Be prepared to ‘sacrifice your lives’ says ex Ofsted head

Former Ofsted leader shows the growing dangerous attitude toward Public Sector workers

On 26th February the Independent reported that the Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former chief inspector of schools, said that teachers need to show a “similar commitment” to medical professionals, who in some cases have “sacrificed their lives.”

Daily deaths from Coronavirus

This statement is not only worrying for its demand for teachers, vital public workers who have done everything possible to continue to educate our children throughout the pandemic, to put their lives at even greater risk but also that the sacrifices and deaths in the NHS and Care professions are not only acceptable they are to be expected.

Anyone who has experienced the work done by those in the NHS, seen their stories online or spoken to friends and family working in those areas will know that what they have done to protect our collective health has been nothing short of magnificent. Stories of long hours, lack of PPE, greater rates of infections and deaths, isolation from friends and family above and beyond what the rest of us have suffered has I’m sure moved us all.

The statement Sir Michael Wilshaw made though, not only denigrates what they have done in dealing with the results of generations of under investment and privatisation in the NHS and Care Services; but sets it as an example of what the establishment believe should be expected by other public servants.

When someone from his background and in his position of authority makes such a statement it is a clear sign that the political establishment and the vested interests in the country are lining up to attack public sector workers and that this is one of the early shots in what will become a more attritional campaign against public sector workers.

I have seen first hand that teachers have been working hard throughout the pandemic to support their students. My partner is a teacher and I’ve seen her do long days lesson after lesson online, adjusting to a whole new way of working with little notice or time to prepare due to short notice Government announcements. Days of teaching followed by evenings of marking and weekends of planning for the following week.

The suggestion that teachers should “show a similar commitment” to healthcare workers not only fails to take account of everything that has been done so far by Teachers and other Public Sector workers, but also sets a standard that not only are those sacrifices of NHS worker acceptable; they are what should be expected from us all in the public sector.

There should be no doubt that this attitude will be engendered by a succession of authoritarian voices in the coming months; undermining the support shown to Key Workers by the public throughout the pandemic. That it will be used to question our contributions, to undermine our value and to justify the continuation of the attacks on our pay and conditions.

We must reject this and every attempt to normalise sacrifice of workers by leaders and politicians who have never found themselves on the frontlines delivering to struggling communities, in what has been the greatest challenge our generation has faced. We must stand together to demand recognition for our work not only during the pandemic but throughout the years of cuts and austerity leading up to it and continue to fight for our due.

I urge everyone to sign the PCS e-action at www.pcs.org.uk/news/email-sunak-to-tell-him-scrap-the-pay-freeze and to sign up and take part in the TUC rallies for public sector pay at 7:30 on 2nd March at https://bit.ly/37NqM8s to take part in the next step of PCS’ campaign over pay.

Steve Swainston

Steven Swainston is standing as a Left Unity candidate for the PCS DWP GEC as Group Assistant Secretary and as a Democracy Alliance candidate for the PCS NEC.

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International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month

The right to self determination is crucial for our collective empowerment against discrimination and patriarchal systems.

For the past couple of years, we have been celebrating Women’s History Month in addition to International Women’s Day – our herstories are important in documenting our struggles for women equality and creating a positive legacy for the future.

Women’s History Month started in the USA and although the first Women’s History Month in the USA took place over 100 years ago it is still a relatively new observance in the UK.

As the chair of the National Women’s Forum, I have worked with colleagues on the forum and the equality dept to put together a programme of activities for the month including some interactive history materials which can be used at local union branch events and which will be shared on PCS social media throughout the month and we have organised two events to mark IWD and WHM which I will be chairing.

The first will be a fringe meeting at TUC Women’s Conference during the first week of March which focuses on black women and the pandemic. As intersectional women we often face multiple barriers and discrimination and our black women members in the culture sector and outsourced areas are amongst the hardest hit at work and in the labour market by the pandemic on top of the fact that black and minority ethnic people are contracting and dying disproportionately.

The second event will be celebrating women past present and future and we will shortly be announcing our trailblazing keynote speaker.

Details of both events can be found here:

https://www.pcs.org.uk/news/womens-history-month-2021-a-better-future-for-women

The official theme for IWD this year is Choose to Challenge but we did not feel that this was an appropriate theme for us because as women trade unionists and workers we challenge every day, so we have chosen the theme A Better Future for Women #PCSABetterFutureforWomen.

The past year during the pandemic has been tough on women and has impacted in disproportionate ways on women with double or more impacts for intersectional women. From an increase in domestic abuse to women in precarious work – especially black and migrant women losing their jobs in higher numbers, having increased caring responsibilities for vulnerable family and trying to juggle home schooling, caring and work , the backdrop for what we faced when the pandemic hit us is embedded in the adverse impacts of austerity, low and unequal pay and a patriarchal society so when we hear people talk about going back to normal, this isn’t something we support – we don’t want to go back to how things were because life was tough for those on the receiving end of discrimination, misogyny , harassment and poverty – what we want is to go into a future that’s better for us all, especially the most marginalised and it’s crucial that nobody is left behind.

Our struggles against discrimination and barriers are connected and while we fight for the rights of our members, we cannot forget about the women globally whose voices need elevating, our sisters in the global south are displaced because of climate change, conflict and poverty, our LBT sisters who face persecution in some parts of the world. Here is the UK I have been supporting women and children with no recourse to public funds and no access to government covid measures and women and children separated from loved ones who are the descendants of the Windrush generation, detained and deported with no safeguards against the pandemic. The legacies of colonialism and imperialism have led to the persecution and discrimination that these women face and so knowing that history and sharing it as an act of solidarity and awareness raising to counter the onslaught of discrimination and struggle for gender equality we face as intersectional women in crucial.

Whilst self- determination is a must – the fight for women’s equality is the responsibility of all of us – men can be feminists too and the trade union plays an important role in that fight.

Zita Holbourne

Zita is standing in the PCS elections as Vice President as part of the Democracy Alliance slate. Click on the image below for more details.

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TUC day of action for UN Anti Racism Day

Today the TUC and Stand Up To Racism called for a mobilising day to publicise the UN Anti Racism Day on 20th March.

Candidates from the Democracy Alliance and Left Unity joined in publicising the action.

Click here for more information on UN Anti Racism Day

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Defend the £20 Universal Credit uplift

The sight of people queuing for a foodbank in the snow recently has once again highlighted the crisis of poverty that exists in this country.

Even on parliamentary measurements 11 million people were in ‘relative low income’, that’s 17% of the population in 2019. That puts 2.8 million children, 20% of all children, in relative low income. Child Poverty Action Group put that figure at 4.2 million children.

Underneath these crude figures lie broken lives, children who will wake up hungry and underperform at school, people in multi occupier households which are being hit particularly hard by coronavirus, people who can’t heat their houses, increased levels of domestic violence, the list is endless.

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Standing Up to Racism in Edinburgh

Like many other activists in the trade union movement, I’m involved in Stand Up to Racism (SUtR), and over the last few weeks I’ve been convening meetings in Edinburgh, in order to build for a local event on UN Anti-Racism Day, 20th March.

This year, there is no let up in the challenges faced by anti-racists, with politicians and the media continuing to use racism in their attempts to divide opposition in response to the government’s mishandling of the pandemic. We have seen the stoking up of Islamophobia with the scapegoating of refugees and migrants.

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Period Dignity, from menstruation to menopause, we’re still here for you

PCS believe that no person with a period should be caught short and that period products should be free in workplace toilets the same way that toilet paper and soap are made available. And even though most of our members are currently working from home, which a Left Unity led union fought for, I believe it’s important to remember that the period dignity campaign encompasses so much more than the fight for free tampons or towels. It’s about unity. It’s about sisterhood. The call for ‘Period Dignity’ is about smashing the stigma and breaking the silence surrounding something that is so very natural. From menstruation to menopause and everything in between, we need to keep talking about it, all of it.

The Period Dignity Campaign which was moved by DWP Glasgow branch at National Conference 2018, very quickly started to gain momentum and our union (along with the various Women’s Advisory and Equality Committees) continued to highlight the importance of this campaign across our workplaces and beyond.

In May 2018 Celtic Football Club took the decision to provide the right to free sanitary products for fans. This campaign was set up by 3 football fans, all of which are working class women. Celtic, a club who have long been committed to working class values and set up with the purpose of alleviating poverty in the East end of Glasgow, were the first football club in the UK to install free dispensaries in the stadium toilets. 110 clubs across the UK have since followed suit.

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Digital recruitment (or how I learned to stop worrying and love technology)

As an organiser for my branch and regional organiser for DWP North East I’ve participated in many recruitment events for new staff and existing staff. The method was simple and imparted to me by several ‘old hats’ during TU inductions and events. “Look them in the eyes. Tell them about how brilliant PCS is, give them some pens, hand out some forms, collect them once they are completed” It seemed easy enough.

New staff inductions were normally conducted in a dreary training room which TU were invited to as part of the new staff induction to the department.

Invariably we would be allowed to talk to the recruits but only after HASSRA and the Charity for civil servants had already extolled the benefits of joining their club. On many occasions we would be asking them to fill out direct debits or salary deduction forms for the third time that day and glazed eyes told us that they were not really getting it.

To be fair I did get used to it and every now and again during spells of DWP recruitment I would toddle off to the training room with a clutch of forms, lanyards and pens to talk to the new staff. Obviously DWP recruitment, like most departments, has been virtually non-existent for several years’ now, so events to recruit existing staff became more prevalent.

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