L.A. Teachers Prepare to Strike
Right here’s what’s at stake.
Nelson Lichtenstein ▪ January 7, 2019
L.A. academics and their supporters in the course of the March for Public Schooling in Los Angeles, California, December 15, 2018. (Photograph by Ronen Tivony/Nur Photograph by way of Getty Pictures)
Thirty-five thousand Los Angeles faculty academics are on the verge of a strike. Their calls for embrace a 6.5 % pay improve, smaller class sizes, extra funding for college counselors, nurses, and librarians, and a cap on the proliferation of constitution faculties all through their metropolis. The strike can be consequential regardless of the points: the Los Angeles Unified Faculty District is the second largest within the nation, with over 640,000 college students, 1,000 faculties, greater than 60,000 staff, and a finances of $7.5 billion. However this bitter battle can also be a struggle concerning the which means of progressive politics and the character of the Democratic Celebration because it readies itself to supplant, on a nationwide degree, Donald Trump and his allies. Because the Trumpists have little affect or help in California, what occurs there might portend how future political conflicts will unfold in an America the place liberals are in energy.
In California, a bell climate state if there ever was one, a blue tide nearly destroyed the Republican get together within the 2018 midterms, rendering it nearly irrelevant to governance in a mega-state the place Democrats occupy the governor’s mansion and maintain supermajorities within the legislature. However a deep fissure stays inside the primary physique of Democratic Get together liberalism, symbolized by the extent to which the destiny of public schooling and instructor unionism was contested terrain in the course of the 2018 marketing campaign season. A system-wide L.A. strike, now scheduled for January 10, is a continuation of final yr’s political conflicts, however now on the picket line quite than on the poll field.
The battle over the destiny of constitution faculties is central to instructional politics within the Golden State. There are greater than 1,250 state-wide and greater than 200 in L.A., probably the most and one of many largest proportions in any state. In what was the costliest faculty board election within the nation, constitution backers spent $9.7 million in 2017 to assist elect two pro-charter candidates in Los Angeles, flipping what was a pro-teacher’s union Board of Schooling to one which favors constitution faculties. Most of that cash can from a handful of billionaires, together with the Walton household and Eli Broad, a Southern California philanthropist who made his fortune capitalizing on the pre-2008 actual property bubble.
Public-school academics are the working-class vanguard, and nowhere extra clearly than in Southern California, the place the which means of a brand new American social democracy is being cast.
In Might 2018, after a pro-union, anti-charter faculty superintendent resigned for well being causes, the brand new board appointed a former funding banker and Broad ally, Austin Beutner, to head the sprawling faculty district. Beutner is a Democrat who had served in each the Clinton Administration and that of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Beutner, who made no less than $100 million when his funding advisory agency went public in 2006, was among the many cohort of rich businessmen and ladies, most with no instructional expertise, who got here to run troubled faculty methods in New Orleans, Detroit, Newark, and elsewhere. They have been employed to reduce prices and payrolls and defang the unions which stood of their approach. All have been avid proponents of constitution faculties.
Their L.A. success within the faculty board elections of 2017 emboldened constitution backers to attempt to use the 2018 election cycle to advance their individuals to state-wide workplace. However profitable the help of an energized anti-Trump citizens proved far harder than through the low turnout municipal election the yr earlier than. Within the spring of 2018, Villaraigosa, as soon as an organizer for Los Angeles unions however now a constitution faculty advocate, gained little traction within the Democratic main towards Gavin Newsom, who was backed by virtually each main California commerce union. Then, within the fall, the non-partisan contest for state superintendent of faculties eclipsed even the usually extra high-profile ballots for governor and senator. Extra money flowed into that race —$50 million—than some other in California, save that of the governor. Marshall Tuck, a constitution faculty entrepreneur, had the backing of Broad, the Waltons, Hole co-founder Doris Fisher, a number of different rich donors, and the California Constitution Faculty Affiliation. Though nominally a Democrat, Tuck was booed off the stage of the California Democratic Celebration conference, which then endorsed his union-backed rival, state meeting member Tony Thurmond, who gained in November, however by lower than a two % margin.
However none of this insured that in its showdown with Austin Buetner the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) would have clear crusing. The Los Angeles Unified Faculty District (LAUSD) has actual issues. College students are overwhelmingly poor and for roughly 1 / 4 English is their second language. Enrollment has declined about 100,000 within the final decade, partially due to the rise of constitution faculties. Fewer college students means fewer state instructional dollars, whilst faculty upkeep and legacy pension prices stay excessive. The UTLA estimates that the expansion of constitution faculties in L.A. has drained $600 million from the district’s coffers.
