The Spark

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

Detroit teachers strike!

Sep 4, 2006

Over 6,000 members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) voted Sunday, August 27, to strike rather than accept a concession contract offer from the school board.

The contract offer contained 88 million dollars in cuts, including 5.5% wage cuts, and cuts in medical benefits. The school board says it is 105 million dollars in debt.

The teachers point out that they just accepted 64 million dollars in cuts last year when the school board first said it was in dire straits; but then the board gave raises to administrators with that money. Teachers demand a 5% raise, with no cuts in medical benefits.

Many other issues are on teachers’ minds, all having to do with the quality of education that can be provided in their classrooms. And these issues all boil down to the fact that much more money needs to be put into the schools.

Superintendent William F. Coleman and the school board president, Jimmy Womack, say there is no money. But that’s a load of bull. Administrators in the district continue to pull down six-figure salaries, and the district continues to pay contractors big money for their services.

Not only that, but money from the state could be there – even though the politicians claim it isn’t. The state promised, when it shifted school funding from local property taxes to statewide taxes, that they would provide the same funding and more; this promise disappeared in a puff of smoke. Before that, the state promised that the lottery would provide extra funding to help the schools. But the politicians simply diverted other money away from the schools, into the pockets of corporations.

Today the state continues a pattern of give-backs and tax cuts to the wealthy, while cutting funds to the schools. It just did away with its last remaining business tax, the “single business tax.” Governor Jennifer Granholm makes one announcement after another about tax breaks to major corporations. All this is money that COULD be used to save school districts like Detroit – but instead goes to line the pockets of the very rich.

Yes, there’s money! The hogs at the top are stuffed full of it. And the teachers in Detroit are doing the one thing that can get that money where it belongs. They’re fighting, and striking, together.

Thousands of teachers have been picketing since Monday, August 28, the day they were scheduled to return to work. Students are scheduled to return on Tuesday, September 5.

Up until now, the school board has been stonewalling in the negotiations. The board went to court expecting to get a judge’s injunction against the strike. The judge, however, perhaps mindful of needing workers’ votes in the next election, refused to grant the injunction and instead ordered the two parties to meet and negotiate.

An important moment in the strike will come on the day after Labor Day, when children are to report for the first day of classes. The judge may grant the board’s request for a hearing and injunction – or she may continue to demand negotiations.

But no matter what, the deciding factor will be the determination of the teachers, not to give in, judge or no judge, law or no law. The teachers have the power to pluck from the lawbooks the state’s law that is supposed to restrain them, and dump it in the dumpster where it belongs.

In fact, if teachers would show this sort of determination, in this working-class city that suffers acutely from years of attacks on education and jobs and incomes, they would have every reason to expect the working class’s widespread support and encouragement. Moreover, in the teachers’ determination, the working class itself could find an example they could pick up and spread.

Certainly it is past time for all workers to call the bosses and their state to account.