Category Archives: Strikes

What’s Behind the Teachers’ Strikes: The Labor-Movement Dynamic of Teacher Insurgencies

Source: Ellen David Friedman, Dollars and Sense, no. 336, May/June 2018

As we watch—rapt—the unexpected teacher insurgencies in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, and Colorado, we’re also grasping for understanding: Why is this stunning revolt occurring where unions are weak, where labor rights are thin, and where popular politics are considered to be on the right? To understand the insurgency, we need to look at economics, and at political economy specifically. But we especially need a labor-movement analysis.

A labor-movement analysis starts by understanding the political and economic conditions that shape the objective conditions of a particular group of workers (or labor market) at a given moment—prevailing wages, benefits, work processes, structures of employment, stability of work, market forces in the sector, etc. Then we look at how workers respond to those material factors and conditions: how they understand their interests, how they see their own power (or lack of it), how they understand the interests of the employers and what influences them, and how they develop tactics, strategies, and institutions to bring their power to bear against the power of employers. Finally, the self-directed activity of workers (including their ideas, ideologies, methods of organization, decision-making, and what actions they take) can be embedded in the larger context of other sectors of workers, other social movements, and historical labor movements. Such an analysis can help us interpret the teacher strike wave and, perhaps, gain insights that can help us rebuild capable, fighting unions….

Vermont’s Striking Nurses Want A Raise for Nonunion Workers Too

Source: Jonah Furman, Labor Notes, August 2, 2018

Especially for professional workers, when your main strike issue is pay, attracting public support can be a challenge.

Savvy employers paint union members as spoiled. They like to point out that you’re already making more than many of your nonunion neighbors.

Yet when 1,800 nurses and technical staff struck for better wages July 12-13 at the state’s second-largest employer, the University of Vermont Medical Center, the people of Burlington came out in force to back them up.

“We had policemen and firefighters and UPS drivers pulling over and shaking our hands” on the picket line, said neurology nurse Maggie Belensz. “We had pizza places dropping off dozens of pizzas, giving out free ice cream.”

And when a thousand people marched from the hospital through Burlington’s downtown, “we had standing ovations from people eating their dinners,” she said. “It was a moving experience.”

One reason for such wide support: these hospital workers aren’t just demanding a raise themselves. They’re also calling for a $15 minimum wage for their nonunion co-workers, such as those who answer the phones, mop the floors, cook the food, and help patients to the bathroom…..

The Right to Strike: A Radical View

Source: Alex Gourevitch, American Political Science Review, Early View, Published online: 21 June 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Workers face a common dilemma when exercising their right to strike. For the worst-off workers to go on strike with some reasonable chance of success, they must use coercive strike tactics like mass pickets and sit-downs. These tactics violate some basic liberties, such as contract, association, and private property, and the laws that protect those liberties. Which has priority, the right to strike or the basic liberties strikers might violate? The answer depends on why the right to strike is justified. In contrast to liberal and social democratic arguments, on the radical view defended here, the right to strike is a right to resist oppression. This oppression is partly a product of the legal protection of basic economic liberties, which explains why the right to strike has priority over these liberties. The radical view thus best explains why workers may use some coercive, even lawbreaking, strike tactics.

Five Lessons from the History of Public Sector Unions

Source: Priscilla Murolo, Labor Notes, June 11, 2018

As public sector unions contemplate losing key rights under the law, it’s worth remembering that for much of their history, such unions organized with no rights at all.

It wasn’t till 1958 that New York became the first city to authorize collective bargaining for city employees. Wisconsin did the same for state employees in 1959, and federal workers got bargaining rights in 1962.

Yet as early as 1940, a book titled One Thousand Strikes of Government Employees described strikes dating back to the 1830s, when workers at U.S. Navy shipyards stopped work multiple times to press demands for better wages and conditions. ….

American Attitudes Toward Teacher Pay and Protests

Source: Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, April 2018

The April 2018 AP-NORC Poll asked 1,140 adults their views on teacher pay and recent protests advocating for more school funding.

​On April 19, 2018, teachers in Arizona voted to walk off the job to demand increased school funding, joining the movement for higher teacher pay that began in February in West Virginia and has spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Colorado. In a recent survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 78 percent of Americans say teachers in this country are underpaid, but fewer approve of walkouts by teachers to demand pay raises and increased school funding.

Fifty-two percent approve of teachers striking to protest low teacher pay and school funding cuts, while 25 percent disapprove and 22 percent neither approve nor disapprove. But who is to blame when teacher labor unrest disrupts students’ education? Americans say there is plenty of blame to go around. ….