And Austin Beutner has gone on the offensive. He has employed a minimum of 400 new substitutes, potential strike breakers. In the course of the fall he developed a nonetheless confidential “portfolio” program designed to decentralize the varsity district into 32 “networks,” ostensibly meant to give mother and father extra say in operating the faculties. However the UTLA smells a rat: “Getting rid of central oversight and accountability would allow the unchecked spread of the worst of the charter sector abuses: not serving all students, financial scandals, misuse of public funds, and conflict-of-interest charges.”
The struggle over the Beutner decentralization resembles the half-century-old controversy that erupted in New York Metropolis when Mayor John Lindsay and a liberal faculty board sought “community control of the schools,” a program fiercely fought by the NYC instructor’s union, then led by Albert Shanker. That battle, which noticed the United Federation of Teachers additionally strike to retain centralized administration, created a decades-long divide that pitted the civil rights motion and lots of younger radicals preventing for group management towards a predominantly white—and Jewish—commerce union native. Solely this time, in L.A. within the 21st century, the dynamics are reversed: it’s the UTLA that represents the town’s multicultural working class preventing towards metropolis technocrats’ decentralization plan that may fragment the varsity district, make unified collective bargaining rather more troublesome, and create new alternatives for the expansion of non-union constitution faculties.
The UTLA has spent years getting ready for this battle. In 2013 a Union Energy Caucus, not dissimilar from the type of instructor militants who revitalized the Chicago Teachers Union, gained management of the large native. Two years later they gained a large wage improve and new tips on class sizes and counselor ratios. Focused by the anti-union forces that ultimately persuaded the Supreme Courtroom—in Janus v AFSCME—to deprive public sector unions of so-called company charges, the UTLA launched an inner organizing drive that succeeded in profitable member consent to a 30 % dues improve. In an interview with Jacobin’s Eric Blanc, UTLA Secretary Arlene Inouye defined, “We said that these resources were needed to defeat the huge political threats against public education in L.A. Eighty-two percent voted in favor—that was the real turning point in the internal union dynamic.” Certainly, when the union held a strike poll in August 2018, 98 % of the membership voted sure, and over a thousand academics who weren’t but members joined UTLA so as to forged their ballots too. Submit Janus union density stands at a unprecedented 96 %, the very best ever.
This type of dedication couldn’t exist with out nice group help, which the union had rigorously nurtured by way of its “Bargaining for the Common Good” program that hyperlinks union calls for for higher faculties to the actual issues confronted by LA’s typically insecure immigrant group. In mid-December 50,000 Los Angelinos joined an indication in help of UTLA calls for for smaller courses, larger wages, and a cap on constitution faculties. Sporting “Red for Ed” union shirts, the demonstrators marched from Grand Park in entrance of Metropolis Corridor to the nook of 2nd Road and Grand Avenue, ending on the Broad Museum, an establishment recognized with constitution faculty funder and advocate, Eli Broad.
If and when there’s a strike, the wind would appear to be at UTLA’s again. Financially, there isn’t a disaster, at the very least at current. LAUSD has an precise money reserve of just about two billion and the state continues to be having fun with the fiscal fruits of the current growth, with virtually $30 billion socked away for a wet day. Says the UTLA: “With supermajorities in the state legislature, now is the time to get California, the richest state in the nation, to pull itself out of 43rd place among the 50 states in per pupil funding.” And naturally, the LA academics are driving the crest of a instructor motion that noticed red-state strikers win sizable wage boosts from West Virginia to Arizona. In Chicago, the instructor’s union there, an inspiration to militants all through the career, has simply organized and gained union contracts for greater than 500 constitution faculty educators.
In fact, victory shouldn’t be assured. Public sentiment can flip hostile ought to the strike final greater than every week, and even probably the most liberal big-city mayor seeks an austere price range as a result of they’ve been starved of funds for infrastructure and operations for therefore lengthy. However within the U.S. immediately public-school academics are the working-class vanguard and nowhere extra clearly than in Southern California, the place the which means of a brand new American social democracy is being cast.
Nelson Lichtenstein teaches historical past on the College of California, Santa Barbara the place he directs the Middle for the Research of Work, Labor, and Democracy.
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