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Why 15,000 Indiana Teachers Just Walked Off the Job

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After making waves in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina and beyond, the Red for Ed movement has now spread to Indiana. Fed up with disinvestment in public schools and disrespect for their profession, teachers from across the Hoosier State are converging in Indianapolis today to hold lawmakers accountable and demand change.

More than 15,000 teachers and supporters are expected to rally at the Republican-controlled statehouse for today’s Red for Ed Day of Action, organized by the Indiana State Teachers Association and AFT Indiana. While the protest is not officially a strike, nearly half of the state’s school districts have been forced to cancel classes because so many educators have taken the day off to participate.

The rally coincides with the state legislature’s “Organization Day,” where lawmakers discuss their priorities for the next legislative session which begins in January.

Teachers are demanding raises to their salaries, which average around $50,000—well below the national average of $60,000—but can be as low as $30,000 for new hires. After years of state budget surpluses, Indiana now has $2.3 billion in reserves. At the same time, Indiana teachers have seen the smallest salary increases in the nation, receiving an overall increase of only $6,900 between 2002 and 2017.

Rather than simply tapping into the state’s massive reserves to pay for teacher raises, Republican lawmakers say that any salary increases would have to be paired with cuts to other school expenses such as administration and transportation.

Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb agreed to a one-time allocation of $150 million to pay down schools’ pension liability, freeing up $70 million per year in the school districts’ budgets. While Holcomb framed the move as a roundabout way to provide teachers raises, schools were not required to use the savings for salary increases—and apparently haven’t done so.

The low salaries compared to neighboring states has resulted in a statewide teacher shortage.  “Class sizes have ballooned because we don’t have the staff—we can’t fill the positions that are open and we can’t find the money to hire staff,” explained Daniel Brugioni, president of the Lake Ridge Federation of Teachers. “When you’re looking at almost 100% of districts in the state can’t fill their openings, you realize something has to be done.”

A second demand of the teachers revolves around Indiana’s new standardized test, the Indiana Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network (ILEARN). The exam is computer adaptive, meaning the difficulty of questions changes based on students’ responses. It was just rolled out this year, and fewer than half of the state’s students passed it. The result has not only angered parents, but also raised concerns for teachers—whose compensation is tied to their students’ ILEARN scores.

Teachers are calling on lawmakers to pass a “hold-harmless” provision to prevent this year’s ILEARN scores from being used by the state to punish them, their students and their schools. At the same time, teachers are also questioning the state’s emphasis on standardized testing.

“Are the students we’re educating better off than they were 10 to 15 years ago? We’ve had an incredible amount of testing,” said Tonya Pfaff, a schoolteacher in Vigo County as well as a Democratic state legislator. “Students are full of anxiety, they don’t like school, they are learning how to do multiple choice tests… but life is not multiple choice. It’s about working on projects, collaborating and problem-solving.”

Educators are also demanding legislators repeal a new law that went into effect this summer, which requires they complete a 15-hour “externship” with a local business in order to renew their state teaching license. The required “externship” was billed by Republican lawmakers as a way to advance teachers’ professional development and help them connect students to job opportunities.

The new requirement outraged many teachers, who already attend conferences and workshops, as well as pursue continuing education, as part of their professional development. Fort Wayne Education Association president Julie Hyndman called it a “complete insult” this May. “It’s another opportunity to demoralize public school teachers that the Indiana legislatures have continued to do, this year and most years prior,” she said.

The Indiana day of action comes less than one week after teachers in Little Rock, Arkansas went on a one-day strike in defense of their collective bargaining rights, and one month after 25,000 educators with the Chicago Teachers Union held an 11-day strike for improved school services and smaller class sizes. In recent weeks, teachers have also gone on strike in Dedham, Massachusetts and Berkeley, California, among other places, proving that the Red for Ed movement is continuing to gain momentum.

While Indiana laws prohibit teachers from going on strike, similar laws have not deterred educators in other states from holding work stoppages. “This is a warning shot,” explained Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, a labor and employment law professor at Indiana University. “If [state lawmakers] want to keep heading on the track that they are heading on, we very well could have an illegal teachers strike, and they will be in the same position as other states.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on November 19, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.


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Arkansas Teachers Went On Strike. Here Are the Corporate School Privatizers They’re Up Against.

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Image result for Gin Armstrong"Image result for Derek Seidman"Teachers of Little Rock, Arkansas went on strike Thursday over the state’s decision to strip their collective bargaining rights and curtail local control of the school district. It was the teachers’ first strike since 1987, and only their second strike ever.

The Arkansas State Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the Governor, voted in October to end its recognition of the Little Rock Education Association, the city’s teacher’s union. The ending of the recognition of the union came as its contract expired on October 31. The Little Rock Education Association is the only teachers union in the entire state of Arkansas.

The teachers are demanding the return of bargaining power from the state. They are also want full local control of the district returned. The state took oversight over Little Rock schools in 2015, claiming low test scores at some schools, and earlier this year sought to create a two-tiered school system that many believe would have, in effect, racially segregated the city’s schools. While that effort by the Board of Education was defeated, it responded by withdrawing recognition of the union. (For further details about the lead-up to the strike and the issues behind it, read Eric Blanc’s helpful column at Jacobin).

Governor Asa Hutchinson has defended the state’s continued takeover of the local school district, and he appointed 8 of the 9 state Board of Education members who voted to end recognition of the teachers’ union. As we discuss below, several of the board members are tied to corporate backers of school privatization in Arkansas.

