The 33,000 educators in Los Angeles and their union, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), have taught us all an important lesson. Their organization and high level of dedication to improving their working conditions and the learning conditions of their students won them a decisive victory against the forces of privatization.
For educators, their struggle inspires us to new levels of action and resistance to underfunding, overtesting and privatization attempts in public education that has come to characterize U.S. educational policy since the Bush administrations imposition of No Child Left Behind. The UTLA strike built on the momentum of the incredible strikes in Arizona, West Virginia, Denver, Colorado, Seattle Washington of 2018. After decades of overtesting, of attempting to privatize education through charter schools, of underfunding schools and lowering working conditions for teachers, teachers, and their unions, across the country are building a fightback movement. They are reteaching us all the power of withholding our labor, and of organizing in strong coalitions with families and communities.
For workers in general, the wave of teacher strikes, coupled with the gains made by the recent coordinated efforts of hotel workers in 5 important cities, signify great possibilities for future struggle. They have injected a new energy and hopefulness into the labor movement. UTLA carried out an admirable level of organization and communication in preparing for and maintaining the 6-day historic strike.
It is not surprising that these unions have such a high membership of women and people of color. The hotel workers union in particular has a high percentage of immigrant workers. They also made the panic button, a tool against sexual assault, a centerpiece of their strike struggle. The women in those unions made a critical demand, and the strikes won it. Teaching is dominated by women workers, who were on the frontlines of strikes over the last year, and yet again in the L.A. teachers’ struggle.
Former hedge fund manager Superintendent Beutner and his cronies on the LA school board were forced to back off. Their massive anti-union and anti-worker ad campaigns failed. Their lies and misdirections failed. UTLA won the support of the families and the larger community and ultimately won a victory in a district that has suffered over a decade of cutbacks and negative compromises.
The teachers won a 6 percent raise. Class size was immediately reduced with further reductions to come. There will be teacher librarians at every secondary campus and nurses at every school 5 days a week. The agreement establishes a committee to reduce testing by 50 percent. It makes important advances in the struggle against charter privatization and will set up community schools with additional funding and important UTLA leadership. It really is an impressive agreement, and can be read HERE.
As education workers return to work today, they must be jubilant and proud of what they have won through their collective action. Breaking the Chains magazine celebrates their victory and salutes their hard work and dedication in carrying out an action that is not easy but is so worthwhile.