Truthdiggers of the Month: The Striking, and Winning, L.A. Teachers
They showed up in force, in the streets of Los Angeles, and in the driving rain. Numbering in the tens of thousands, their movements affected more than half a million students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and they shared a single focus.
After rallying for six straight days, their efforts paid off. On Jan. 22, some 32,000 striking LAUSD teachers reached a deal with district officials that would improve educators’ working conditions and pay on many of their terms. By the end of the month, class was back in session.
Such a basic rundown of the recent showdown between highly activated Los Angeles teachers and resistant officials doesn’t give that episode its due. Nor does it put in context what was really only the latest, most public display of conflict between the two parties—as many sources noted, this was the first LAUSD teachers’ strike in 30 years, and it happened after nearly two years of attempted negotiations failed to produce a workable result.
So, to blow it up to its rightful size, we’re bringing back our Truthdigger of the Week feature, adding four times the prestige, and naming the striking L.A. teachers as this year’s first Truthdiggers of the Month.
The success of the teachers’ high-stakes bid is all the more significant considering the tenor of the current moment—not to mention previous decades of vigorous efforts by a host of politicians and pundits to cast labor unions, and teachers’ unions in particular, as enemies of the state. And if anyone still mistakes that campaign as just another byproduct of the unholy alliance between, say, Fox News and Scott Walker, teachers union leader Alex Caputo-Pearl was ready to correct the record as he kicked off the strike at a Jan. 14 press conference:
At a 7:30 a.m. news conference, United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl addressed fellow union members, parents and students at John Marshall High School, 3939 Tracy St., where picketing had begun about the same time.
‘Here we are on a rainy day in the richest country in the world, in the richest state in the country, in a state that’s blue as it can be—and in a city rife with millionaires—where teachers have to go on strike to get the basics for our students,’ Caputo-Pearl said.
‘Here we are in a fight for the soul of public education. The question is: do we starve our public neighborhood schools so that they [become] privatized, or do we re-invest in our public neighborhood schools for our students and for a thriving city?’
As the previous walkouts and organized actions by teachers in many other states would suggest, Los Angeles does not represent a special case so much as a case study for what is happening in public schools around the country. The terms on which L.A. teachers refused to budge highlighted challenges — overflowing classrooms, inadequate support staff, low pay—affecting their colleagues from Arizona to Texas, North Carolina to Washington state.
Still another, having to do with the steady and cultivated creep of charter schools into the American educational field, is part of a bigger project often touted as “education reform.” Such an optimistic, philanthropy-ready phrase is sure to appeal across party lines, to others besides Education Secretary Betsy DeVos–and it does.
But at least for the moment, and despite more or less predictable reactions from sources along the political spectrum, L.A. teachers have reason to count this one as a clear win. For his part, Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer certainly did, remarking Wednesday that the strike represented a “great victory for trade unionism” and that LAUSD teachers had “called out the neoliberals” with their mass demonstration. “There’s a big struggle between those with a Bill Gates-type sensibility [that would suggest] they know how to fix these schools,” Scheer continued, “and the people who are in the classrooms hour after hour.”
Meanwhile, the impact of the strike has ranged beyond Scheer and those students, parents, non-teacher employees, food truck vendors and crossover celebrities from the L.A. area who supported the cause. According to The Washington Post, public-school educators in at least five other U.S. cities are ready to take action, making L.A. the “first major teachers strike of 2019”—but probably not the last.