Teachers Fight Back
After a semester of strikes, teachers are running for office and winning
September usually means the end of summer and the start of a new school year, but like many things, that’s not exactly how it’s working out in 2018.
Teachers went on strike the first week of school. At 7,000 members strong, it’s the largest strike in state history.
Before school even started, United Teachers of Los Angeles held a strike authorization vote should negotiations fail by mid-October. The strike vote passed with overwhelming support, meaning the nation’s second-largest public education system could shut down in the middle of the semester.
These actions by public teachers unions are undoubtedly inspired by the “educator spring” that swept through West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Arizona. Similar to that strike wave, these recent actions in Washington and Los Angeles resulted from expired contracts and stagnating, if not downright decreasing, wages.
Another similarity between them is this lesson: direct action gets the goods.
When West Virginia teachers kicked off the strike wave in February and March, they led a state-wide strike that won 5 percent pay increases from a hostile Republican-led state legislature. Even more impressive is the result of the Arizona teachers’ strike that won 20 percent raises over the next two years as well as higher pay for support staff. Some districts in Washington have already made similarly impressive gains, such as Seattle teachers who boosted their starting salaries and pay step increases over the next 4 years.
Because of these hopeful results, teachers and workers everywhere are feeling the power that comes from direct action by, of, and for the working class.
As can clearly be seen in the fight over public education, the gains made by teachers unions benefit their members as well as students, parents, and the broader community. After all, a teacher’s working conditions are a student’s learning conditions. Contrary to the dominant economic narrative, this is real job creation and shared prosperity.
This broad-based solidarity and community support is starting to reflect in opinion polls and elections. The majority of parents, including those whose children attend public schools and would be most directly affected, are saying they would support teachers going on strike for higher pay. This holds true across partisan lines, to varying degrees, and geographic region.
If you don’t believe in polls, then look at the most recent primary elections results across the country from West Virginia to Oklahoma. Republicans who felt safe in “red seats” in “red states” are being replaced by actively pro-union, pro-public education candidates.
This all goes to show the power of organizing in schools and on so-called bread-and-butter issues that affect all of us. It also proves the effectiveness of striking, which has decreased in frequency over the past few decades. When workers and communities organize together and withhold their labor when they must, they win.
In this sense, public school teachers are not only keeping their schools alive but the tactic of the strike itself. The entire labor movement could learn a lesson or two.