On August 30, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) voted to authorize strike action by an astounding 98%. UTLA had been strung along by Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for well over a year. LAUSD has denied all of UTLA’s proposals with claims that the school district doesn’t have the money to accommodate them. However, UTLA has learned that LAUSD is sitting on a $1.8 billion reserve.
On October 5, a unanimous vote by leaders of more than 300 unions affiliated with the LA County Federation of Labor voted to sanction a potential UTLA strike. This means some 800,000 union workers would support the teachers’ strike. However, it is not yet clear what actions unions recommend their members take to support the strike.
On October 12, after three mediation sessions between UTLA and LAUSD, mediators released the parties to fact-finding, a formal yet additional step toward possible strike action.
The economic and workplace realities for teachers are troubling. California is 48 of 50 states in student-teacher ratio, with LAUSD the worst offender. The current contract has class size limits, but carries a clause that the class size limits can be disregarded during a “financial crisis.” LAUSD has used this clause repeatedly in bad faith to essentially declare a permanent “crisis,” thereby justifying the firing of teachers and the raising of class sizes.
Despite California’s enormous wealth, the state ranks 43 out of 50 in per-pupil spending. The California economy taken separately from the whole of the United States is the fifth largest economy in the world. Furthermore, stagnant teacher salaries combined with the skyrocketing cost of living in Los Angeles have led to a teacher shortage, causing a ripple effect of instability throughout the school district. A state historically controlled by the Democratic Party behaves uncannily like the “red” states that were hit by last spring’s teacher strike wave where the Republicans had imposed savage cuts and privatization.
Straight out of Koch Brothers’ central casting comes new Superintendent of LAUSD Austin Beutner. The former investment banker commissioned an audit of LAUSD and used the findings to call for sweeping cuts, including reducing resources for special education, nurses, counselors, and librarians. Meanwhile, the LAUSD board gave themselves a 174% raise in 2017 with Beutner himself making $350,000 per year. This is what happens when billionaires call the shots.
But teachers, allied with community groups such as Reclaim Our Schools and Padres Unidos, are ready to fight back!
UTLA’s main demands are:
- 6.5% raise in teacher salary to account for the loss in buying power/value of the dollar since Great Recession of 2008.
- Eliminate the “financial crisis” clause.
- Cap the student-to-counselor ratio at 500 to 1 on high school campuses. (A modest demand when The American School Counselor Assn. recommends a ratio of 250 to 1.)
- Stop the Privatization Drain. Every year the LA charter school industry drains $600 million from LAUSD. It is a private money grab from public sources.
- Use surplus land owned by LAUSD to build affordable housing, with a priority of housing students and their families. School-based tenants’ rights support services for students facing eviction or other housing emergencies.
- Create a $1 million LAUSD-funded Immigrant Family Defense Fund to support students and their families affected by ICE and other state institutions.
Socialist Alternative is in solidarity with the UTLA teachers’ strike and backs their demands. We urge UTLA to expand these demands to further draw in the wider working-class communities. Socialist Alternative calls for all public sector unions to come together around a demand for a general raise, and to be prepared to take one day solidarity strike action if the teachers go out. Furthermore, it would strengthen the teachers’ cause to link up with forces fighting for universal health care, a full $15 minimum wage, and rent control. This would represent a broader working-class fightback against the billionaire class and their political clients.
The question remains of how to pay for these demands. We say: Tax The Rich! LA is a massive economic hub with industries from shipping to entertainment making huge profits. A tax on the top 3% of companies in Los Angeles County would provide the revenue to implement these working class demands.
If UTLA strikes, SA will be there on the picket lines in solidarity. Let’s rebuild a fighting labor movement to win real gains for workers and to challenge the domination of the corporate elite. No to the City of Greed; Yes to the City We Need! Strike, solidarity, socialism!