Today, French teachers are staging a one-day nationwide strike against French President Emmanuel Macron‘s government and its school health protocols for COVID-19. School inspectors and nurses are also joining the strike, reflecting growing anger and public alarm as the Omicron variant spreads massively across Europe.
This strike is part of an emerging international mobilization of the working class and youth against capitalist governments’ subordination of health and life to private profit. Last week, as teachers in France prepared to go on strike, teachers in Chicago voted to reject a return to in-person learning, which unions working with the city government are trying to reverse. Protests continue and petitions are circulating against keeping schools open during the Omicron wave in New York, San Francisco, Boston and beyond.
The crisis in French schools epitomizes the catastrophe unfolding internationally as schools remain open, with virtually no safety measures in place, while more than 7 million people catch COVID-19 each week in Europe . A week ago, according to the latest official figures, 3.2% of primary and middle school students and 4.7% of secondary school students had COVID-19. With Omicron, these incidence rates double at least once a week. Today, more than 5.6% of the total population carries the virus.
The Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, did not even bother to inform school staff of the health protocol when the start of the winter school year began on January 3. He released a first protocol to the media on January 2, less than 24 hours before the start of classes. Protocols were introduced in a chaotic fashion, constantly changed and designed to keep classes open even when COVID-19 cases explode. The result is an absolute disaster.
Three quarters of teachers are expected to join the strike, closing half of the country’s schools. This massive support reflects the bitter experiences that workers have had in virtually every country, as governments have forced open unsafe workplaces and schools, costing the lives of more than 123,000 people in France and around the world. 1.5 million in Europe.
A teacher told the WSWS: “We have students who have lost their parents or their grandparents and who blame themselves…and it is in our arms that they break down and cry. Such things matter. We live through horrible experiences.
“I am angry, extremely angry,” she added, denouncing the unreliable protocols and test kits imposed by Blanquer. “It changes every three days, from one day to the next, in statements to the press. It is intolerable for us, facing parents the next day without official confirmation of what we are doing. The government has visibly abandoned any idea of protecting schools from COVID-19. »
Another teacher spoke to the WSWS about her fears that Long COVID will affect generations of children in the future. “I am outraged. Data on the virus, although not yet fully understood, shows that it persists inside the body and causes lasting damage in adults and children. … I am very angry that we are letting the virus spread like this, causing children to go to school without knowing what these generations will suffer in terms of health consequences.
This outburst of anger forced the French teachers’ unions to finally authorize the strike. The same unions isolated teachers who staged wildcat strikes against a dangerous return to school in November 2020, even as they were assaulted by Macron’s riot police.
Stéphane Crochet, union official, told France-Info: “There is the anger of all the teachers, from kindergarten to high school. We have colleagues crying as they spend their entire evenings messaging families explaining the new protocols. … In the base, tensions are very high. We have never seen this level of exasperation and exhaustion.
A class confrontation is emerging between teachers and the Macron government. Even as France posts record infection totals day after day, with 368,149 cases yesterday, Macron signals that he has no intention of straying an inch from the mass infection policies adopted throughout the European Union (EU), the United States and internationally.
Prime Minister Jean Castex, who last month said he would rely on a vaccine-only approach to the pandemic, boasted that France is “the country that has kept its schools open the longest”. Insisting that schools cannot close classes when infections occur there “because otherwise all the schools in France would be closed”, he promised, “We will not close the schools or the country “.
Blanquer, who oversaw an education wage freeze during Macron’s tenure, has made no secret of his contempt for teachers who oppose his use of schools as bullpen so parents can be coerced into go to work and make profits for the banks. Calling for “the unity of the Nation around its schools”, he reproached them for their lack of patriotism, “We do not strike against a virus”.
Teachers face an all-out political struggle against the Macron government, in which their natural allies are international workers who come into conflict with state policies of mass infection.
School strikes and protests are on the rise in the United States, and across Europe safe schools activists, such as Britain’s Lisa Diaz, are leading media smear campaigns attacking them for not sending their children in dangerous schools. And explosive anger is building in factories and workplaces around the world against the massive infection policies of the ruling elites after two years of the pandemic.
To wage a political fight against the Macron government, teachers must take the struggle out of the hands of national union bureaucracies. Having refrained from action for the two years of the pandemic, these bureaucracies have long called and then sold one-day strikes in order to strike deals with successive governments in France and across Europe.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown more clearly than ever that there is nothing to negotiate with governments like Macron’s. Such negotiations have already produced cuts in pensions, job security and workers’ wages in the interest of the banks. Today, it is not just the livelihoods but the lives of hundreds of thousands and millions of workers around the world that are at risk.
In November, before Omicron emerged, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted that COVID-19 would kill 500,000 people by April in Europe. Currently, more than 1,500 people die each week in France, 20,000 in Europe and 46,000 worldwide. On Tuesday, the WHO warned that more than half of Europe will catch the Omicron variant in two months, based on current health protocols, overwhelming hospitals and triggering an even bigger rise in deaths. Yet Paris and other European governments have responded not by tightening but by easing health restrictions.
Against governments capable of such monstrous policies, the way forward is to build a powerful international movement in the working class to oppose and ultimately crush the resistance of the ruling elite to science policy in the interests of the great masses. of the working population.
The way forward is the building of rank-and-file committees internationally in schools and workplaces, independent of unions, to coordinate strikes and actions to impose a global, scientifically guided health policy to stop the pandemic and eliminate the transmission of the virus. They can also counter far-right media propaganda against vaccination and public health measures and educate workers and young people on how to end the pandemic. This requires containment, the end of in-person education and non-essential production, and the pursuit of a Zero COVID policy.
the Socialist Equality Party calls on teachers, youth and workers interested in joining such committees in their countries and stopping the pandemic to contact the World Socialist Website and fight to build the International Alliance of Rank and File Committee Workers (IWA-RFC).