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The Recent Strike Wave


Great news from Los Angeles, with the teachers winning basically everything they wanted from the city.

The teachers won a 6 percent pay raise and caps on class sizes, which had become one of the most contentious issues between the union and district officials. The deal also includes hiring full-time nurses for every school, as well as enough librarians for every middle and high school in the district by the fall of 2020.

The city and county will also expand programs into public schools, providing more support services for the neediest students.

The important thing is not the money–the district was offering 6 percent before the strike and the teachers were at 6.5. This was never the issue. It was all the other things–class sizes, nurses, and librarians. In other words, it was the future of public education after two generations of government–both liberal and conservative–as seen public schools as something to privatize and charterize rather than as something to support. So on all the major issues, the teachers won. This is hardly the last battle. The teachers had a lot of leverage with Gavin Newsom recently taking over as governor and Eric Garcetti thinking he can win the 2020 nomination for president. But this is a still a nice big win. Here’s a list of what it seems to include:

But there are broader lessons here, perhaps. Alia Wong has a piece for the Atlantic about the broader implications:

Taken together, these strikes amount to an unprecedented wave of teacher activism. For several decades, teachers’ unions generally shied away from striking. While strikes occasionally cropped up due to frustrations over demanding requirements and stagnant pay, they typically did so as isolated blips, generating little attention beyond the affected locale. A similarly significant period of teacher strikes arguably hasn’t happened since 1968, when large-scale walkouts occurred in Florida, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and New York City, along with smaller-scale ones in cities such as Cincinnati and Albuquerque.

Even that wave pales in comparison with today’s. Inconsistencies in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data-collection methods make it tricky to compare the two periods in quantitative terms. What’s clear, though, is that the the eight major 2018 strikes—including the four high-profile statewide walkouts—involved a total of more than 379,000 teachers and school staff. Taking into account the current L.A. strike—which is poised to end after Tuesday, pending teachers’ ratification of their union’s newly inked agreement with the district—brings the tally to at least 409,000. The four major teachers’ strikes of 1968, by contrast, involved some 107,000 educators total, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis.

If nothing else, education-policy scholars, legal analysts, and labor experts tell me this wave is unprecedented in the terms that matter most: the stakes, the sentiments, the long-term implications. The walkout in Los Angeles is distinct from its red-state predecessors of 2018 in many regards—its participants are effectively facing off against a Democratic-controlled school district and state, for example, and a plurality of them are Latino, including many whose activist roots run deep. Still, the impact of this strike, which has shut down the country’s second-largest school district for more than a week, amounts to much more than a disruption to classes for nearly 500,000 students. It could go as far as helping to solidify this sequence of strikes as a pivotal moment in a 21st-century labor movement that is characterized by its radicalism and sense of collective action, suggests Charlotte Garden, a professor at Seattle University School of Law who studies labor.

Wong goes on to reference my book, which is nice, but I’ll save you all from more self-promotion for the time being. I do think all these strikes are really significant. The thing about strikes and other forms of labor activism is that they are scary. It’s easy to tell everyone to strike, but it’s scary to do it yourself. The more people you see striking and the more people you see striking and winning, the less scary it is. That’s really important. Each of these educator strikes have built upon the last and now we have a national movement of activist educators. Speaking of this issue, I just finished reading the new book by Elizabeth Todd-Breland, A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago since the 1960s. In it, she discusses how Chicago’s Democratic political machine has routinely undermined black educational advancement, including through the recent terror of charter schools. She details how black teachers–especially black female teachers–have led the fight against this, whether in Black Power education programs, the Harold Washington mayoral campaign, or Karen Lewis and the democratization of the once racist and staid Chicago Teachers Union into the dynamic force it’s become in recent years. It’s a book worth your time if you care about the connection between education, race, and labor, which of course I do.

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