Like other teachers who have recently struck – from Los Angeles and Chicago to Arizona and West Virginia and beyond – Little Rock’s teachers are pitted against a billionaire-backed school privation agenda that wants to crush collective bargaining rights and advance charter schools. As in those strikes, Little Rock students have the backing of their students, thousands of whom recently staged a “sick out” protest in support of their teachers.

A major backer of the anti-union, pro-charter agenda in Arkansas is the Walton family, whose foundation is a huge funder of the school privatization infrastructure that exists across the state. In addition to the Waltons, corporate elites from Murphy Oil, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette and others are backers of the school privatization efforts. These corporate interests are close to Governor Hutchinson, who supports their agenda, and they have close ties to the state Board of Education. In addition, they are also interlocked with a host of lobbyists and academics that push their agenda.

The Walton Family Foundation and the Arkansas “School Privatization Empire”

A major driver of the school privatization agenda in Arkansas is the billionaire Walton family. The Waltons owns WalMart, which is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas. As of 2018, the three children of Jim Walton, the late founder of Walmart, were worth a combined $163.2 billion.

The Waltons are major advocates of charter schools nationally, and they carry out their school privatization agenda through their Walton Family Foundation, which showers hundreds of millions on pro-charter groups and schools. The foundation claims it has invested a whopping $407 million into pushing charter schools since 1997. According to a recent report put out by the Arkansas Education Association, the Waltons pump millions into propping up the state’s school privatization infrastructure – or what the report calls the “Arkansas’s School Privatization Empire.”

It’s not just that the Waltons give big money to a few groups – it’s also that these groups then distribute that money to other organizations, lobbyists, consultants, and academics, creating a vast network of billionaire-funded activity to attack unionized teachers and push charter schools.

For example, the Walton family Foundation gave $350,000 to the Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation (AERF) in 2017 – around 80% of all the contributions the organization took in that year.

The AERF board includes other powerful funders and advocates of school privatization in the state, such as Claiborne Deming, the former CEO of Murphy Oil, a big backer of charter schools in Arkansas; William Dillard III, part of the Dilliard family that owns the Dilliard’s department stores; and Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state’s flagship newspaper. Jim Walton is also on the board.

In addition to the $350,000 that the Walton donated to the AERF in 2017, Deming gave $60,000 and Dilliard III gave $10,000, while the National Christian Foundation gave $15,000, according the the group’s 2017 990 form.

AERF has in turn used the money it receives from the Walton billionaire fortune and other Arkansas elites to fund other school privatization efforts. For example, it gave $115,000 to Arkansas Learns, which describes itself as “the Voice of Business for excellent education options – including industry-relevant career pathways…” The CEO of Arkansas Learns, Gary Newton, is also the Executive Director of the AERF (for which he earned $189,639 in compensation in 2017).

In turn, Arkansas Learns has the same board members as AERF, and Randy Zook, the CEO of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, whose wife Dianne Zook is on the state Board of Education that decided to end recognition of the Little Rock teachers’ union, is also a board member. Dianne Zook is also the aunt of Gary Newton.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on November 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Gin Armstrong is a senior research analyst focused on regional and state power mapping. Previously, she spent several years in the bike industry to recover from her research roles at Media Matters for America and GMU’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. She is based in Buffalo, NY.
About the Author: Derek Seidman is a power researcher and historian who lives in Buffalo, New York. He works as a research analyst for the Public Accountability Initiative and littlesis.org.

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The Strike at McDonald’s Is About More Than Fighting Abuse—It’s About Workplace Democracy

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Image result for Eli Day"On Tuesday, over 1,000 people gathered for a strike action at a McDonald’s locations on Detroit’s East Side. The workers, who were fighting for basic workplace dignity, a fair wage and a union, showed that they’re ready to raise hell in the face of injustice by standing together.

That’s how Patricia Moseley, who has worked for McDonald’s for 34 years, describes her experience of solidarity during the strike. “We always get each other’s backs,” Moseley says. “When I see people out here, doing the same thing I’m doing, it makes me feel like ‘Hey, everybody can do this.’ Come and join us. You ain’t gotta be scared.”

Ignited by the hideously common experience of workplace sexual harassment, the strike was a powerful display of working-class force in an industry where women and people of color make up the overwhelming majority of non-managerial workers.

“This is huge,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who attended the strike, said in a statement to In These Times. “Fast food workers…stood up against corporate greed to demand human dignity in the workplace. These corporations cannot operate without the workers, who deserve to make a living that allows them to provide for themselves and their family. They deserve workplaces free of sexual harassment and violence.”

According to a new class-action lawsuit, McDonald’s is drenched in a “culture of sexual harassment.” And as NPR reports, “more than 50 claims and charges of harassment of female employees are pending against McDonald’s.” But the issue stretches far beyond the golden arches: The industry as a whole is awash with harassment and abuse. A 2016 poll found that “40 percent of women in the fast food industry have experienced unwanted sexual behaviors on the job.”

The poll also found that workers who dare to speak out often face the bosses’ wrath as a result. “A lot of women are scared to come out and speak,” Moseley says, “because they don’t know if they’re going to lose their job.” Moseley easily spots what’s wrong with this picture, and, just as importantly, what’s missing. “If I don’t have a union, I can’t say nothing,” Moseley adds. “That’s what a union is there for. To back you up.”

The issues facing Moseley and her coworkers come down to an imbalance of power. Because workers have no real power in the workplace, this puts them in the impossible position of either being frightened into silence or, if they decide to stick up for themselves, risk being fired and plunged into economic uncertainty.

