After a six day strike, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) on Tuesday, January 22, ratified a new contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). This was the biggest and most important strike yet in the nationwide teachers’ revolt that began in West Virginia last March and spread to a series of other states. The teachers’ revolt is encouraging workers in other industries to stand up and can be the beginning of rebuilding a fighting labor movement in this country.
The Los Angeles teachers picket lines were solid and well-attended throughout the strike and were joined by working-class parents and students who supported the strike overwhelmingly. The union held mass, exuberant rallies on an almost daily basis. The new agreement received the support of 81% of union members. It secured several tangible gains for the teachers: an increase in support staff (nurses, counselors, and librarians) with various phase-ins of up to three years; less standardized testing; a 6% raise; a reduction in class sizes; and the the elimination of the hated “Section 1.5” which the district had previously used to declare an emergency and disregard all class size caps.
This is a victory for teachers and the broader working class. A UTLA loss would have been a victory for the discredited education “reformers” and their plan to privatize and dismantle public education not only in Los Angeles but across the country.
The UTLA strike has now placed ending the corporate privatization of the schools firmly on the agenda of the Los Angeles working class. A call to tax the rich to fully fund education and for a statewide moratorium on further charter schools must be taken up by the unions. They must build on the momentum of this historic strike and continue mobilizing the parents and students toward more decisive victories.
Some teachers and parents will ask: Could the union have won more? Some may even feel let down at the scope of the victory, which was not decisive, based on the energy that went into the strike. This is understandable and it is possible more could have been won. But there was also the real consideration for the union that a prolonged strike risked reducing the magnificent level of support from parents.
The first battle was won. But the well-funded forces behind the drive to destroy public education through privatization and starving it of resources will not give up easily. Winning this fight will require escalating statewide and national action. This fight can now also be connected to the housing struggle and the fight for single-payer health care in California.
Taking the Fight Forward
The agreement puts LAUSD and the mayor’s office on record to “jointly advocate for increased county and state funding [for education].” However, we know that lobbying will not be enough to fund LA and California public education. To win fully-funded public education and stop the privatization and charterization, a California-wide movement is needed. Teachers and their unions should organize for a statewide one-day teachers strike that could be called as part of a national day of action for funding public schools. (Read more in our January 20 article)
In this struggle, more per-pupil funding and a cap on new charters were not contractual issues, but by pushing for them UTLA has shown how public sector unions can build massive public support by placing community demands at the center of their fight.
The Politics of Funding
The California Democratic Party has enjoyed a super-majority at the state and Los Angeles County levels for years. It is the Democrats themselves who have overseen and implemented the starvation and privatization of public schools. It is not credible to expect them to suddenly reverse course and deliver proper funding for public schools. Both in California and nationally, the leadership of the Democratic Party is beholden to the interests of the corporations and Wall Street, not to the interests of working people. To fight for quality public education, Medicare for All, and other working-class interests, working people need a party of our own that has no ties to the billionaires.
The LA teachers’ strike shows that workers have enormous power in the economy and on the streets. We can collectively build massive public pressure through strikes, mass demonstrations, and direct actions to win education funding. With Oakland teachers about to strike, workers have another chance to bring coordinated pressure to bear upon not only Oakland Unified School District, but also the state government in Sacramento. Preparations should be made for a one-day statewide teacher walkout alongside a national day of action for public education. Denver and Virginia teachers, both on the path to a strike, could join the action. A one-day wildcat strike such as this would shake the political establishment from Sacramento to Washington, D.C.