…. Seventy-eight percent of adults say public school teachers get paid too little for the work that they do, 6 percent say they get paid too much, and 15 percent say they get paid the right amount. Still, only 50 percent would support a plan to increase their taxes in order to increase teacher compensation and funding for their local public schools, while 26 percent would oppose such a plan, and 23 percent neither favor nor oppose. ….

Related:
Most Americans believe teachers have the right to strike
Source: Ipsos/NPR survey on the public’s views of teachers, April 26, 2018

A recent survey conducted on behalf of NPR shows that just one in four Americans believe teachers in this country are paid fairly. Furthermore, three-quarters agree teachers have the right to strike, including two-thirds of Republicans, three-quarters of independents and nearly 9 in 10 Democrats. 

Though nearly two-thirds approve of national teachers’ unions, an equal number (63%) agree that teachers’ unions do make it harder to fire bad teachers. Half of Americans (51%) agree that teachers’ unions improve both the quality of education and teachers, though these two questions vary based on party affiliation. Two-thirds or more of Democrats agree that teachers’ unions improve the quality of education and teachers, compared to less than half of Republicans…..

HPU Poll: NC Republicans and Democrats Agree on Education Issues
Source: March 7, 2018

…. Teacher pay raises: Majorities of North Carolinians also say that public school teachers are paid too little (85 percent) and claim that they would be willing to pay more in taxes so that North Carolina school teachers could be paid at the national average within five years (73 percent). In fact, large majorities of Democrats (72 percent), Republicans (72 percent), and unaffiliated (76 percent) residents of North Carolina say they would pay more in taxes for such a teacher pay raise. ….

New polls find most Americans say teachers are underpaid — and many would pay higher taxes to fix it
Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, June 1, 2018

Teachers Find Public Support as Campaign for Higher Pay Goes to Voters
Source: Dana Goldstein and Ben Casselman, New York Times, May 31, 2018

Before It All Melts Away

Source: Chris Brooks, Labor Notes, May 30, 2018

Will this spring’s wave of teacher strikes lead to stronger unions? Not if their unions return to business as usual.

The motor force behind the strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina is teachers’ deep frustration. Educators are feeling the pinch from decades of funding cuts that their unions have been unable to stop…..

Why Do Workers Strike?

Source: Martin Glaberman, Jacobin, May 30, 2018

Think conservative workers won’t strike? Think again. History shows it’s not workers’ ideas that count, it’s the conditions they face on the job.

…. Here, we reproduce the concluding chapter of Wartime Strikes. The historical backdrop of wartime strikes and those that have taken place today are obviously different, and Glaberman’s analysis of why auto workers took the actions they did can’t be directly transposed onto today’s events.

But his insistence that working people can be transformed when they’re forced to deal with the reality in front of them is an essential reminder for anyone trying to understand where and how the next working-class upsurge might continue to spread today. ….

When Teachers Strike, Support Staff Has the Most to Lose

Source: Madeline Will, Education Week, May 29, 2018

The national spotlight on the strikes and walkouts this spring has been on the teachers themselves. But in the shadows was another group that’s just as critical for keeping schools running: support staff.

Often overlooked in the broader public discourse, these workers, including instructional aides and paraprofessionals, sometimes had more at stake in the walkouts than full-time teachers. When schools were closed, many didn’t get paid.

Behind the teacher strikes that have roiled five states – Why non-union states have seen the most unrest

Source: The Economist, May 5, 2018

From a block away, the striking teachers camped out around Arizona’s capitol at first looked like a solid sea of red, the colour of their T-shirts and tents. On closer inspection, they distinguished themselves the way the teachers have always distinguished their classrooms—with handmade signs. Leah Falcon (“Arizona exports: Cotton, copper, teachers”), who teaches middle-school maths, said she was “fighting because my kids deserve better than 34 students in a class.” Megan Marohn (“Arizona Spending per Student: $9,000. Per Inmate: $24,000”) is a classroom aide and lifelong Republican who frets that Arizona’s Republican legislature and governor “put the value of corporations above students”. Jay Bertelsen (“Christian Non-Union Conservative Teacher Fighting for Funding”) has taught computer science outside Tucson for 25 years; his children qualify for Arizona’s state-subsidised health care for poor families.

Grievances such as these have motivated teacher strikes in five states. They look likely to continue—galvanising public-sector workers in states where Democrats hope to make gains in this autumn’s midterm elections. ….