But when workers took the dramatic action of walking off the job on Tuesday, they weren’t alone. Loved ones, friends and supporters from the neighborhood hit the streets alongside them. And fellow workers from different industries—janitors, nurses, housekeepers, lab technicians and more—also stood with the strikers, embodying the old maxim that workers’ fates are tied together.

After all, their adversaries are unmistakably common: a corporate hierarchy that strips workers of power while harassing, mistreating and barking orders at them, all while paying them the lowest wages possible. In order to win against these shared injustices, McDonald’s workers are showing how to band together to demand a better world.

“That’s what we’re fighting for, right there,” says Romell Frazier, a 31-year-old organizer with the Michigan Workers Organizing Committee who has worked in fast-food for roughly seven years. “Power in the workplace. Respect in the workplace.”

That demand for more worker power ties together the many fights for greater workplace democracy roiling the country. Whether it’s teachers walking out in Chicago or GM workers who went on a massive strike at plants nationwide, working people are demanding more of a say in how they spend their lives on the job.

“We just want to bring that to the forefront,” Frazier says of the need for more democracy at McDonald’s. While the company makes “billions and billions…the workers are in here making slave wages and still being harassed. They feel like the workers don’t have a voice in the workplace. So that’s why [predatory managers or coworkers] think they can get away with [abuse].”

Rep. Tlaib points to a clear solution: Ensuring “workers have more power in the workplace” will help bring “equity and justice in the workplace. Workers deserve to have a say in decisions that are being made, they deserve to be treated fairly, and they deserve adequate pay and benefits.”

“That’s what we’re fighting for,” Moseley says. “Fifteen dollars an hour. A union.” And by standing together, she explains, “we won’t have to struggle no more. We can fight this thing.”

 

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on November 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eli Day is an investigative fellow with In These Times’ Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. He is a writer and relentless Detroiter, where he writes about politics and policy. His work has appeared in the Detroit NewsCity MetricHuffington PostThe RootTruthout, and Very Smart Brothas, among others.

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Cheerios Picket Line Averted: After Strike Threat, General Mills Workers Win Tentative Agreement

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Image result for Katie Rose Quandt"On Friday, over 500 workers narrowly avoided a strike at General Mills’ production facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

On Wednesday, 99% of voting employees rejected a contract proposal that General Mills had called its “last, best, and final offer.” After announcing the results of the vote, a worker-led negotiations committee spent Thursday meeting with the company in a last-ditch effort to hammer out a new contract.

The negotiations committee is recommending that workers vote in favor of the new agreement reached yesterday, which the union said addresses all the workers’ major concerns. That vote will occur on Thursday, November 14.

General Mills has owned the Cedar Rapids facility for 49 years. Union members work in production, sanitation and maintenance at the facility, which produces Lucky Charms cereal, Gushers, Fruit Roll Ups, Fruit by the Foot, Betty Crocker frosting, and several varieties of Cheerios, including classic, Honey Nut, Frosted and Multi-Grain.

The plant’s 520 non-salaried plant employees are represented by Local 110 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

“General Mills moved significantly away from the ‘last, best and final’ offer that would have taken away benefits we’ve had for over 30 years,” Tim Sarver, who has worked at General Mills for over 37 years, said in a press release. “I am confident we will all be going to work with the peace of mind of a strong union contract soon.”

Workers were prepared to strike if General Mills refused to budge on several critical sticking points. General Mills’ “final offer” contract proposal that was voted down last week included insufficient raises, unfair scheduling practices and third-party subcontracting that could allow the company to move jobs to non-union facilities outside of Cedar Rapids, according to the union. RWDSU Vice President Roger Grobstich said that contract did not guarantee “premium pay” for a potential 12-hour shift.

The contract also failed to guarantee maintained benefits for the extent of the contract, including pensions, 401k contributions and medical insurance. Under that offer, benefits could “basically change at any time during the term of the contract without really doing any negotiating with the union,” said Grobstich.

Grobstich said in a press release on Friday that General Mills moved on all key areas: wages, scheduling practices, outsourcing and maintenance of benefits.

Ahead of Thursday’s negotiations, Grobstich said the negotiating committee would do “everything they can do to avoid a strike,” but that a strike was “absolutely” on the table if General Mills refused to offer a fair contract.

“Not a single one of our union members at General Mills ever wanted to walk out of the facility and go on strike,” Grobstich said on Friday. “They were pushed to the edge by a company that has for far too long been slowly stripping away their long-held needed benefits. The fact that the company came back to the table immediately following a 99% no vote on a bad contract shows the strength of our members and the impact their work has on the company every day.”

Negotiations began in January, when plant employees voted to join RWDSU. Workers voted to authorize a strike on October 3. RWDSU also represents Cedar Rapids workers at a nearby Quaker Oats facility, who voted to accept their own contract deal on Thursday. The Quaker Oats contract promised a 10% salary increase over four years.

Presidential hopefuls Bernie SandersJoe BidenKamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg tweeted support for the General Mills workers earlier this week after the results of their vote were announced.

General Mills employees protested throughout Cedar Rapids early this week, including a Monday protest outside the house of a general manager of the plant.

“I think it helped show the community that we’re strong,” said Starver said of Monday’s protests. “We’re a strong workforce. And we’re going to stay together.”

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on November 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Katie Rose Quandt is a Brooklyn-based reporter who writes about social justice, prisons and inequality. Katie Rose Quandt’s work has appeared in Slate, Mother Jones, BillMoyers.com and In These Times

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The Climate Strikers Walked Out of School. Next, Let’s Walk Off the Job.

