Covid-19 – Again. Violence – Together we can draw the line. | Editorial of the Secretary-General Klaus Heeger

Dear colleagues, members, partners and friends,

Covid-19 – Putting us to the test. Again.

In a recent article of the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, the French economist Robert Boyer is quoted as follows: « Comment décider lorsque l´on ne sait pas encore ce que l´on finira par savoir, mais trop tard ? »

Yes, the rollercoaster policies (in basically all European countries) have revealed a helplessness (or was it maybe, as some claim, (gross) negligence?) and led to unclear, confusing and even clearly contradictory messages  – with now again exploding infection rates, hospital admissions and death tolls.

Has this (foreseeable) second wave been underestimated? “No! Maybe. Certainly!” we will say, according to our beliefs. And while “end of the world” scenarios implore citizens to accept and abide by tremendous restrictions of their rights and freedoms (Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on October 30: “These are our last chance measures!”), others, even medics, deplore the harshness of the restrictions or even the inefficiency and disproportionality of general confinement measures.

What are we facing? How big are the collateral economic, social, educational, psychological and other confinement-related health damages we are willing to bear? What about those hit the most by the socio-economic impacts of the crisis containment measures? What about the young, what about women, what about the unemployed, the solo-self-employed, what about the most vulnerable ones and their future?

What are we willing to accept? We have been trying to answer these core ethical questions for quite a while now, for the society and for ourselves. And yes, there is fortunately still a widely accepted consensus that human lives, regardless of their age, count, that human lives must prevail over profit, that human lives are to be saved – (so far) at any costs. But for how long? How many lockdowns will we be willing to accept, to how many can we survive?

Our societies continue to be put to the test.

I strongly believe what we should all learn from the crisis is humility and respect – respect for other opinions, for other views, for others interests. So instead of preaching (alleged) absolute and unshakable truths and forcing them upon others, instead of calling those who don´t share our point of view either ‘Covidiots’ or ‘Confinement-Ayatollahs’, we could rather try to understand each other’s fears.

Also having trust in the fact that those who must take unpleasant decisions probably don’t feel enormous pleasure doing it either, may help. Because, to come back to Robert Boyer, since ‘we don’t know yet what we will finally know, but too late’, we will, in the future, probably ‘have to forgive each other a lot’.

In these times, trade unions have an even more prominent role to play; not just for their members and those at risk, but also as overall societal stabilisers.

Third Party Violence – Together we can draw the line. 

And as we speak of trade union support: Needless to recall that the horrific crime committed against French teacher Samuel Patty and the terrorist attacks in Nice and Vienna will continue to require strong trade union presence and assistance. Because sadly, these attacks often target our affiliates directly. “He was one of us, this is an attack against us French teachers!” a French colleague recently cried out close to tears as we spoke about Samuel Paty. What adds to the tragedy in his case, was not only the degree of brutality but the whole context – namely the fact that it was linked to a lesson on freedom of expression and a subsequent online hate frenzy.

What does it mean for us? Of course, we can get carried away in absolute outrage, we can (pretend to) defend our values and principles with ‘zero tolerance’ (towards the intolerant), we can conjure the extreme urgency to take effective and implacable measures so to avoid that words on social media translate into crimes of such horrific dimension, and we can claim that “we will continue, yes, the fight for freedom and for the reason of which you are now the face, because we owe it to you, because we owe it to ourselves, because in France, teacher, the Enlightenment will never go out,” as Manuel Macron put it in his (very poignant) speech.

But we must go further: Instead of giving in to outrage and battle-cries, we must adopt behaviours and measures – to make sure that we do not leave those alone who are supposed to transmit, to represent and to defend our ‘sacred’ values. Indignation and wrath will only further deepen the rips, the polarisation and the social-media-catalysed unforgiveness and extremism.

Macron said that “in every school, every collège, every lycée, we will give back to our teachers the power to ‘make republicans’… Space and the authority will return to them. We will train them, consider them as we must, support them, protect them as much as we must. In school and outside school, the pressure, the abuse of ignorance and obedience that some want to establish have no place here.”

These are CESI´s longstanding demands, and we realise that trade unions on the ground are more needed than ever. They are the ones which can truly protect and assist. Having trust in their support is not the worst thing to do, especially in times of crisis; believing in their overall societal stabilising function neither, especially in times of polarisation and extremism.

Our just-published video against third party violence ends with the sentence “Together, we must draw the line.”

We owe it to Samuel Paty. We owe it to the victims in Austria and France. We owe it to our members.