Feb 4, 2019
A week after 30,000 Los Angeles public school teachers walked out, the strike was settled by a few “negotiators” behind closed doors. The union leadership triumphantly announced that the contract had passed with an 81-percent “yes” vote. But in reality, the union leaders had rammed through the ratification vote in a matter of a few hours.
Only after the vote did teachers begin to discover that they had gained almost nothing from the strike. The raise was no different than what the school district had offered before the strike. As for the cap on class size – certainly a big reason for the strike – the district is now promising to reduce it by four in three years; meaning it will still be over 40 in high schools, close to 40 in middle schools, and 35 in elementary schools! The district is also promising to hire additional librarians and nurses – but still not enough for each L.A. school to have at least one full-time librarian and one full-time nurse. And the new, “improved” average student-to-counselor ratio will be still more than 800 to 1!
It can be surprising that the teachers so quickly accepted this meager settlement, especially since they had been so active, with the support of the parents, students and the broader community. In fact, from first to last, including the demonstrations and picket lines, the strike was controlled by the union bureaucracy. And that bureaucracy is completely tied to the Democratic Party, that is, the very same politicians and officials who have been starving the public schools of funding in order to hand ever more tax money over to the capitalist class. These union bureaucrats were not about to buck these officials or the entire profit-making system that these officials serve.
Right after the settlement, school district officials tried to turn the settlement against the teachers and the other employees, with claims that the settlement was supposedly so “costly” it would bankrupt the school district. Of course, this is a bold-faced lie. The school district is sitting on a cash reserve of about 2 BILLION dollars. But it does mean that district officials are already preparing new attacks.
Therefore, teachers and entire working-class communities in Los Angeles are going to have to mobilize again in order to defend their interests. And so it is very important that they draw lessons from the strike that just ended.
In that strike, teachers mobilized. They gained support from the wider working class community, who saw it as a fight for their kids to gain an education.
But in the future, if the fights are to win, the teachers are going to have to control their own strike. They will have to make decisions themselves in a democratic fashion. And they must be prepared to oppose the union bureaucracy, when the politicians and government officials begin to pull the bureaucrats’ strings.