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Image result for Sydney Ghazarian"This September, the world erupted when over 7 million people?—?young and old—poured into the streets for the Global Climate Strike. The mass action, which made a Green New Deal a top demand, was sparked in the lead-up to Sweden’s 2018 general election, when teen activist Greta Thunberg began ditching school to protest Sweden’s inaction on climate change. Greta, who was already inspiring more student strikes through social media, catalyzed the Fridays for Future movement when she decided to continue striking on Fridays after the general election. Over the past year, young leaders?—particularly youth of color—have been on the forefront of building Friday Climate Strikes into a worldwide student civil disobedience movement, taking aim at the political failure to address the climate emergency.

The logic of the Climate Strike movement was summated by Greta at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2019. “Some say that we should not engage in activism, instead we should leave everything to our politicians and just vote for change instead,” she said. “But what do we do when there is no political will? What do we do when the politics needed are nowhere in sight?”

In other words, Climate Strikes are happening for the same reason labor strikes often happen: Negotiations have broken down. CEOs profiting from the exploitation of workers and the Earth are unwilling to cede to demands that would improve the lives of those affected by their practices. And politicians are unwilling to put the good of ordinary people first.

Like labor strikes, climate strikes are premised on the principle that organizers won’t get what they want just by asking: They have to create the political will for their demands by causing disruption that is impossible to ignore. The use of this tactic signals a shift away from the evidently floundering strategies of online petitions and  behind-the-scenes talks with key decision-makers.

However, labor strikes are more likely than student strikes to be successful for a key reason: Workers are strategically positioned to leverage their collective power because labor strikes halt production and therefore profit-making by employers, which forces their bosses to cede to their demands or lose out. Unlike student strikes, worker strikes cause direct economic impact, which affects what key decision-makers care about most: profit-making and economic conditions that are favorable for re-election. The pathway to victory for Climate Strikers is building an international movement of people acting in their capacity as workers to disrupt the economy significantly enough that politicians are forced to cave to the demand for a Green New Deal.

The challenge is to turn the powerful movement for climate strikes into a movement capable of organizing actual workers’ strikes.

Building towards labor strikes

Teachers have been on the forefront of the recent strike wave, and the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) may have advanced the movement further when its members passed a resolution stating “that the MTA delegation to the 2019 NEA [National Education Association] Representative Assembly propose a national teachers strike in support of the Green New Deal.” Unfortunately, NEA delegates voted down the proposal—but that doesn’t mean it’s the end.

One possible route forward comes from Francisco Cendejas, a long-time labor organizer who helped start National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). He suggests that unions could resolve to strike for a Green New Deal if a number of other national unions agreed to do so as well. The simple explanation for this “strike pact” approach is that there is safety in numbers, but the reasoning goes deeper. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and U.S. labor laws overtly favor employers over workers—and place strict parameters around striking. This imbalance has created a mountain of legal barriers preventing an entire union from going on strike—especially for a Green New Deal or other demands for the common good.

However, there are no illegal strikes, just unsuccessful ones. We make them “legal” by winning our demands. West Virginia teachers did this when they launched a successful wildcat strike last year. If many large unions with high-stakes disruptive power can agree to strike in solidarity with each other and their communities, we could have the power to win.

If you belong to a union, you can start organizing support for Climate Strikes and a Green New Deal by introducing a local union resolution in support of each. Passing this resolution will further align the Labor and Climate Movements, and could move your union toward endorsing progressive climate candidates, collectively bargaining for green contract provisions, and showing up to climate actions. Once you pass a resolution in your local union, you can move toward passing a similar resolution at higher levels, like city and county labor councils.

Getting your union to support a Green New Deal or Climate Strikes will not necessarily be straightforward. Unions have different politics, different structures for member participation, and some have been hostile toward the Green New Deal. Additionally, many unions have settled for operating in accordance to a “service model,” meaning they aim to satisfy their members’ demands through handling grievances, lobbying and securing benefits rather than direct pressure on their employers—which diminishes the power a union could have against threats to working class interests. Turning Climate Strikes into a winning strategy will require turning unions into a fighting force. For lessons in how to achieve this, we can examine the successful tactics of Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) within the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).

Towards social justice unionism

When CORE members were elected as CTU leaders in 2010, they forfeited CTU’s service model for a social movement unionism approach, which they first demonstrated in a 2012 strike that centered on the improvement of public education and forming alliances with parents and students. The union’s dedication to bargaining for the common good was on full display during its recent strike, in which union members won a contract securing support staff for homeless students, a declaration of Chicago schools as sanctuary spaces, a cap on class sizes, and a nurse and social worker for every school.

CORE’s continued militancy and success has spread to teachers’ unions around the country through UCORE, including MTA—the union that passedthe resolution to propose a general strike for a Green New Deal. If workers organize their unions to follow CORE’s approach of rank-and-file democracy, community alliances, and using bargaining power to win demands for the common good, they could build labor support for a Green New Deal and even align unions around a “Climate Strike Pact.”

If you are not part of a union, you can gain inspiration from the 2006 “Day Without an Immigrant” mass strike. Immigrants and solidarity strikers were able to participate due to the protection of “concerted activity” included in the National Labor Relations Act. Legal protection of concerted activity allows union and non-union workers to act collectively to improve the terms and conditions of their work, which is something a Green New Deal could do. With less than 12% of U.S. workers belonging to a union, this protection holds particular importance. However, some employers might still try to fire workers for participating, which means we would need to mobilize workers and the broader community around protests, public shaming and boycotts targeting the offending employers until they cave and rehire the workers.

