Wednesday, May 16, 2018
MORE TEACHER STRIKES! - EDUCATOR WALKOUTS IN NORTH CAROLINA
By Will Morrow
Tens of thousands of teachers and school employees are assembling today in Raleigh, the state capital of North Carolina, for demonstrations to demand funding for crumbling school infrastructure, wages, benefits and reduced class sizes, and to oppose more than a decade of deep cuts to public education spending.
The walkout, which has already forced the closure of at least 40 of the state’s 115 school districts at time of writing, is the latest in a wave of teacher strikes and demonstrations across the US, in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and Colorado. It is part of an international upsurge of working-class class struggle in 2018, which has already seen strikes by transport workers in France, metal workers in Germany and Turkey, and a growth in strikes and protests by workers across the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
The rally follows yesterday’s release of a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, based on a 2015-2016 survey, which found that 94 percent of teachers across the US were forced to spend their own money on school supplies, including chalk, to cover budget shortfalls.
The median amount spent was $297 per year, and this number increased in areas with higher levels of poverty. For schools where three quarters or more of students qualified for government-funded lunch programs, almost one in ten teachers spent more than $1,000 every year on basic classroom supplies.
As in previous walkouts, the initiative for the strike has come from rank-and-file teachers, not the union officials. The unions are opposed to any extended walkout and are seeking to send teachers back to school after a single day of rallying. The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) is promoting the rally with the hash tag #itspersonal, calling on teachers to take a personal day off school and pay $50 for a substitute teacher if their school remains open.
The union is presenting the walkout as a run-up to the main action of voting for Democrats in the November elections. NCAE president Mark Jewell declared at a rally yesterday that “all of this will be fruitless unless we take this energy and passion to the ballot box and change those who make this policy.”
The reality, however, is that the Democrats, no less than the Republicans, have overseen the assault on public education in North Carolina as throughout the US. Former Democratic governor Bev Perdue oversaw the largest cuts to school funding from 2009 to 2011, slashing more than $1 billion from annual expenditure in current dollar terms.
Just six days ago, Colorado’s Democratic-controlled House and Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper passed sweeping cuts to pensions for teachers and public employees. New teachers will now be forced to work an additional six years before retiring, while cost-of-living adjustments for pension benefits have been frozen for two years. The previous Obama administration spearheaded the assault on teachers, promoting charter schools and rewarding schools that carried out teacher layoffs.
In North Carolina, Republican Governor Patrick McCrory and the Republican-controlled legislature have continued this offensive over the past six years. To enable school boards to carry out mass layoffs, McCrory limited the duration of all new teacher contracts to one year. Since 2009, the number of teacher support staff in the state has been cut by a third, or 7,500 workers. Over the same period, the Republican governor has repealed the estate inheritance tax and slashed the corporate tax rate from 6.9 to 4 percent.
Ann, a North Carolina teacher who retired in 2017 after 18 years, told the WSWS, “There isn’t enough money for after-school programs. There isn’t enough money for supplies.” In 2016, her class size increased from 28 to 35 students. “I taught for two years in a trailer with mold falling on the desks every day. There were 17 trailers at that school. I was sick almost all the time. Kids were sick.” She added, “It’s completely about class. The income gap just gets bigger every year. The government subsidizes the wealthiest companies.”
While there is enormous determination among teachers to fight, it is critical that they draw the lessons of the outcomes of the struggles that have occurred so far. In West Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona, the strikes were betrayed and shut down by the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers without achieving any of their main demands. The unions are continuing to isolate the strikes on a state-by-state basis and prevent the development a nationwide strike.
Teachers from Oklahoma and Arizona have sought to warn teachers in North Carolina to learn the lessons of these betrayals. A teacher from Arizona, Matthew, posted on the North Carolina Teachers United, a Facebook group that more than 38,000 teachers have joined in the lead-up to today’s rally, warning: “You have to watch your supposed ‘allies,’ Democratic legislators begging for votes, [and] your union who basically just wants to increase membership, stop striking and vote Democrat in November... They will sell you out quick as they can. Oklahoma and Arizona were both defeated the same way.”
In Arizona and Oklahoma, the unions relied on the services of auxiliary Facebook groups, including Arizona Educators United, Oklahoma Teachers United and Oklahoma Teachers Walkouts—The Time is Now. The administrators of these groups, while retaining formal independence from the teacher unions, served to prevent teachers from organizing independently of the unions as the latter worked to betray the strikes.
To carry forward their struggle independently and in opposition to the strikebreaking trade unions, teachers require new organizations, rank-and-file committees of teachers and school workers, which would make a powerful appeal to teachers and other workers across the United States and internationally for a common struggle.
Such a movement must be developed in direct opposition to both major parties, Democratic and Republican, which represent the banks, corporations and financial institutions that dictate policy of every government in the US and around the world. Any attempt by government officials to introduce even moderate increases in social spending, including on public education—which, in any case, they have no intention of carrying out—would be met with an immediate act of retaliation by the financial institutions.
Last week’s pension cuts in Colorado followed a statement issued by the credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s (S&P) last November warning that it would downgrade its credit rating on the state’s government bonds if the pension fund’s liabilities were not reduced. In the course of the strike by West Virginian teachers in March, government officials revealed that they had been in regular contact with both S&P and Moody’s rating agencies, which were demanding that the strike be ended.
The fight by the working class for its basic social rights—to public education, health care, a secure retirement and decent wages—is inseparable from the question of which social class determines the distribution of society’s wealth: the working class, or a tiny layer of the corporate elite. The reorganization of economic life on the basis of genuine social equality, rather than profit, means the fight for socialism. This is the perspective of the Socialist Equality Party.
