Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education
Back to school time for most communities across the U.S. puts students and teachers back in the classroom charting a course for the next ten or so months. Yet one collective of courageous educators put their community building exercises on hold to form picket lines — collectively withholding their labor for the schools Seattle students deserve.
In the days before the school year was to begin, the Seattle Education Association (SEA) (for the first time in thirty years) unanimously voted to strike for fair compensation, secure working conditions and a decrease in high-stakes testing. SEA teachers also demanded the establishment of site-based teams to address the gross inequities and institutional racism for which the Seattle Public School system is notorious. The strike lasted six days before being suspended on Weds Sept. 16, 2015; school started across the district on Thursday Sept. 17. (For more on the strike check out the post of the eleven reasons why the Seattle Teachers Strike was important in the struggle for quality public education.)
No mincing of words, the strike is the number one tool teachers have at our disposal in the interests of our students, their families and the entire bargaining unit. It is what the employers fear the most; history has shown it to be a mountain mover in respect to gains for the working class.
Gains are what we need most in these times and for these reasons and many more Classroom Struggle is 100% behind the SEA teachers decision to strike and are encouraged in the gains they made for learning conditions in the classroom, and for social justice in/outside the classroom. Considering some of their gains Seattle teachers proved themselves invaluable in the fight against racism and classism in public education. The 30 site-based teams sound instrumental to help begin taking on these challenges. These committees represent a major gain, and wouldn’t have been possible without the work of the Social Equity Educators (SEE), a rank-and-file social justice caucus that has been organizing and advocating for more radical positions within the Seattle Teachers Union.
Yet make no mistake, Seattle teachers are in no way satisfied with their newly signed contract, and according to a SEA union activist, many Emerald City teachers are still angry and ready to continue fighting. Overall, they don’t feel their raises come close to reflecting the value they provide to the district schools, not to mention SEA agreed to a longer school day, making an already “shitty raise” even shitier. But still the fight rages on and already in the works — a one-day strike by all public sector unions with a call to converge on the Capital rather than labor for it.
These types of mobilizations are a must as it is high time teachers and the broader working class are respected as workers in our various trades. We don’t need market-based experiments nor common core standards nor toxic testing. The private sector has no business meddling into the affairs of public education. The Corporate Education Class and their puppet politicians are desperately trying to destroy our unions. Friedrichs v. CTA and Vergara are only the latest shameful attempts by the right-wing to bust our unions and take control of our classrooms. The picture is becoming clearer as the onslaught continues. Seattle teachers should be commended for holding a strike in this era of austerity. Fighting back is the only option at this point. Chicago teachers knew it in 2012, Seattle teachers know it in 2015, and teacher unionists all over the country must spread this fighting spirit if we are serious about defending and transforming public education.
In Classroom Struggle, as we express solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the Northwest, we are very much committed to continuing the fight in Oakland and throughout the Bay Area. We know our students deserve more than what we signed for in our new contract. We look to our comrades in Seattle for inspiration as we continue building for the schools Oakland Students deserve.