The bottom line is this: Climate Strikes can win a Green New Deal by building community and Labor alliances around demands for the common good. We can leverage our power as workers through high-impact, disruptive labor strikes that halt the economy’s gears until politicians can no longer ignore us, and are forced to cede to demands that will save the world.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on November 5, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sydney Ghazarian started the National Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) Ecosocialist Working Group and is a member of its current Steering Committee. She is also a climate organizer and an advisory board member for The Trouble. You can follow her on Twitter @SydneyAzari

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A worker upsurge? This week in the war on workers

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 485,000 U.S. workers were involved in strikes and lockouts during 2018. That’s the highest number since 1986. The data for 2019 won’t be released until 2020, but there’s a good chance that number will be exceeded, a point driven home by the fact that, over the last week, at least 85,000 workers participated in 13 different strikes across the United States.

That’s Chicago teachers, but also teachers in the comparatively tiny Dedham, Massachusetts—but both are part of a nationwide pattern, one that shows signs of continuing.

And it’s not the only way workers are asserting power. Deadspin writers resigned en masse after interim editor in chief Barry Petchesky was fired for refusing to stick to sports. Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke out against the private equity firm that now owns Deadspin.

But these signs of workers asserting themselves remain small against the backdrop of how thoroughly corporations have crushed workers during the past several decades.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor

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Chicago Teachers Didn’t Win Everything, But They’ve Transformed the City—And the Labor Movement

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Chicago teachers and staff returned to the classrooms Friday after more than two weeks on strike. Their walkout lasted longer than the city’s landmark 2012 strike, as well as those in Los Angeles and Oakland earlier this year.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike also lasted long enough for the season’s first snowstorm to blanket thousands of teachers and staff who surrounded City Hall Thursday morning to demand Mayor Lori Lightfoot agree to restore missed instructional days as a final condition of their returning to work. After a few hours, the union and the mayor arrived at a compromise of five make-up days—a move Lightfoot had resisted until the eleventh hour, despite the fact that it’s a standard conclusion to teacher strikes.

Over the course of an often-bitter battle, CTU and its sister union, SEIU 73, overcame a series of such ultimatums from the recently elected mayor. Before the strike, Lightfoot had refused to write issues such as staffing increases or class size caps into a contract at all. Following a budget address last week, Lightfoot vowed that there was no more money left for a “bailout” of the school district. But a tentative agreement approved by CTU delegates Wednesday night requires the school district to put a nurse and social worker in every school within five years and allocates $35 million more annually to reduce overcrowded classrooms. Both unions also won pay bumps for support staff who have made poverty wages.

Yet these substantial gains still fell short of what many members had hoped to achieve, given that they were fighting for basic investments already enjoyed by most suburban school districts—investments that Lightfoot herself had campaigned on this spring.

“It took our members 10 days to bring these promises home,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates told reporters after an agreement was reached over instructional days. “But I want to tell my members: They have changed Chicago.”

Members of SEIU 73 ratified their contract this week, and CTU members will now have 10 days to do so. But the impact of the two-week walkout is likely to extend far beyond the contracts themselves.

During daily rallies that drew tens of thousands of teachers, staff and supporters, the unions repeatedly made the argument that there was plenty of wealth in the city to invest in schools and public services—it was just concentrated in the wrong hands. They also touched on what’s often a third-rail for public-sector unions, criticizing the resources lavished on police at their expense. The strike’s momentum will carry over most immediately into a budget battle with Lightfoot, with the teachers’ union partnering with a larger coalition fighting to tax corporations and luxury real-estate at a higher rate in order to fund affordable housing, public mental health clinics and other services.

The teachers union also shone a light on an opaque financing tool known as Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, that’s intended to funnel additional property tax dollars to “blighted” areas, but that critics say is akin to a “corporate slush fund.” On Tuesday, nine CTU members were arrested at the headquarters of Sterling Bay to protest the city’s decision to award the Wall-Street backed developer more than $1 billion of TIF subsidies earlier this year.

“That day in and of itself was huge because we were able to call out the city’s hypocrisy,” says Roxana González, an 8th-grade teacher at Dr. Jorge Prieto Math and Science Academy who was among those arrested. “The fight to fund what our communities need is a much longer one than our contract fight, and teachers across the city are going to continue to be a part of it.”

The two-week walkout will also likely have reverberations for teachers and other union members outside of Chicago. The CTU’s 2012 strike helped inspire a national network called “Bargaining for the Common Good” that has brought together unions seeking to expand the scope of contract bargaining beyond pay and benefits.

“In many ways this was both the toughest and most visionary strike fought yet on the principals of Bargaining for the Common Good,” says Joseph McCartin, the director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University.

“The union engaged in some effective popular education about the structural issues of school underfunding that it can follow up on in the future. Although it was a difficult fight, the CTU has come away with gains that will make the schools better and encourage teachers elsewhere to fight for similar things.”

One of CTU’s boldest “common good” demands was for affordable housing—a move that captured national headlines and became a centerpiece of the mayor’s narrative that the union was stalling negotiations through an overly political agenda.

While the union didn’t win on housing assistance for new teachers or gain the school district’s support for rent control, one of CTU’s earliest and clearest victories was an agreement to hire staff specifically to support the more than 17,000 homeless students in Chicago Public Schools—an approach that could be a model for other school districts.

Other key wins on social justice issues include new guarantees for bilingual education, including more dedicated teachers for English language learners, and a declaration that Chicago schools are sanctuary spaces.

These are vital issues in a school district where nearly half of students are Latinx and nearly one-fifth are English language learners, says González, who also helped push for these changes as a member of the CTU’s Latinx caucus. She has previously faced a lack of resources and the potential for discipline when she tried to aid a former student who reached out to her for help with a pending deportation case. As part of the new agreement on sanctuary schools, the school district will create a training program for staff on how to respond to ICE presence in schools and assist immigrant students. It will also allocate up to $200,000 annually to help employees navigate immigration issues.

