Last year saw a wave of teachers' strikes across America, but mostly in red states where public education has been starved of funds, putting teachers on starvation wages, subjecting kids to dangerous conditions, and stripping schools of resources and even putting schools on four-day weeks.
But on January 10th, the teachers who educate the 694,000 students of the LA Unified School District (comparable to the entire student population of the state of Oklahoma) are heading on strike, in a deep blue city in a deep blue state. Their cause reveals the true, underlying issue of the national teachers' strikes: privatization.
The project to use public funds to pay for private schools has been a darling of racists and religious cultists since Brown v Board of Education, when the idea of "charter schools" was floated as a way to legally exclude black children from publicly funded education. The racist project found allies in among the grifters of Christian fundamentalism, who perceived a way to merge state and church and receive public funding for parochial schools where evolution could be denied in favor of Bibilical superstition and the 5,000-year-old Earth (this force also drove the British "academy" school movement). It was the same devastating alliance that put Reagan in the White House: rich crooks exploiting the fears of religious fundamentalists to seize power and funnel millions in public funds into their own pockets.
The Democratic Party establishment fucking loves Ronald Reagan and firmly embraces the doctrine that says that state functions should be shifted to for-profit private hands — the main difference being that Democrats want a diverse oligarchy where the makeup of the 150 people who own the world is representative of the global population's genders, skin colors, and origins (Republicans want those 150 people to be white, Christian men).
Handing public money to underperforming, for-profit charter schools with unqualified and underpaid teachers is the one issue that Democrats and Betsy DeVos agree on. Why not? Merill-Lynch, speaking for the bipartisan donor class has spent decades trumpeting the investment possibilities in an education sector "that views families as customers, schools as 'retail outlets' where educational services are received, and the school board as a customer service department that hears and addresses parental concerns."
The philanthropic money laundry has allowed billionaire ideologues to style their anti-public-education crusade as an act of charity, turning poor, predominantly black areas (Detroit, Louisiana) into laboratories where junk-science experiments are carried out on racialized children, creating a wave of segregated, underperforming schools. For grifters, these separate-but-equal schools represent a major improvement over the Jim Crow of old: they produce shareholder dividends.
The new leadership of the LA teachers union campaigned explicitly on pushing back against the privatization of public education, helped by money laundering/election fraud scandals where dark money networks were caught hijacking control over the massive LA Unified School District.
Red state or blue, the issues that have galvanized LA teachers are the same ones that sent teachers out last year from West Virginia to Arizona and beyond.
Acting on principles of "social justice unionism," UTLA has consciously built the union's presence in the schools and has reached out to community groups, working to develop mutually respectful alliances that acknowledge racial and class inequality in the city's schools. Hence UTLA's current contract demands include reducing student-counselor ratios and lowering class size, as well as ending punitive disciplinary procedures that feed the "school to prison pipeline" and do nothing to improve school climate, essential for safe schools.
The battle between UTLA and LAUSD is over contradictory visions for the role of public education in a society that claims to be democratic. LAUSD wants a privatized "public" system funded by tax dollars that its supporters say will simultaneously boost profits and allow "the best" to succeed in a competitive system. UTLA sees a teachers union's responsibility to its members and the society as creating a system of public education that is controlled democratically, empowering parents, students, and teachers to transcend the role of consumers to create "choices" that serve all elements of its diverse population equally well.
Though this seems to be a contract dispute, the battle between UTLA and Superintendent Beutner and the economic and political interests he represents is something far bigger. It's a turning point for Los Angeles in deciding its future.
Why the LA Teachers Strike Matters [Lois Weiner/Jacobin]