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Truthout - December 22, 2019

"It’s clear the labor movement will look back on the 2019 teacher strikes, especially those in LA and Chicago, as a turning point — when the #RedForEd movement found its power and overcame politician’s austerity and “school reform” agendas with an educational justice agenda, including demands for deeper investments into communities of color."

This year proved a consequential one for labor struggles, with major new contracts in place not only for public-sector workers, including major teachers’ unions across the country, but also for private-sector unions including the United Auto Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

While some unions and pro-labor organizations touted major victories this year, others returned to their workplaces from picket lines with mixed-result contracts at best. Still, the lessons gleaned from this year’s momentous struggles can inform the labor movement’s broader strategy heading into 2020, both on the next set of picket lines and in how the movement relates to Democratic candidates vying for the presidential nomination. Here’s an overview of a few of the year’s biggest strikes, and what their outcomes portend for the year ahead.

Teachers Unions Win Big While Bargaining Big

This year started out strong with the United Teachers of Los Angeles’s (UTLA) successful six-day strike in January. The union picked up on tactics first used in 2012 by the Chicago Teachers Union, employing a strategy of “bargaining for the common good” — meaning UTLA negotiated on a wide range of issues beyond those typically addressed through collective bargaining. Other teachers’ unions began eyeing the strategy, and the tactic picked up steam throughout the year.

Not only does UTLA’s new contract address its core demands, including a 6 percent raise, increased overall funding and caps on class sizes, it also includes gains on other issues, such as more nurses and additional resources for students. The new contract also includes special provisions requiring the school district to pay an attorney to support children with legal issues related to their immigration status, and curtail policies that permit what the union has called racially motivated searches.

Soon after LA teachers returned to their classrooms, teacher strikes and protests spread to other blue cities and states, including Denver, Virginia, Oakland and Chicago — in contrast to the largely right-to-work, red state strike wave that began in West Virginia in 2018.

In Oakland, teachers ended a seven-day strike with an 11 percent pay raise and a 3 percent bonus over four years. The school district agreed to hire additional counselors, psychologists and special education teachers, and agreed to give school nurses generous bonuses and raises in an area with one of the highest costs of living in the U.S. Facing school closures, the Oakland Education Association (OEA) fought back, saving nearly two dozen schools while joining UTLA in pushing for a statewide moratorium on new charter schools. OEA President Keith Brown told Truthout in February that the strike had forced the superintendent and the school board “to either listen to parents, students and communities, or take the side of the privatizers.”

Momentum from blue state teacher strikes continued in Chicago in October, as the Chicago Teachers Union’s left-wing Caucus of Rank and File Educations went on the offense, taking the bargaining-for-the-common-good approach even further. The union not only pushed for pay raises, adequate staffing and small class sizes, but also for affordable housing for the city’s working class, including its nearly 17,000 students experiencing homelessness.

After its historic 11-day citywide strike, the union won 180 case manager positions for its diverse learner population, 20 English language program teachers for its bilingual students, and full-time staff to assist homeless students. The new contract also added language establishing “sanctuary schools,” prohibiting Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from entering school buildings unless they have a warrant. The new agreement also provides critical immigration and legal services to students and families.

Key to the union’s success was its close solidarity with school support staff and park district workers, who often deal with the same Chicago youth. The union struck alongside the 7,000 school employees in Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 for the first time, creating a united front that raised up broad sectors of the working class affiliated with the city’s schools, including special education personnel, bus aides, custodians and security guards. In the end, the SEIU school workers also won large-scale victories in their contract. ...
Read full report at Truthout