The victories are less clear-cut when it comes to the key issue of support staffing. The district will begin hiring more nurses and social workers in the highest-need schools this year, but it will take five years before they’re guaranteed for every school. And while the CTU has highlighted that nine out of 10 majority-black schools in Chicago do not have a librarian, the agreement creates a joint union-school district committee on “staffing equity” that will provide a path—but not a guarantee—for high-need schools to hire additional librarians, counselors or restorative justice coordinators.

Some teachers say they were prepared to continue striking until more progress was made on staffing, smaller caps on class sizes and regaining teacher prep time eliminated under previous Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But facing an intransigent mayor, worsening weather and a November 1 deadline for the suspension of their employer health insurance, CTU delegates ultimately voted on Wednesday night to approve the tentative agreement by a margin of 60%.

Class size remains a particular concern for instructors like Jeni Crone, an art teacher at Lindbloom Math and Science Academy. While CTU won for the first time an avenue to enforce hard caps on class sizes, the recommended limits themselves remain the same: Up to 31 in high school classes, depending on the subject, which can reach 38 students before an automatic remedy is triggered.

Crone previously taught at Kelvyn Park High School, but lost her job there in 2017 amidst a round of budget cuts that led to the loss of 11 positions at the school. She says she repeatedly saw high class-size caps used as justification to merge two smaller classes into one larger one. Before her position was cut, her three art classes were combined into two, with 34 and 35 students, respectively.

“It’s one of the easiest ways for CPS to save money,” she says. “But we should be normalizing smaller class sizes.”

Still, Crone says she is “cautiously optimistic” about the contract’s wins, and is determined above all to make sure that union members remain united with students and parents to continue demanding more.

“I am not totally content, but the way I see it, it’s OK for us not to be content,” Crone says. “That means I still want better for my students, and we should always want better for them.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on November 1, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebecca Burns is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has appeared in The Baffler, the Chicago Reader, The Intercept and other outlets. She is a contributing editor at In These Times. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns.


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Chicago Teachers Are Carrying the Torch of Decades of Militant Worker Struggles

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“I solemnly swear that I will never stop fighting for my students.” This hand-made picket sign, one of hundreds at an October 25 Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and SEIU 73 rally, sums up what makes the teachers’ strike so important. In an approach CTU pioneered during its 2012 strike, the 25,000-strong CTU refuses to draw a firm boundary between justice in the workplace and justice for its students. For the union—under the leadership of the leftwing Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators—affordable housing is a bargaining issue because roughly 17,000 CPS students are experiencing houselessness. And so is the shortage of school nurses, counselors and librarians—along with the corporate and hedge-fund pillaging of a city beset with deep poverty and racial segregation.

Thanks to an Illinois law passed in 1995, the city isn’t legally required to bargain with CTU over issues beyond pay, benefits and hours—a fact that Mayor Lori Lightfoot and local media outlets repeatedly cite. But the idea is that, by building community support and staging disruption, the teachers can expand the boundaries of what’s politically possible and force the city to bend to its social justice demands. As CPS teachers and staff have chanted while marching through Chicago’s streets, “If we don’t get it, shut it down!”

Such efforts to expand what is considered a bargaining issue are often referred to as “bargaining for the common good,” a term popularized by the 2014 creation of an organizing network by the same name. But before that term caught on, the tradition was known as “social justice unionism”—or, as veteran labor organizer and writer Jane McAlevey emphasizes, plain ole’ working-class organizing. “This is not new,” McAlevey tells In These Times. “As long as there have been really good trade unions, there have been fights that blur the lines between workplaces and communities—that address the core needs of rank-and-file members at work and at home. Good organizing has always been good organizing.” As organizer and writer Bill Fletcher Jr. puts it to In These Times, “Social justice unionism involves the transformation of unionism from an instrument of workplace power solely, into a vehicle for worker power more generally.”

Examples from U.S. history show that worker power can be achieved by reaching out across shopfloors, building with community groups, and acting in solidarity with oppressed people in other parts of the world. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), founded in Chicago in 1905, called for the creation of one big industrial union, irrespective of shop or craft—or gender or race. This principle was put into practice during the Lawrence, Mass., textile strike of 1912, also known as the Bread and Roses strike. It was started by Everette Mill weavers—immigrant women who were furious over a pay cut after a Massachusetts law shortened the workweek for women. The work stoppage spread to nearly every mill in Lawrence, where textile workers hailing from more than 51 countries staged an industry-wide shutdown during a brutally cold winter—buoyed by the organizing of the IWW. The workers eventually won a 15% wage hike and an increase in overtime pay.

History looks kindly upon such workers who organized across workplaces—and struggles. During World War II, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) opposed the mass internment of Japanese and Japanese-American people, at a time few others were willing to speak out. As labor historian Peter Cole notes in his book Dockworker Power, in 1942, ILWU leader Lou Goldblatt said in sworn testimony before Congress, “This entire episode of hysteria and mob chant against the native-born Japanese will form a dark page of American history.”

Created in 1943 by the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) became a significant force in the Civil Rights and Black Freedom movements. In 1950, the union established an Anti-Discrimination Department aimed at stopping racism in hiring—and segregation in local communities. The union gave robust—and early—support to key racial justice campaigns, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. At the 1957 founding meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, UPWA Vice President Russell Lasley said it was “an extreme honor and privilege to represent UPWA in a conference of leaders who have dedicated their lives to the cause of freedom and the establishment of a society free of racial injustice and second class citizenship.” The union merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters in 1968.

