The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Detroit Teachers Shine a Spotlight on the Schools

Feb 1, 2016

On January 11, Detroit teachers stayed away from their schools to protest decades of neglect to Detroit schools and their students, magnified by the last seven years under state imposed “emergency financial managers.” The teachers protest closed 64 of the city’s 97 schools.

The current “emergency manager” immediately denounced teachers for causing 31,000 students to “miss a day of instruction and potentially placing more than a million dollars in per pupil funding in jeopardy.”

Plain, unadulterated bullshit – coming from the dictator who directs a system which has closed schools every day of the year, some for broken plumbing that flooded schools, some for roofs that caved in, some because of malfunctioning electrical systems that caused fires, some for heating systems that don’t work, etc., etc., etc.

He also told the teachers that their protest was counter-productive, that it would make politicians in the state capital mad!

Mad? Speak about mad – the teachers are mad, students are mad, parents are mad at these same state legislators who have been starving the schools of money!

The very next day after the teachers’ protest, Detroit’s mayor ordered the city’s Buildings and Inspections Department to begin inspecting Detroit schools – for the first time in decades.

In the first 11 schools, inspectors noted several hundred violations, including conditions that seriously jeopardized the health and safety of students, teachers and staff. Heaters and furnaces are broken, so are elevators, doors and windows. Toilets are non-functional. Electrical outlets are broken. One school had a roof open to the elements. Rodents, insects, mold, fire hazards – these 11 schools had them all.

The Detroit mayor declared: “we’re not going to allow our children, DPS employees, or the public to continue to be subjected to substandard conditions.”

Filthy hypocrite! For three years, he couldn’t see a thing!

Let’s be clear, he ordered inspections of those schools only because the teachers imposed themselves, creating disruption in the city.

And the teachers were smart enough not to stop just because a lying mayor made promises. On January 20, they forced the closing of even more schools, 88 of the 97.

The next day, the Emergency Manager sent a flunky to court asking for a restraining order against the teachers – and against Steve Conn, who no longer is their official president. (Conn had been removed by a palace coup behind closed doors, carried out by members of the teacher’s executive board, linked with the national AFT.)

The petition to the court didn’t go well for the bureaucrats – teachers were out in front of the court and inside protesting. For once, a judge refused to grant an injunction immediately.

Of course, nothing is settled. A bureaucrat in the Emergency Financial Manager’s office made that clear when she declared they don’t have the money to make repairs – on things like roofs!

But what’s happened so far shows that workers – in this case, teachers – do have the means to impose some of the changes they need. And they can find the leaders they respect – like Conn – rather than the ones the bureaucrats impose on them. It’s only a beginning, but it’s by taking things in their own hands that working people can begin not only to change conditions within this capitalist society, but eventually overthrow and replace the whole rotten society itself.