A hotly debated contract settlement to the week-long Oakland teachers strike was approved by a vote of 1131 “yes” to 842 “no” or 57% to 43% yesterday. This is a very close result, especially given the fact that there was no clear, organized caucus that could explain how to win more.
While it was reported that some 85% of OEA members turned out to picket, only about 70% voted. Possibly some didn’t vote for simple logistic reasons, like the fact that it was very difficult to find parking near where the vote took place. But experience in similar situations in other unions shows a more underlying reason: Often, the members are deeply unhappy about a substandard contract, but a strategy and tactics to win more has not been clarified.
Broke new ground
In this case, the union leadership broke new ground in many ways.
- They organized militant strike rallies every day.
- One of those rallies ended up actually occupying the main lobby of the state building. This was a real break with the approach of the leadership of other strikes, where everything has been done to ensure that nobody ever steps over the line in any way.
- On two separate occasions, a militant picket outside where the board was supposed to meet actually prevented the board from meeting.
However, more could have been done, and we need to consider this for next time:
- Instead of usually holding the rallies in Oscar Grant Plaza (the plaza in front of City Hall), the rallies could have been held actually in the intersection of 14th St. and Broadway. This would have basically shut down downtown Oakland.
- From those rallies, we could have occupied the main banks in downtown Oakland as well as such offices as those of real estate tycoon Shorenstein.
- The occupation of the State Building could have been carried out for the entire afternoon, effectively shutting down business there.
- And, crucially, there could have been a march to shut down the Port of Oakland – the same port that pays no taxes to the city.
Port of Oakland
This last step was much discussed. However, according to some reports, the top leadership of the ILWU (longshore union) objected. If that is so, it can only be explained by their being overly concerned with the interests of the shipping companies, rather than with the members and the wider working class. That, incidentally, is absolutely typical of the union leadership in general. If that was the hold-up, then OEA should have simply appealed to the rank and file longshore workers over the heads of the ILWU leadership. The powerful support for this strike among Oakland’s working class showed that such an appeal would probably have been successful.
That support was shown in the tremendous diversity at the rallies – a diversity that matched the diversity of Oakland’s working class itself. This, plus the youthfulness of those at the rallies, was a welcome break from what we have seen many times in recent years here in Oakland. (Another break from the past was the great support that OEA got from members of other unions, such as SEIU 1021.)
The Great Oakland Teachers Strike of 2019 is simply the opening battle in the struggle not only to save public education, but against privatization and destruction of all public services. The Oakland school board is controlled by the privatizers and opponents of real public education. Foremost among these is Jemoke Hodge. Major donors to her campaign for office include people like Abe Friedman of Camber View, a major representative of finance capital; Isaac Kos-Read of Pro Civica and Anne Okahara of Aspire Public Schools, both of which are school privatizers; Stephen Lowe, a real estate developer, and Chuck Daggs of the pro-charter KIPP Foundation. We will have more on the background of Hodge and some other board members in a future article, but one event really says it all:
Board member assaults picket
At the picket outside La Escuelita last Friday, Hodge physically assaulted one of the strikers. Had a similar assault been done by a teacher, that teacher would be fired. Hodge should be forced to step down, but not a single board member has called for this. It shows how they are all in this together.
Role of California State government
Which leads to the final point: During the negotiations, Chris Learned, the “Fiscal Oversight Trustee” over OUSD had said repeatedly that he would veto any settlement that conceded to the OEA demands. Learned serves at the pleasure of the State Superintendent of Schools, Tony Thurmond. Thurmond, in turn, won the 2018 election to that position thanks to the support of the California Teachers Association (CTA). A real workers’ representative would have (1) Fired Learned on the spot; and (2) raised the call for the state to forgive the $40 million in still outstanding debt from OUSD to the state. After all, that debt was incurred when state-appointed administrator and school privatizer Antwan Wilson was running OUSD. The state created this debt, not Oakland.
Workers representatives and a mass workers party
These steps, plus others such as taxing the Port of Oakland, and ending the massive waste and cronyism in OUSD, would provide more than enough money to fund everything that our public schools need. What is needed is for the labor movement to link up with the wider working class – the same wider working class that supported the teachers strike – to run real workers candidates, independent of and opposed to both the parties of big business. This would be a first step towards building a real alternative, a working class alternative, to the two corporate parties. This has nothing in common with the tiny little groups that run left candidates for office and are roundly ignored by working class people. Instead, it is the next logical, possible and necessary step arising out of workers’ struggles in the streets such as the Great Oakland Teachers Strike of 2019.