After a nine-week strike, thousands of Mariott Hotel workers in San Francisco won a contract with significant wage increases and better benefits. How did they do this? Strike. Strikes work….
Teachers across the country this year are breathing new life into the strike—galvanizing members and winning gains.
These strikes are fueled by rank-and-file anger. Many were coordinated not from above by the official union leadership but by networks of activists. The size of the mobilizations and level of organization have caught many by surprise.
The teachers have put the strike—labor’s most powerful weapon—back in our playbook. They’re showing what can be done when workers unite, organize creatively, and take to the streets.
Teachers have wiped away some of the stigma attached to strikes and shown how a strike can be built by rank-and-file members. Here are a few lessons: …..
Teacher Strike Wave: By the Numbers
Source: Jasmine Kerrissey, Labor Notes, October 4, 2018
Paraeducators in Port Angeles, Washington, are on strike. In this year’s wave of teacher strikes, it’s the first one led by paraeducators.
Teachers have refused to cross their picket lines, shutting down the district’s schools Thursday and Friday.
The 115 paradeucators in this small coastal city, just across the water from Canada, assist with everything from reading lessons to recess. Paraeducators play an essential role in today’s schools, offering extra attention and care to students who need it—especially those with disabilities…..
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….
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…..
Source: Alex Gourevitch, American Political Science Review, Early View, Published online: 21 June 2018
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.
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. ….
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. ….
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
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…..
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. ….