US teachers’/school workers’ strikes spread across five states

Thousands of high school workers protest in Phoenix, Arizona for pay rises and increased school funding. Photograph: Ross D. Franklin/AP

by The Spark

State-wide teacher strikes are rolling across the United States. What started in West Virginia has spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma, and now Arizona and Colorado. In every one of these states, all or most of the school districts in the state have been closed for periods of up to nine days. Tens of thousands of teachers, support personnel, and other school workers have descended on the state capitals in massive demonstrations of determination and solidarity.

In every one of these states, the teachers have made it clear that they are not just demanding pay raises or pensions for themselves. The fight has included demands for pay raises and protections for all school employees and even other public sector workers.

Broader demands

And in every state, the fight has included demands for increased school funding to improve the quality of education for the students. Striking teachers and other school employees have reached out to the students, the parents and the communities, making it clear that this is a fight of ALL working people for a better education and a better life.

These revolts follow two decades of nationwide attacks against public education. George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” was followed by Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” – programs that scapegoated teachers for the low quality of public education, and penalized teachers and schools whose students did not score well on standardized tests.

And especially after the financial melt-down of 2008, the federal government and state legislatures passed massive tax breaks for corporations, gutting state budgets across the country. They cut pay for public workers, and cut school budgets. This was nothing more than a way to make working people pay the price – not only government employees, but everyone who relies on government services, from roads to sanitation to, yes, public schools. All of these services were slashed.

Much of the blame has been placed on Republicans, but in fact these attacks have been pushed and passed by Democrats as well.

Now, after 20 years of these attacks and this deterioration of public school systems, educators, parents and students are finally saying, enough is enough!

Impact of success

Their strikes have been successful, to the extent that they have forced administrators to give what they previously refused to consider. West Virginia teachers and public sector workers got 5 percent raises and an increase in the state school budget. Oklahoma teachers got a 6,000-dollar raise, while other public workers got 1,200 dollars; and the school budget increased by 50 billion dollars, partially paid for by small increases in corporate tax rates.

Arizona teachers were offered a 20 percent raise over several years, but turned it down – because the promise of a school budget increase was much too small, and much too vague. Colorado teachers are fighting for the same thing–raises in pay, plus increases in the funding for public schools.

Of course, when compared to what teachers have given up, all of the concessions made by administrators are nowhere near what they need to be. It will be a hugely difficult fight to get restitution because it can’t just be gleaned out of new taxes or shifts in state budgets. Wall Street banks and corporations will have to be forced to give back money they have taken.

But these fights show that the way for workers to successfully fight is massively – and collectively. Across borders, across professional boundaries, whether in a union or not – the most successful fights have been the ones that have included all workers. Because that’s where the power of the working class lies.

So these five statewide strikes are a good beginning, showing the way forward for workers everywhere.

The article above first appeared as the editorial in the current issue of the US Marxist fortnightly The Spark (April 30).  See, here.

2 comments

  1. The Spark’s article on the wave of teachers’ strikes in the U.S. was only a brief summary, but it is misleading because it made no mention of one very important factor in these struggles – the at-best ambiguous role of the trade union officials.

    In West Virginia where the wave began, the strikers had to push past an inadequate deal agreed to by their union leaders after a few days. They held impromptu meetings in the state capitol to reject the call to end their strike, and followed that with votes every county. The decision was overwhelming: continue the strike. They stayed out nine days, long enough to win their main demands.

    In Oklahoma, the union leaders called off the strike, also after nine days, but here the teachers went back to work. It looks like they won only what had been offered before the strike began, a small gain. There are reports of widespread opposition to the union’s decision there.

    It’s worth noting that despite discontent, the strikers have not been anti-union. They worked through the unions when they could and went around them, or tried to, when they had to.

    In the U.S., decades of broken promises by politicians and betrayals by bankrupt union officials have left the labor movement in a terribly weakened state. These misleaders have spread a sense of powerlessness and cynicism that has invited the rise of racist and anti-worker Trumpism. The teachers’ strikes may be the first sign of a breakthrough, not only in the long decline of working-class resistance to austerity but also in workers’ seeking leadership that really represents their interests.

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