The Bay Area’s Local 10 of the ILWU, a union that survived being purged from the CIO during an anti-communist crackdown in 1950, went on in 1984 to refuse to load or unload South African cargo, in solidarity with the anti-apartheid boycott. In 2008, 10,000 ILWU members shut down 29 ports on the West Coast demanding an end to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2015, Local 10 shut down the port of Oakland, Calif., in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

A matrix of U.S. labor laws seeks to narrow the scope of worker organizing. The 1935 National Labor Relations Act, designed to quell labor unrest, prohibits striking as long as a contract with an employer is in place—a tradeoff for securing bargaining rights. Yet, these bargaining rights are drawn narrowly: The Act also says wages, hours and working conditions are the only mandatory subjects of bargaining for private-sector workers. The Taft-Hartley Act, passed in 1947, imposes further restrictions, including a ban on wildcat, jurisdictional and secondary strikes. And the 1959 Labor Management Disclosure and Reporting Act says secondary strikers can be held liable for damages.

But by building power, workers can transcend these limits: Rank-and-file West Virginia teachers demonstrated as much in 2018, when they went on strike in a state where public-sector strikes are illegal—and then stayed out on strike after union leaders and the governor announced the strike was over. And indeed, Lightfoot eventually agreed to bargain with CTU on social justice issues, thanks to teacher pressure.

The principle that worker power—and not labor law—should determine the shape and scope of labor struggle is especially poignant now, as the world hurtles into an ever-worsening climate crisis that is driven by the capitalist class in industrialized countries but disproportionately harms the poor and working classes, particularly Indigenous communities and people in the Global South. The global climate strikes in September saw 4,500 school walkouts and protests in 150 countries, with most actions led by young people whose lives will almost certainly be shaped by environmental catastrophe. While the movement uses the word “strike,” it’s fallen short of organizing mass-scale work stoppages, although some unions have supported the protests—and some workers have walked off the job. A climate labor-strike, in which workers withdraw their labor, would be the greatest possible social disruption—and therefore the ambitious social justice unionism we need to meet the urgency of the moment.

It’s a difficult road from here to there, but Chicago’s intrepid educators are teaching us that an old tradition is still relevant, and its principles remarkably straightforward. As Nicole Bronson, a striking special education teacher told me as thousands of striking workers gathered at a rally downtown, “This is about giving back to the community that gave to me.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on October 29, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sarah Lazare is web editor at In These Times. She comes from a background in independent journalism for publications including The Nation, Tom Dispatch, YES! Magazine, and Al Jazeera America. Her article about corporate exploitation of the refugee crisis was honored as a top censored story of 2016 by Project Censored. A former staff writer for AlterNet and Common Dreams, Sarah co-edited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War.


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Chicago teachers say 0.5% of the schools budget stands in the way of ending their strike

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Chicago teachers say that just half of one percent of the Chicago Public Schools budget is between what they would accept to end their strike and the city’s current offer. That’s $38 million as the strike closes schools for a ninth day. Not only that, the teachers point to nearly $100 million of costs that have been moved from the city budget to the schools budget.

“The payment for police in our schools, $33 million, which has traditionally been paid for by the city, was shifted to the schools; a pension payment that has traditionally been paid for by the city has been shifted to the schools,” Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis-Gates told Chicago Tonight. “So you have nearly $100 million of cost-shift from the city to the school budget at a time when we need it, at a time when the city is now, clearly, balancing their budget on the backs of our students.”

Another key issue is 30 minutes a day of prep time that elementary school teachers lost under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. According to CTU, “Teachers used that time to contact parents, grade papers, prepare lesson plans and update curricula, reducing the amount of unpaid labor they put in outside of the work day. While CPS counts that half hour as ‘instructional minutes,’ for many teachers that time is spent wiping up spilled milk and cleaning up after students as they eat their breakfasts in the classrooms.”

SEIU Local 73, which represents many school support staff from custodians to classroom assistants, has reached a tentative deal to end its strike, which started alongside the teachers strike.

Meanwhile, over in Massachusetts, teachers in Dedham won an agreement and unanimously ratified it after just one weekday of strike. It was the first teachers strike in 12 years in the state, where public workers are legally prohibited from striking.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 29, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Over the Last Week, At Least 85,000 Workers Were Out on 13 Different Strikes

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 485,000 U.S. workers were involved in strikes and lockouts during 2018. That’s the highest number since 1986. The data for 2019 won’t be released until 2020, but there’s a good chance that number will be exceeded, a point driven home by the fact that, over the last week, at least 85,000 workers participated in 13 different strikes across the United States.

The crest of the strike wave has primarily been ridden by school workers. About 26,000 Chicago teachers have now been on strike for 12 days, demanding that Mayor Lori Lightfoot be held accountable for her campaign promise to bolster support staff and decrease class size. The work stoppage has now lasted longer than the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) 2012 strike, which ended up sparking its own strike wave.

“Hundreds of CTU members showed up for the Wisconsin uprising of 2010,” Chicago activist and striking teacher Kenzo Shibata told In These Times. “We learned what was possible and we continued organizing for our 2012 strike. Educators in West Virginia, Los Angeles, Oklahoma and Arizona cited us as inspiration for their strikes. The Solidarity is contagious. They’ve passed back that inspiration and we’re here as a boost of momentum to this teacher strike wave.”

On October 17, about 8,000 CPS staff workers in the city also went on strike, represented by SEIU Local 73, with union leaders reaching a tentative agreement with the city on October 27, which members still have to vote on. Workers are not back at school, however, as CPS remains shut down by the CTU strike.

