Daily briefing 7/5/20

News

MP Nadia Whittome was sacked from her job as a carer for speaking out about the shortage of PPE.

As the government mulls plans to ease the lockdown from Monday, unions and other groups continue to warn that workers should not be forced back to work until it is safe to do so. Rishi Sunak is also proposing to whittle down the furlough scheme, cutting the wage subsidy to 60%, in order to “wean people off” their “addiction” to having enough money to feed and house themselves.

Today’s briefing has a special focus on education: the campaigns and struggles of education workers and political education activities that have sprung up during the pandemic.

A new analysis forecasts that UK universities face a £2.5 billion hole in funding as a result of the pandemic, putting 30,000 university jobs at risk. Jo Grady, General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), says that universities will struggle to be able to provide the education needed for people to rebuild their lives if the government fails to provide adequate support. The government’s response continues to fall short of what is needed and has been criticised by the UCU for kicking the can down the road. There is more analysis of the government’s package from WONKHE.

Across both secondary and higher education sectors, it is casualised educators who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. A number of universities are laying off their casualised workers or cutting their hours, often flying in the face of pledges to protect workers. There is a petition to save jobs for doctoral students at the University of Essex, the University of Manchester has warned of job losses, and there are reports around the country of universities not renewing the contracts of temporary and short-term staff. Union members and others at the University of Warwick have set up the Warwick Uni Workers Mutual Aid Hardship Fund as the university fails to protect its most precarious workers.

The NEU has issued specific guidance for supply teachers in schools, as the Freelancer & Contractor Services Association (FCSA) and the Teachers’ Union (NASUWT) call on the government to clarify and address a glaring omission in its furlough scheme for supply teachers employed through umbrella agencies.

As Boris Johnson prepares to announce a plan to exit the lockdown, teachers and parents express significant concerns about going back to school too quickly and putting the health of workers’ and pupils’ families at risk.

Sign the National Education Union (NEU) petition calling on the government not to re-open schools until it is safe to do so. NEU and Parentkind have issued a joint letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to express their concerning about proposals too re-open schools.

Events

The pandemic has seen an upsurge in political education activities, many listed on the Virtual Social Centre, from webinars to reading groups. Sabrina Huck reports on the Capital reading group that she set up:

I have wanted to read Capital for a very long time but like many others have always given up a few pages in. This year, I set myself the resolution to try again with a reading group to help me get through it. But then the pandemic hit and the reading group I was supposed to join was cancelled. That’s when I took to Twitter to recruit fellow students for my own online initiative.

Soon after launching, the sign-ups for the group hit over 100 members. There clearly is an appetite among the Labour left for more meaty theory discussions and political education. We consistently have an average of 30 people join the zoom calls each session, with some additional discussion in the online forum for those who cannot make it. 

The reason why I think that the group has been a success is that it is rooted in collective self-education. Whereas most reading groups that I have looked into in the past are either run by academics or political groups, Marxist Lockdown is by its members and for its members. 

Each session I start off with a quick overview of the chapter, but given that this is my first time with the book, this intervention is not enough to set a line for the whole discussion. Members jump in and reflect on their thoughts, linking the book’s thesis to current affairs and their own lived experiences. We work through the more complex concepts and definitions together. Nobody, even those with a deeper knowledge of Marx, lectures. This gives a real sense of equality between group members, despite the various levels of education people are at. 

The sessions always leave me with a feeling of collective achievement and joy. Embarking on an intellectual journey alongside your comrades is a great bonding moment. Especially now during COVID-19 lockdown, when we can feel more alienated from others, this is so important. 

Tonight at 7pm the People’s Assembly is hosting a national rally, “Online Takeover: Fight For Our Lives” with speakers to include Laura Pidcock, Jeremy Corbyn, Dave Ward, Steve Turner and others.

Later at 11pm UK time (6pm EST) Jacobin‘s Stay at Home series of political education events features political historian Anton Jäger who asks “What Comes After Populism?

New articles, podcast episodes, and resources

Anam Kuraishi in Tribune argues that Coronavirus is exposing class conflict in Britain’s universities and takes a look at the University of Essex’s plans to cut graduate teaching assistant positions without making much of a dent in executive pay.

For Jacobin, Franco Palazzi explores the effects of decades of marketisation and uberification of universities as students are being asked to pay high fees for online teaching and management are making cuts to the low-paid, temporary staff that have gradually comes to replace permanent posts.

Shadow Education Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey makes the case in The New Statesman that we cannot return to the states quo if we are to provide children with a future: “Covid-19 will change education far beyond lockdown.”

Melanie Griffiths in The Morning Star, looks at the effects of deregulating and privatising supply teaching and calls for it to be brought in-house.

At the Virtual Social Centre

If you have a suggestions for resources we should post or for questions you want answered, please let us know. Also get in touch if you have ideas for political education events you’d like to host or stories you’d like to tell about workplace or social struggles.