the state dying from the virus every seven minutes. In Louisiana, an astronomical wave was underway with 28% of all new cases in children, newborns up to 17 years old.
As this deadly spread was occurring, a massive campaign was underway in corporate media, condemning governments for delaying too long in reopening schools to in-person learning.
Corrigan released a music video in which US President Joe Biden, in response to an eight-year-old’s question, “Am I going to get COVID, am I going to die of COVID?” Lied replied, “Children don’t get COVID very often. You are the safest group of people in the world.
Corrigan linked the fight against in-person learning to an important fight led by Volvo workers in recent months. As the media and unions struggled to isolate and obscure the strike action by workers in Virginia, the SEP intervened aggressively, drawing the attention of workers around the world to the struggle. It also provided Volvo’s workers’ grassroots committee with valuable information and advice, without forcing them to agree with the SEP’s political agenda.
This allowed Volvo’s strike to gain the support of workers internationally and, thanks to it, to stand firm for three months against one of the largest companies in the world. It also allowed Volvo workers to draw definitive conclusions about the role of unions: that they represent companies, not workers, and no pressure will change that.
The struggle of the Volvo workers, Corrigan pointed out, has shown the way forward for the rest of the working class, stressing the need to broaden the struggle to a broad layer of the working class and to mobilize its true strength, regardless of unions.
The reports produced a series of questions. These included whether an eradication policy would work; how to secure a global lockdown; the role of grassroots committees; and the growing social inequality between public and private school systems in Australia. A participant asked whether socialism should be achieved before the pandemic is eradicated.
Corrigan explained that the two couldn’t be designed separately, that the working class needed real science, and that there was a fundamental difference between what scientists were advocating and the ruling class’s responses to the pandemic. The SEP was fighting to bring knowledge of science to the working class, so that they could develop political understanding of the need to fight for socialism, he said.
Corrigan and other speakers urged attendees to participate in an online meeting the next day hosted by the World Socialist Website involving international scientists discussing the measures needed to eradicate the coronavirus, stop the tide of deaths and end the pandemic.
Phillips ended the meeting by calling on everyone present to become active in the fight against the reopening of schools and to apply to join the CFPE and the Socialist Equality Party.
The CFPE can be contacted by: