Labour Day 2020 – Let’s celebrate education workers and guarantee public investment in quality education for all!


1 May 2020 will be an International Workers’ Day to remember. In most of Europe, the traditional parades, marches, and festivities to celebrate working people and their struggles will be suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This disease is not only a health crisis; it is also a social and economic crisis. We now see, in a myriad of ways, the crucial role of working people. Those working in public health and other emergency workers, including many teachers and other education personnel, may be the most visible and exposed to the biggest risk. In this challenging and unprecedented situation all workers are doing their part in holding society together. As workplaces reopen, working people continue to be the foundation upon which our societies and economies are built. They will need and deserve decent working conditions and strong public services.

ETUCE wishes to thank all teachers, academics and other education personnel and their unions for their hard work and commitment to teaching students and their dedication to preparing young people for life, especially in these difficult and extraordinary times. During this emergency, teachers and education personnel are working with motivation and a deep sense of responsibility to deliver quality education. Despite scarce resources and the sudden switch to remote teaching, they are upholding the relationship with their students that is central to their mission. By doing their best, even in such unprecedented circumstances, each and every education worker defends equitable and quality education and they ought to have our profound recognition and gratitude for that.

1 May does not only recognise workers for what they do, it commemorates their struggles for better working conditions, better lives and fairer societies. While fighting for labour legislation, social protections and the right to form trade unions and bargain collectively, they also fought to gain rights for themselves and for others which shifted the balance of power. The wealthy and powerful no longer write the destiny of humankind alone. Labour Day still has this double meaning: while celebrating working people, it is also a moment to ask whether they are being treated as they deserve and rewarded for what they contribute. Education workers and their trade unions are focused on those twin goals every day. It is nothing new for education workers to be united in the fight for equal access to quality education as a keystone of democracy and social justice. Quality education for all has a levelling and emancipating role.

In recent years austerity and neo-liberal ideologies have done great damage to public services, education, social protection systems, collective bargaining and social dialogue. Education trade unions have opposed efforts to erode public services and hand them over to the market. They have defended the institutions of democracy and resisted the dominant narrative in which social aspirations and collective actions are considered bad, while individual and personal ambitions are praised. The Covid-19 pandemic reveals the damage that neoliberal models have caused over the past decade. This crisis displays  the consequences of an excessive reverence for the markets coupled with austerity in public spending and the economic crisis that gripped the European continent.

In the current emergency, governments across Europe are massively spending to keep their people safe, to secure decent lives for their citizens during the lockdowns, and to provide fiscal stimulus to the economy. Of course, inadequate fiscal support today risks pushing the economy into a spiral of long-lasting depression tomorrow, but the architecture of the global economy, and of the Eurozone in particular, could leave many European governments without defences against a renewed debt crisis. If we repeat old recipes, the costs of a new round of imposed austerity and budget cuts to reduce debts will prove even greater in terms of economic consequences and political backlashes.

Commenting on COVID-19 and Labour Day, Susan Flocken, ETUCE European Director said: “On a day when we celebrate the invaluable contribution of education workers and their struggles for a fairer society, we must learn the lessons of the past. The question is not whether we can afford to have quality public education, the question is if we can afford not to have it. We need full funding based on public needs with everybody paying their fair share and no tax evasion in order to rebuild after this terrible crisis and protect the current and future wellbeing of working people, communities, and society. This is the way forward to guarantee equal access to quality education for all students as a human right and common good, regardless of socio-economic backgrounds.

The choices of today will determine the world we will live in tomorrow. Education trade unions are ready to help shape the next chapter of European history. A chapter where solidarity and progress are the cornerstone of a fairer, more social and more democratic Europe.”