LA teachers strike’s real lesson

Now that the dust has settled on the teachers strike in Los Angeles, it’s a propitious time to see what it has actually accomplished (“Some Teachers Say Deal to End Strike ‘Is Not What I Picketed for,’ “LAWeekly, Jan. 29.)  Although UTLA is boasting that it won, the truth contains less cause for celebration.

I say that since so much of the final agreement was what the district offered in the first place.  Yes, teachers will see the size of their classes reduced by one student, but that is hardly a major victory.  And yes, teachers will get a fraction of a percentage point increase in pay, but that too does not qualify as anything to crow about.

Instead, I think the real victory is less obvious.  Teachers showed that they no longer would remain passive in the face of deteriorating conditions for learning. Put another way, they would now be worthy of more respect for standing up for what they considered essential.

When I participated in the first strike in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1970, many of my colleagues were reluctant to join because striking was not “professional.”  They crossed the picket line.  But in 1989, the same teachers had changed their mind.  I’m not sure exactly why, but I venture that they realized how they had been used by the district.

Teachers unions face an uphill battle across the country.  Critics say that if teachers are so disaffected, they should quit.  I say that if teachers have it so good, critics should become teachers.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)


2 Replies to “LA teachers strike’s real lesson”

  1. I never accepted the “it’s unprofessional to strike” argument.

    When professionals are employees (as opposed to the owners of the business), they are subject to the same economic forces as any other employees. The employer of employees always has strong reasons to maximize workload while minimizing compensation — this is true whether the employees are doctors, teachers, supermarket cashiers, carpenters, insurance adjusters, or pretty much any other type of employee. It follows that professional employees — like other kinds of employees — need to combine into unions to equalize economic power vis-à-vis the employer and to strike, when necessary, to apply that economic power to the employer. Otherwise, the employer will always come out on the winning side vis-à-vis the employees re economic issues.


  2. Labor Lawyer: I never understood why some teachers felt – and still do – that striking is unprofessional. Teachers are employees who cannot possibly match the power that their districts possess. New teachers in particular take for granted the rights and benefits they have because of strikes in the past. (The Janus ruling will give them justification.) I also reject the argument that if teachers are so disaffected they can always quit. Yes, they can, but who will take their place?


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