In a show of solidarity, the local Teamsters union is refusing to cross the picket lines to make deliveries. “We stand behind the teachers union 100% and believe they should fight for every form of benefits and relief for the children they are seeking,” Teamsters Local 705 official Juan Campos told the Chicago Tribune.

In Mendota, Illinois, about 2 hours away from Chicago, 76 elementary school teachers went on strike October 16, looking for wages that are comparable to their neighboring districts. Classes resumed October 28 after members of the Mendota Education Association ratified an agreement.

In Dedham, Massachusetts, hundreds of teachers dealt the state its first teachers’ strike in 12 years, voting on October 24 to approve a walkout by a vote of 258-2. Teachers walked out the next day in defiance of a state order, as it’s actually illegal for public employees to strike in Massachusetts. The teachers had been working without a contract for over a year—and had attempted to negotiate one for almost two. They were looking for stronger health insurance and a contract that addresses sexual harassment.

“Right now there is a movement of workers across the country who are taking back their power at a scale we have not seen in recent memory,” tweeted Independent Vermont Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on October 25. “I stand with educators in Dedham, Massachusetts. This takes courage.”

On October 27, it was announced that a tentative deal had been reached, and school resumed the next day. Details of the new agreement have not yet been released.

The teachers’ strike wave is also hitting the West Coast. On October 21, dozens of teachers called out sick in Berkeley, California—some of them doing so as part of wildcat strike that was unauthorized by their union, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. The teachers have been working on an expired contract since the summer. “It was good old-fashioned organizing. It happened through the whisper network,” history teacher Alice Bynum told a local paper. They’re back at work now.

The current strike wave is certainly not limited to teachers. About two dozen sanitation workers for Republic Services in Marshfield, Massachusetts, have been on strike since August 29. They’re demanding affordable health care and a living wage. Teamsters 25, the union that represents the employees, cites Economic Policy Institute data which shows that the workers with one child are making 40% less than the state’s living wage. Republic Services’ biggest single shareholder is billionaire Bill Gates, who makes $100 million annually off dividends from his shares. Last month, two dozen of the striking workers protested outside of a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gala in New York City, holding signs that read, “Bill Gates treats kids like trash.” Striking employee Bernard Egan-Mulligan told New York Daily News, “We’re here because Bill Gates is a 32% stockholder in our company. We figure our shareholders would like to know what’s going on.”

The workers have now extended the strike into Indiana, as more than 70 Republic workers in Evansville have joined the picket line.

At least 50 bus drivers in northern Virginia, represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, are on strike in response to their garage being privatized as some of their services are now being contracted out. They’ve been fighting for a new collective bargaining agreement for months.

Around 1,700 ASARCO copper workers are on strike in Arizona, angry about pension freezes, health insurance costs, and a lack of raises. “For the past nine years, these workers haven’t seen a pay raise,” Teamsters Local 104 secretary-treasurer Karla Schumann told NPR. “They’re working in some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions out there, and it’s just unfathomable and untenable to do that to these guys.”

Roughly 75 workers at the luxury Battery Wharf Hotel in Boston are also on strike. UNITE HERE Local 26, who represents the workers, says its members are looking for higher wages, better pensions, protection for immigrant employees, and sexual harassment prevention. Earlier this month, the English singer-songwriter and activist Billy Bragg headlined a rally in support of the workers. “The strike at the Battery Wharf Hotel goes to the very heart of the problems in our society,” Bragg told Boston Magazine. “Working people feel they no longer have any agency over their lives.”

About 700 Service workers in Santa Clara County, California have been on strike since October 2. SEIU 521 filed more than 15 complaints of unfair labor practices leading up to the strike. In addition to complaints about poor working conditions, employees are upset with the decision to move the San Jose Family Resource Center, as well as an allegedly unsafe environment for children at the Receiving, Assessment and Intake Center.

On October 27, more than 50 fast food workers at Oregon’s Burgerville chain ended a 4-day strike after the company agreed to continue negotiations with the employees. The workers have been agitating for a living wage for the last 18 months.

The longest auto workers strike in 50 year just ended with 49,000 United Auto Workers (UAW) members returning to General Motors on October 26. The employees were able to secure small raises, partially phase out a “two-tier” wage structure, and win a better process for temporary workers to become permanent, but potential fallout and further unrest looms as the agreement includes plans to close down three factories.

Tim O’Hara is President of UAW Local 1112, where the Lordstown, Ohio plant is set to close. He told the local news that he felt betrayed by the vote. “We just wanted them to remember that what happened to us can happen to them ’cause there’s nothing in this contract that stops GM from showing up unannounced at their plant the Monday after Thanksgiving—for example, like they did to us—and telling them they’re done,” he said.

The new General Motors contract was announced just a day after over 3,600 UAW-represented workers at Mack Trucks ended a two-week strike as a result of a tentative agreement being reached.

More work stoppages could be on the horizon. Teaching assistants in Decatur, Illinois are set to strike for a new contract. About 4,000 mental health clinicians across 100 Kaiser Permanente facilities could go on strike in November over staffing shortages, and the Little Rock Educators Association has set up a fund in the event of a “collective job action.” At a recent meeting, Little Rock Education Association President Teresa Knapp Gordon said teachers didn’t want to strike, but they were prepared for anything if their current contract is allowed to expire. That’s the last thing we want to do,” she said, “But you can bet your bottom dollar that if that is what it takes to make sure our children are protected, then that’s what we will do.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on October 28, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements.


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