From the January-February 2019 issue of News & Letters
Los Angeles—On Jan. 14, teachers of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) went on strike for a new contract with the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest school district in the country. Ninety-eight percent of the teachers approved the strike, the first since 1989. Teachers with support of communities, parents and labor allies have begun to picket schools.
In January the LAUSD had offered a measly 6.5% pay raise and only $75 million for smaller class sizes, far short of what their reserve of $1.8 billion could provide. Teachers object to current class sizes in excess of 45 students. Superintendent Austin Beutner, with no educational experience, is a Wall Street advocate for charter schools, where one-fifth of the 800,000 LAUSD students go.
MASSIVE DECEMBER 15 RALLY
Last Dec. 15 over 50,000 teachers, parents, students, labor unions and non-teaching school employees gathered at the Los Angeles City Hall in support of a new public education contract. Teachers gathered to march for fair wages, smaller class sizes—which means hiring more teachers—special education, nurses, counselors, librarians, social workers, and less testing. In support were members of Black Lives Matter, the PTA, the Community College Association and unions like the UAW, SEIU and UniteHere.
As UTLA’s president Alex Caputo-Pearl, a public school teacher for 22 years, stated: “The standoff between UTLA and LAUSD is the struggle for the future of public education.” A speaker from the American Federation of Teachers stated, “This is just like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and last week’s charter school strike in Chicago.”
One banner read: “California is the fifth largest economy, but 43rd in per student spending and first in prison spending.” Signs read: A large war budget leaves every child behind”; “Teachers, we work for the students” and “Estamos con los maestros de Los Angeles.”
Protesters in red T-shirts marched on Broadway and through the financial district chanting: “When teachers and students are under attack, what do we do?, Stand up, fight back!” When they reached the Eli Broad Museum, they chanted:”What do we want? a contract! When do we want it? Now!”
PUSHING KIDS INTO CHARTER SCHOOLS
A leaked memo from the L.A.-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation laid out a plan for charter schools to drive out pubic education, aiming to create 260 new charter schools in L.A. Since 2008 there has been a 300% increase in charter schools in L.A., draining almost $600 million from the public schools every year. A UTLA flyer stated: “The Eli Broad memo revealed the strategy to push 50% of LAUSD students into corporate charter schools.”
Maria Antonio, a parent/student organizer, stated in Spanish: “Parents, students, educators together. I’m representing thousands of parents. We fight for a school nurse every single day. Presently, there is one nurse for every 1,224 students. I’m proud to be working with educators.”
Arlene, a public school teacher and chair of UTLA’s bargaining committee, stated: “Eli Broad is anti-union, anti-teacher. Invest in public schools now. No criminalization of students. Teacher power to make decisions. We need living wages.”
A Black woman student from Dorsey High School stated: “Austin Beutner has done nothing for students. He shut down schools in Black and Brown communities. We sat down with Beutner and he runs away from our suggestions. Black, White, Brown and Asian students work together.” Then the crowd chanted, “Black, White, Black, White!”
A California labor union speaker said: “There are two million State of California workers. When we stand together, we win. When we work together, we win. When we fight, we win.”
One thought on “Unity in Los Angeles teachers’ strike”
I heard that the strike won some demands but little was conceded on excess class size. Certainly charter operators hope that public education will continue to be squeezed both financially and by the working conditions that drag teachers down. And they don’t want just “50%” of LA schools to become charters; they want it all, as in New Orleans where the Black community is fighting to keep the last public high school in the city from going charter.