The Spark

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

New Jersey teachers strike over benefits

Dec 17, 2001

Two hundred twenty-eight teachers were jailed for going on strike in Middletown Township, NJ in November.

The 228, who were sentenced to a week for contempt of court, were only the first to be jailed. The rest of the 1000 striking teachers were to serve their time over the next few weeks.

The teachers had refused to continue working after five months of negotiations in which the board of education proposed that their annual health costs be raised considerably. The Middletown teachers pay a $250 annual flat fee and are also required to pay up to $1400 in deductibles before their health insurance pays out. The board proposed to increase their annual flat fee to $600.

The teachers are just like workers everywhere else – under attack from their bosses. And changes in medical benefits are one of the important ways that bosses today are trying to exact more sacrifices from their workers, whether in private industry or in public schools or government offices.

For a lot of teachers, it was hard to go to jail, as it would be for anyone. But, as one teacher put it, “In this process, the law is not fair and just. Sometimes good people have to stand up to fight an unjust law.”

On December 10, teachers went back to work after the court appointed a mediator.

If the teachers even got the Board to agree to a mediator, it’s because they were ready to make a fight. But mediation is often a trick. The board of education will have loads of documents to prove it does not have enough money.

What the teachers get from this mediation still depends on their readiness to make a fight.