By Nick French
This is not the first time teachers have taken mass, militant labor action in the United States; the 1970s saw a similar strike wave. But today’s strikes have centered antiracist class-struggle demands that unite teachers and school communities, particularly in LA, Oakland, and Chicago; the strikes of the 1970s exacerbated tensions between mostly white teachers and the communities of color they served. Striking teachers have also made clear that public education must be funded by reappropriating the wealth of corporations and the ultrarich, not by higher taxes or benefit cuts to working people.
The legacy of these toxic conflicts was division among working people, who should have been uniting to fight the opening salvos of austerity politics and neoliberal privatization. By the early 1980s, teachers found themselves politically isolated and vulnerable to increasingly aggressive right-wing attacks.
The recent teacher strikes are significant because of the kinds of demands teachers are pressing: smaller class sizes, more support staff for students, and ends to school closures and charter school expansion. Teachers have won widespread public support for their cause by presenting demands on behalf of the entire working class, and by building solidarity against a common enemy: the billionaires hoarding obscene wealth and trying to destroy public education.
Today, the teachers’ victories are victories for the working class. The solidarity being rebuilt through the current strike wave could be a seed of the kind of mass movement necessary to fundamentally reorder society: a movement of the multiracial working class, fighting to democratize our economy and break the stranglehold of the ultrarich over our political system.
Teacher Strikes in the Late ‘60s and ‘70s