By the WSWS Teacher Newsletter
Thousands of teachers and their supporters are marching in Raleigh, North Carolina today to demand decent wages and benefits and increased school funding. The protest, along with one by South Carolina teachers on Saturday, is part of a nationwide revolt by educators against the bipartisan war on public education and school workers.
Over the past several months, hundreds of thousands of teachers and support staff have engaged in statewide walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, and other strikes and protests in Kentucky, Colorado, New Jersey and many other states, plus the US territory of Puerto Rico.
This is part of an international struggle. Last week, 270,000 teachers carried out a nationwide strike in the South American country of Colombia to demand improved pay and health benefits. On Tuesday, 2,100 school bus drivers walked out in Montreal and across the Canadian province of Quebec because they earn less than $15,000 a year.
Now teachers in North Carolina—which ranks 39th in the country in teacher pay and per-pupil funding—are demanding the restoration of a decade of funding cuts, pay raises for all school workers, the hiring of new nurses and social workers, and a plan to repair crumbling schools and reduce class sizes. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has proposed to allocate less than $100 million to increase teachers’ salaries this year, promising only that their pay might reach parity with the national average over the next four years.
There is enormous support for a united struggle that will link up teachers with all sections of the working class. Serving as a block against such a fight are, first of all, the trade unions, including the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA). While claiming to represent teachers, the unions are, in fact, working consciously to prevent a united movement and shut down any strikes that erupt as quickly as possible.
The strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona were initiated by rank-and-file teachers, not the unions, which are allied to the Democrats and defend the capitalist system. In each case, the unions worked to reassert control, strangle the fight and sign deals that ignored teachers’ main demands.
Repeating the same line of the unions in other states, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) claims teachers’ demands can be won by limiting action to a one-day “lobbying” campaign of the state legislature and electing “pro-education” Democratic politicians in November. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Both parties represent the corporate and financial elite that rules this country, not the working class. While the rhetoric of the Democrats may differ from the right-wing rants of Republicans like state Rep. Mark Brody, the Democrats have waged a decades-long attack on public education too.
Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, expanded for-profit charter schools and scapegoated teachers for educational problems caused by poverty and underfunding. Last week, Colorado’s Democratic governor and state House imposed sweeping cuts to teacher and public employee pensions, including raising the retirement age by six years for future teachers, freezing cost-of-living raises and increasing worker contributions for their retirement benefits.
In every state, politicians from both corporate-controlled parties claim there is no money for raises, new textbooks or other essential needs. At the same time, the giant banks and corporations are sitting on a $2.2 trillion cash hoard—nearly four times what the federal and all state governments spend on public education each year. After the windfall from Trump’s tax cuts, Charlotte-based Bank of America saw its first quarter profit rise by 30 percent, to $6.92 billion.
Instead of using these vast resources to meet society’s needs, the corporations have spent at least $158 billion in stock buybacks in the first three months of 2018 and are expected to spend a record $1.2 trillion by the end of the year. The money squandered so far this year on stock buybacks, which benefit only the richest shareholders and executives, is enough to give a $49,000 bonus to all 3.2 million full-time teachers in the US, or increase per-pupil spending by more than $3,000 for each of the country’s 50.7 million public school students.
The lessons of the strikes so far this year must be learned and made the basis for a new organizational and political way forward. The Socialist Equality Party and the WSWS Teacher Newslettercall on teachers to:
· Elect rank-and-file workplace committees. Teachers and school workers must form rank-and-file committees in every school and community to take the conduct of the struggle out of the hands of the unions. Instead of making fruitless appeals to corporate-controlled politicians, these committees should appeal to every section of the working class—public employees, manufacturing, warehouse, health care, technology and office workers—to unite in a common fight for decent living standards and to expand public services.
· Prepare a nationwide strike to defend and vastly improve public education. The banks and giant corporations like Bank of America and Amazon operate on a national and international scale, shifting operations to whatever locale offers them the lowest taxes and cheapest labor. Teachers cannot fight on a state-by-state basis, but must unite their forces and build support for a nationwide strike to fight the assault on public education.
· Break with both big business parties and build a powerful political movement of the working class against the dictatorship of the banks and big business. The Socialist Equality Party is fighting to build a political movement of the working class whose aim is the establishment of a workers’ government and the reorganization of society to meet human needs, not corporate profit.
· For a sharp increase in taxes on the corporations and the rich , and the expropriation of the ill-gotten gains of the financial oligarchy. Immediate measures must be taken to promote social equality and a radical redistribution of wealth, including a progressive income tax that places the burden of taxation on the rich and corporate profits, while lowering taxes for the vast majority of the population. At the same time, workers must take hold over the wealth that they collectively create by nationalizing the banks and giant corporations and transforming them into publicly owned and democratically controlled enterprises.
Nothing the working class has ever achieved was won without a determined struggle against its class enemies and their political representatives. In the 1920s and 1930s, the textile workers of North and South Carolina waged heroic struggles in Gastonia and other mill towns against sweatshop exploitation and to end the scourge of child labor. Now Trump is overturning prohibitions on child labor established in the 1930s and the ruling class foresees a dystopian future where working class children are condemned to hard labor while only the sons and daughters of the well-to-do have quality education.
Workers in the United States and around the world are returning to the road of class struggle. To take this forward, a new leadership and perspective is needed. The Socialist Equality Party and the World Socialist Web Site Teacher Newsletter urge teachers in North Carolina to contact us to help form rank-and-file committees and mobilize the broadest support in the working class for this fight.
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