Oakland, California teachers authorize a strike

By Oliver Richards
10 May 2010

On May 3 Oakland teachers voted overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing their union to call a strike, with 565 out of a total of 755 voting yes.

The vote came just days after Oakland teachers held a one-day strike on April 29, which was widely supported by teachers, parents, and students. (See “Oakland, California Teachers Participate in One-Day Strike”.)

The Oakland Unified School District is facing an $85 million deficit and is planning to eliminate about 460 full-time positions. Oakland teachers are the lowest paid educators in Alameda County, serving a large, urban and often underprivileged student population.

The April 29 strike was called in reaction to the no-raise contract that had been imposed on teachers by the Oakland Board of Education after it ceased negotiations with the teachers union. The two parties have since returned to the bargaining table.

While it is incontrovertible that teachers and students are willing to fight for public education, there is no reason to believe that the teachers union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA), will prosecute a serious struggle.

“Certainly we hope we don’t have to use our strike vote, but it gives us a really strong mandate to go forward,” stated OEA president Betty Olson-Jones after the vote. At the April 29 strike rally, OEA spokesman Bill Balderston and former Green Party candidate for political office told a WSWS reporter that in the case of a vote to authorize strike action, the union “might act this year, or we might wait till the next school year.” Balderston explained that the union’s strategy was to “create pressure locally, so that they will go back to their mentors in Sacramento [the state capital]” and apply pressure there.

According to a separate motion that was also passed by teachers on May 3, an indefinite strike can only be called by the OEA Representative Council, made up of 100 Oakland school teachers across the district, although a short strike can be mobilized by the smaller OEA executive board.

The OEA web page encourages supporters to get more information on the issue by visiting the web site, www.standupforschools.org, which is run by the California Teachers Association (CTA).

Stand Up For Schools proposes that public education can be defended by placing pressure on the political establishment, such as writing letters to the editor or contacting their representatives.

This “pressure politics” approach was similarly apparent in the “Ride for a Reason” event that was put on by teachers, parents, and staff on Saturday. They participated in a 100 mile bike ride from Claremont Middle School, located in the Bay Area, to the state capitol.

The group is calling for more public funding for schools and to amend the state constitution so that budgets do not require a supermajority of two thirds of the legislature to be passed. At the same time, they are trying to raise funds for Claremont Middle School.

In a talking points flyer posted by Stand Up For Schools, the CTA calls on lawmakers to oppose funding cuts to public education and other essential services.

What is their proposed solution? Rescinding the $2 billion in tax breaks given to large corporations by the state last year. They note that “California taxpayers” continue to pay more in taxes, while corporations are paying less.

“In these tough economic times, everyone needs to pay their fair share,” the handout concludes.

The demands and perspective of the CTA are bankrupt. Lawmakers of both big business parties refuse to raise the taxes on the rich, ensuring that the economic crisis will be paid for fully by the working class through cuts to public services and long-term unemployment.

The funding cuts faced by Oakland teachers are part of a broader offensive against teachers and other workers across the nation. This attack is being spearheaded by the Obama administration――has refused to provide badly needed aid to the states, while handing out trillions to the banks.

California currently has an official unemployment rate of 12.6 percent and is facing a budget deficit of $55 billion, while nationally 48 states are facing budget deficits collectively totaling $196 billion.

The deficits and cuts to social programs in California are taking place in a state that is home to 80 individuals on the Forbes’ 2009 billionaires list, having a combined net worth of $86.6 billion--nearly double the total state budget deficit.

Mouthpieces for the ruling class are quite explicit in their belief that, in the name of “responsibility,” teachers and other workers must accept the cuts without protest.

For example, in an opinion piece posted on the Business Insider, a business news web site, Mike “Mish” Shedlock, an investment advisor at Sitka Pacific Capital, patronizingly argued that the vote by educators to authorize the strike indicates that they do not understand simple math.

“The vote authorizing a strike was 565-184. This tells me that a minimum of 565 Oakland teachers are unfit to teach because they do not comprehend simple math. They should be fired.”

The April 29 mass rally was attended by teachers and students, parents and other Oakland residents. The cacophony of honking horns, and comments by passersby, indicated enormous popular support for the teachers in a heavily working class city. There is little doubt that if the teachers took the lead, a general shutdown could have been organized in Oakland that day. But this is the last thing the OEA and the CTA are interested in. Their strategy is based on negotiating concessions and cuts with the politicians in Sacramento, not on an all-out struggle. There is every danger of a sell-out or a rotten compromise.

Teachers, students and parents should be aware of this and begin to organize rank-and-file workplace and neighborhood committees to defend education.

The author also recommends:

Unite the Working Class to Defend Public Education! 
[29 April 2010]

Drop in California State Revenues Exacerbates Budget Crisis 
[8 May 2010]