February 2019, Week 4


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 		 [Teacher unions have not often been leaders of broader social
justice movements. That’s changing due to a new generation of union
activists who see their struggle as part of the struggle for the
communities in which they teach.] [https://portside.org/] 




 Rebecca Tarlau 
 February 21, 2019
The Conversation

	* [https://portside.org/node/19458/printable/print]

 _ Teacher unions have not often been leaders of broader social
justice movements. That’s changing due to a new generation of union
activists who see their struggle as part of the struggle for the
communities in which they teach. _ 



 What's behind the teacher strikes: Unions focus on social justice,
not just salaries
[File 20190221 148513 1hkf0yu.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1]

Striking teachers are increasingly casting their struggle as being
part of a broader struggle for social justice. David Zalubowski/AP


For the past few years I’ve been studying teacher unions and
teachers strikes throughout the Americas. My research has taken me
from the Mexican state of Oaxaca – where teacher protests in 2006
[https://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/29/world/americas/29mexico.html] led
to both violent repression
and a broad-based social movement
for direct democracy – to the streets of São Paulo, Brazil, to
coal-mining towns in West Virginia.

I’ve learned that certain conditions prompt teacher unions to adopt
new forms of activism and take up broader issues of social justice
that go beyond how much teachers are paid.

Now is such a time in the United States.

Factors driving the strikes

The teacher strike that began Feb. 21 in Oakland, California, is just
the latest example in a wave of teacher strikes that have swept the
country over the past year.

In my view as a researcher who deals with issues of education and
the current teacher strike wave in the United States is the result of
three factors.

First is the acceleration of market-based education reforms, including
the expansion of charter schools.

Second is networks of teacher activists organizing and transforming
their unions to focus on broader social issues.

Third is the framing of teacher union action as part of the struggle
for racial justice.

These factors have led teacher unions to form alliances with community
organizations [http://www.reclaimourschools.org/], enlist students
[https://www.schoolslastudentsdeserve.com/] and parents
[https://www.utla.net/parents-community] to join the activism, and
speak out against
[http://time.com/5499164/la-teacher-strike-charter-schools/] efforts
to expand charter schools and privatization.

Inspired by Occupy

Let’s look at how these three factors played out in Oakland,
starting several years ago.

As I learned through interviews, teacher activists in Oakland drew
inspiration from the Occupy movement
in 2011. They helped occupy a local elementary school to protest its
and eventually created a union caucus called Classroom Struggle with a
couple dozen teachers to promote more social justice issues. Then,
last spring, these teacher activists
[https://classroomstruggle.org/oea-elections/candidates/] created a
slate, in alliance with African-American teacher and organizer Keith
Brown [https://oaklandea.org/board/keith-brown/], and won the
leadership of the Oakland Education Association. Since taking office
on July 1, 2018, this new union leadership – inspired by the
successful strikes in West Virgina, Arizona and Los Angeles – have
been preparing for a strike.

The conditions that led to the Oakland strike are similar to those
that led to strikes in other cities earlier this year, such as Los

For instance, public education in Oakland has been defunded
and the city, much like Los Angeles, is experiencing charter school
that teachers say is taking money away from public schools. One recent
report found that charter schools take US$57.3 million
a year from public schools in Oakland.

Teacher union actions in Oakland also mirror tactics and strategies
that unions have used in other cities. For instance, Oakland teacher
union leaders have enlisted the help of student
and community groups [https://californiaeducator.org/redforedoakland/]
and focused on racial justice


Teacher unions are enlisting students to help support their strikes.
David Zalubowski/AP


All these actions have transformed the Oakland Education Association
– and many other teachers’ unions across the country – into
leaders of a social movement that has the potential of redefining
public education, the labor movement and American politics.

Much of the media attention on teacher strikes has focused on the
economic reasons for the strikes, such as low teacher salaries
rising health care costs
and aging textbooks
But there are important historical factors at play.

Historically, teachers’ unions have not led social, racial and
economic justice movements. But there are some exceptions. Those
exceptions include teacher unionists’ critique of authoritarianism
[http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/0-271-01560-8.html] in Mexico in
the 1980s and 1990s; teachers’ participation in the movement for a
return to democracy in Brazil in the late 1970s; and, in the United
States, the participation of many teacher union leaders in the civil
rights activism
of the 1950s and 1960s.

However, it is also important to note that during the 1960s, many
teachers in the United States also found themselves at odds with
communities of color. Perhaps this is best exemplified by the 1968
Ocean Hill-Brownsville Strike
when the United Federation of Teachers rallied against black community
control of schools.

New alliances

Today’s teacher activists have bridged the divide between teacher
unions and communities of color. For instance, between 2010 and 2012,
teacher activists from Chicago’s Caucus of Rank and File Educators,
or CORE, aligned with other community groups to organize against
school closings in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. CORE also
supported parents and students occupying an elementary school
to prevent its closure. Their rallying call – “Schools that
Chicago Students Deserve
– included demands for reduced class size and other things related
to classroom conditions.

In Los Angeles, activists embraced this social movement approach to
union activism, fighting for the “Schools that LA Students Deserve
[https://www.utla.net/sites/default/files/UTLA_SLASDFINAL.pdf].” In
2014, the Los Angeles activists created a new caucus, Union Power
winning the elections and immediately hiring dozens of new organizers
to help build towards a strike. They worked in alliance with dozens of
community organizations [http://reclaimourschoolsla.org/].

The Black Lives Matter movement fueled energy into a new student
movement, called Students Deserve
[https://www.schoolslastudentsdeserve.com/], directly supported by the
union leadership. The six-day LA strike in early 2019 represented,
more than anything else, an explicit racial justice struggle
[https://www.utla.net/campaigns-issues/issues/racial-justice]. The LA
strike also called into question claims
by the charter and voucher
movements that school choice policies represent the best path to
social mobility for children from poor communities of color.

Teacher unions are not always – and not often – the leaders of
broader social justice movements. Now that’s changing due to a new
generation of union activists who see their struggle as part of the
fight for equitable resources for the communities in which they
teach.[The Conversation]

Rebecca Tarlau
Assistant Professor of Education and of Labor and Employment
Relations, _Pennsylvania State University

This article is republished from The Conversation
[http://theconversation.com] under a Creative Commons license. Read
the original article

	* [https://portside.org/node/19458/printable/print]







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