The final school bell of the academic year couldn’t come soon enough for North Lanarkshire Council. As they blundered from press spot to public meeting without any explanation as to the presence of blue water containing traces of iron on the shared campus of St Ambrose and Buchanan High, the potential impact of strike action taken by teachers from the latter was only mitigated by the summer recess.
By Thomas Dunbar, Glasgow Marxists
The revelation that surfaced in the Scottish press concerning four teachers in Buchanan who had contracted the same form of rare bladder cancer having worked in the same corridor of the school, was met with indignant outrage from the community at the perceived ambivalence from North Lanarkshire to address these health hazards. The schools were instructed to remain open as normal until the end of term, although the dramatic withdrawal of pupils in classrooms before then could scarcely be put down to ‘premature summer holiday syndrome’.
During the weeks of intense media scrutiny, attention was drawn towards the nature of the construction of the campus opened for learning on Guy Fawkes Night 2012. Following the model of several other councils across the country, the decision was taken at the start of the decade following months of civic in-fighting to approve construction of a new, £44 million (a figure thought to have been exceeded) campus for St. Ambrose High School. North Lanarkshire Council, acting as both the arbiter and the applicant for this project was later subject to an independent government review over this decision but ultimately ground was broken in neighbouring Drumpellier Park in late 2010 – ground which was to become central to the controversy unfolding over the last four months.
The concerns about the land containing harmful levels of contamination from materials dumped from the Gartsherrie ironworks were at the forefront of discussion while the campus was still a blueprint on an architect’s desk. Although tests deemed the levels of contamination and the presence of harmful materials to be negligible, North Larnarkshire had already backed themselves into a corner either way. Decades of neglect had already allowed the buildings of both high schools to run into states of shambolic dereliction – water leaking into classrooms and malfunctioning electrics were commonplace within the 50 year old structure of St Ambrose – and attempts to rectify this with the construction of slap dash Frankenstein-like appendages were symptomatic of a wider disregard for state education in post-Thatcher Britain.
What this action against North Lanarkshire Council represents is a microcosm of the disillusionment felt in many de-industrialised areas towards the civic governments in power, a rejection of the actions taken on behalf of local communities which have clearly been taken in spite of their interests. The teachers at these schools have every right to take measures to ensure their safety in the workplace while emphasising the overall negligence on the part of their employers. That this action taken by the teachers of Buchanan High has resonated with the wider population Coatbridge further emphasises the level of class consciousness driven by the lessons of continual betrayal and exploitation from the capitalist class.
It’s a familiar story of the myopic short-sightedness of profit motivated government, and the cracks that are beginning to show within the cheap-made façade of St. Ambrose, but there are cracks between the local community of Coatbridge and North Lanarkshire which may be irreparable.