The Spark

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

Detroit teachers return to work

Sep 18, 2006

Striking Detroit teachers voted on September 13 to return to work. They had been on strike since August 28.

A final vote to accept or reject the proposed contract will come some time in the next month.

Teachers voted to strike after the district demanded 88 million dollars in concessions, coming after a year in which the teachers had already accepted 63 million in other cuts.

After those cuts last year, the district gave ADMINISTRATORS a pay RAISE. Top administrators are among the highest paid in the state, and the superintendent, William Coleman, is among the highest paid superintendents in the country with a $225,000 a year salary.

Teachers were fed up with shouldering the blame and the burden for the district’s supposed problems, problems that don’t bother the administrators any. They sent that signal when they went out on strike – even though it’s officially illegal for teachers to do so in Michigan. They sent that signal in their spirited picket lines over the next several weeks. And they sent that signal when they defied a judge’s order to return to work on Monday, September 11.

It was the teachers’ militancy and their determination that got the district to back off on some of the cuts. More to the point, they’ve put the jerks who run the district, who care about nothing but their own big pay and the bottom line, that they’re sick of it. And they’ve demonstrated to the district – and to each other – that they’re ready to fight. That can make the district think awhile before it comes back to demand more sacrifices.

But the teachers did end up giving up concessions. They didn’t take the five% wage cuts the district wanted, but the contract includes a complete wage freeze this year (of wages that were cut last year), and raises of only one% next year and 2.5% the year after – less than the rate of inflation, which makes it effectively a wage cut anyway.

In addition, all teachers will be expected to pay ten% of the premium for their health insurance. And there are other concessions, including the loss of five sick days and the elimination of some bonuses.

Clearly, this is not a victory. Most teachers are unhappy with this deal; most voted to go back to work only grudgingly. They went back because many of them felt they had no more possibilities.

This is the mark of how limited a fight can be – when the strikers don’t control their own strike. For example: even though several meetings brought teachers together, these meetings were controlled from the front. All the membership was asked for was to vote the contract up or down. At no time did the strikers discuss what further actions they could take to strengthen (or even spread) the strike. The meetings were not organized for such discussions. And the strikers didn’t find the way to make the meetings their meetings. Without that, it was harder for them to counteract the union leadership when it decided to give in and cut a deal.

When workers fight back with militancy and determination, they can win something – even if it’s only to make the bosses think twice about imposing further cuts in the future.

But if workers go out on strike, they MUST control that strike themselves – or their own activity will get them much less than they could have won, and sometimes be turned against them.