On Thursday, January 18, educators in Newton, Massachusetts voted 98% in favor of going out on strike after over a year of negotiation for a better contract. Friday morning saw hundreds of educators, students, and community members protesting in support of the teachers’ demands. Newton educators have worked without a contract since August and the school committee has barely budged, coming back with their “last best offer” for the past few negotiation sessions before the strike. Meanwhile, class sizes in the Newton public high schools are reaching up to 32 students per class, and a brand new curriculum is being rolled out with no training or prep time. The district has also gone back on its promise to provide support staff for kindergarten classrooms.
Newton Teachers Association (NTA), which counts 1,700 members, is fighting for a 10% raise for support staff, who currently make as little as $26,000 a year, causing many to leave after two or three years. The NTA is also fighting for better cost of living adjustments, better parental leave, more support staff in schools like social workers, no hikes to health care costs, and collaborative planning time during the school day. We have seen these demands echoed again and again across the state and country, as public education is under attack.
It is illegal for educators in Massachusetts to strike, but a wave of educator strikes has occurred across the state anyway, with Newton being the most recent. Other strikes have occurred in Brookline, Haverhill, Dedham, Sharon, Andover, Malden, and Woburn, after 12 strike-less years between 2007 and 2019.
Newton public schools see nearly 12,000 students and the Newton per capita income is over $90,000, making it the largest and most affluent school district to experience an educator strike in the state. A judge has ordered these teachers to return to work Sunday at 3pm, after just one full strike day, but teachers are adamant to get back on the picket lines until their demands are met. As the strike continues, the union is being fined exorbitant amounts by the state, starting at $25,000 and doubling each day as the strike continues.
Socialist Alternative stands in solidarity with NTA members and supports them staying out on strike until their demands are met, regardless of what judges order. Strikes are an essential tool for workers to win material gains from their bosses. The NTA demands are a necessity to ensure that Newton educators can continue to teach and help their students thrive. Any blame for students being out of school should be squarely put on the shoulders of the school committee, mayor, and city council, who continue to put forward a bad contract and refuse to negotiate.
Teachers are the backbone of our education system, and improperly staffed schools, low resources, and low pay can deeply affect the strength of student’s education. Newton students should organize in solidarity with the educators and turn out their classmates to rallies, and picket lines as the strike continues. Union locals in the greater Boston area should come out to the picket lines, pass resolutions in their union, and donate money to the NTA strike support fund to demonstrate their support for Newton educators. Community pressure will be crucial in forcing the school committee’s hand, and organizations like the Myrtle Baptist Church have already demonstrated their support for the striking educators.
During COVID, an impressive coalition of Newton parents and educators called the Parent/Educator Collaborative emerged. This organization held Zoom and public meetings leading up to the strike. The Parent/Educator collaborative should call on all parents and students to turn out to the picket lines and rallies, discuss the best ways to win a strong contract and support the union.
Unionized librarians in Newton are now experiencing an influx of students during the day from the strike. In solidarity with the strikes, Newton librarians could open spaces to provide food and childcare, potentially shutting down other services to focus on supporting the students, with the help of parent volunteers. The NTA should refuse to pay the fines for striking, and link up with other districts to fight against these fines and fight for the legalization of educator strikes in Massachusetts.
Both Democrats and Republicans have attacked public school funding for decades, exacerbating the difficulties under the stress of the pandemic, inflation, and social crisis young people face. Democrats are at the helm of most of the school districts that have gone on strike in Massachusetts and have refused to fight for educators without mass pressure. Only with a united movement of educators, students, community members, and more can we win the necessary investment in our public education system, meet the level of support students and educators need, and address the broader issues that underlie the inequality in our public education system, like affordable housing, quality healthcare, good jobs and more.