It’s clear now that the real labor story of the 2010s is the rise of teachers’ unions taking direct action to fight for themselves, the children they teach, and the broader community. Beginning with the role the Wisconsin teachers had in the protest against Scott Walker and then the great Chicago Teachers Union strike in 2012, in the last two years, teachers around the nation have become a symbol of our broken education and economic systems. Fresh off the amazing West Virginia and Oklahoma strikes and resultant political victories and now the first successful charter school strike, teachers in Los Angeles are preparing to walk off the job.
Thousands of teachers, students and union allies marched through downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, from City Hall to the Broad museum, a month ahead of a possible strike that L.A. educators have threatened if the district doesn’t meet demands that include retroactive raises, smaller class sizes and more nurses and counselors.
The March for Public Education, organized by United Teachers Los Angeles, was meant to be a show of force to Supt. Austin Beutner, who has said Los Angeles Unified School District does not have the funds to meet the union’s demands and ensure the district’s financial solvency in future years.
Thousands filled Grand Park and the western steps of City Hall leading up to the 10:30 a.m. rally, holding signs that said, “We work for the people,” “Education is a human right,” and others that called for more reasonable hours for teachers, improved arts education and more nurses.
The march was sandwiched by rallies at both ends, with local and national education activists, teachers and students reiterating the demands.
“Amidst the wealth of Los Angeles, we should not have class sizes of 45 students,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told the crowd from a truck’s flatbed, adding that after 20 months of bargaining, “the time draws closer to taking dramatic action.”
Around 11 a.m., the marchers, most wearing bright red in support of UTLA, walked down Broadway and through the 3rd Street tunnel up to the Broad museum to protest the role that they say billionaires such as Eli Broad are playing in the growth of charter schools, most of which are not unionized and pull students from district schools.
This is all so important. California may be the bluest of states, but it’s also a state still struggling with the long-term impact of its pioneering anti-tax votes of the 1970s, one where techbros and other grifters who want to disrupt education have gone all-in with the charter schools destroying public education, one where the real struggles of the poor for good education are not taken that seriously. Remember that Antonio Villaraigosa’s quixotic effort to run for governor of California was basically an all-in charter school effort. He was defeated, but it’s not as if Gavin Newsom is immune from bad thinking on these issues.
Ultimately, teachers are going to do the work of placing the need for small classes at the top of the California political agenda, of fighting back against the malignancy of the charters, of placing students first in education policy, not Rheeists. This is the leadership we need and I look forward to following their lead.