By Adam Beltz (Revolutionary Workers Collective, RCIT-Section in the USA), 27.4.2013
For the past 8 weeks 383 teachers in the Cleveland, Ohio suburb of Strongsville, have been on strike. The strike began on March 4th as talks between the Strongsville Education Association (SEA), which is the teachers’ union, and the Strongsville Board of Education (BOE) over a new contract had broken down. The two sides had been negotiating terms for the new contract as the last one expired in June 2012.
Teachers say “Enough is Enough!”
The strike is not about the teachers trying to win a larger raise than what is proposed. In fact the opposite is the case. The teachers are fighting to stop the large concessions on both compensation and working conditions that are being imposed on them. The teachers had accepted concessions with their last contracts, and were still prepared to accept some minor concessions in the new contract, but the teachers had finally had enough. While stating that they are still ready to negotiate the terms of the contract and are willing to make some concessions, they have drawn a line. They will not again accept large concessions imposed on them by the BOE. The teachers say that they gave concessions in good faith for the last contracts, yet the BOE had not followed through on its part of the previous deals.
One specific issue that is important to the Strongsville teachers is their loss of planning time that they previously had. In the last contract, the teachers accepted the loss of some planning time as a concession to help make up a shortfall of money that the School District had. The Board said that if teachers took up some additional non-teaching jobs the Board would be able to cut some support staff and save money. The teachers took on various extra work such as cafeteria duty, hall duty, and basic administrative work. The time had to come from somewhere and this necessitated a loss in time that the teachers had to prepare lessons, tutor students, meet with parents, etc. While the teachers did give up their planning time and did take on the extra duties the BOE did not follow through with its end of the bargain. It did not cut the support staff to save money resulting in the teachers having less time for their teaching work, while the support staff remained. Obviously socialist oppose any cuts for any members of the stuff. But the whole development showed that the BOE just wanted to attack the teacher’s rights. Clearly the teachers were fleeced into taking on a larger workload and into giving up time to focus on their job-teaching the students of Strongsville. The teachers demand a restoration of their planning periods.
Another demand the teachers are sticking to is a contractual limit to class sizes. According to the SEA “A survey of Strongsville High School students just last year established class size as one of their greatest concerns about school. Students indicated that they felt lost, ignored, and invisible in large classes. Smaller classes, they said, were easier to learn in because students were more comfortable and more likely to get the attention and time of the teacher.” Clearly without a contractual limit more and more students can be added to the classrooms. This allows the schools to save money by putting the extra work and stress on the teachers, who in this instance have already lost their planning time in lieu of non-teaching duties. The teachers are fighting to not only defend their working conditions, but for the right of the students to receive a quality education. Anyone can see that as class sizes increase the quality of education will be reduced.
Bosses attack Workers all over the country
We can already see a clear picture forming here of what is going on in Strongsville, a picture that represents the worsening of working conditions for teachers. This is not limited to Strongsville. Strongsville teachers aren’t just some isolated cranks. The financial meltdown has resulted cuts in education spending across the country. The Strongsville teachers represent the select few, joining the teachers of Chicago, who have chosen to stand up against the encroachment on their work, the increasing expectation of more work with less pay.
Contrary to what most people would expect, the teachers of Strongsville are not even demanding pay raises. They are demanding that they do not receive another pay cut. In fact, the teachers of Strongsville are prepared to pay more for their health benefits than they previously have. This is another trend that is occurring across the country, and not just to teachers as the attack on the working class continues. Year after year workers are seeing their healthcare contributions and deductibles rise. According to CNN, “The share of Americans with deductibles greater than $1,000 more than tripled between 2003 and 2012.” (1)
Scabs and Police
Instead of meeting the minimal demands of the teachers, instead of truly caring about the education of the students in Strongsville, the BOE hired Huffmaster, a “strike security firm” to bring in substitute teachers, i.e., scabs. The BOE is paying about $200,000 per week (according to a SEA flyer) for substitutes that do not have the training and experience of the striking teachers, which ultimately results in the students receiving a sub-par education.
The police immediately made clear whose side they are on with the arrest on both March 6th and March 7th of teachers who were trying to stop the replacement teachers arriving at school. (2) They sent this message loud and clear just 2 days after the beginning of the strike.
Where have the teachers received any support? One could expect that they would be receiving strong support from the National Education Association and the Ohio Education Association to which they are affiliated. Yet one is hard pressed to find any information on the struggle being fought by the members of the SEA. No call for support, solidarity, donations. No publicity for why the teachers are on strike. The NEA’s website does not have one mention of the strike anywhere in their entire site. While the OHA shows its support by merely linking other news articles about the strike in their “Ohio Education in the News” page. The news about the strike, or rather links to news about the strike can be found mixed in with all other news headlines referring to education in Ohio in any capacity.
With friends like these.....
What about the other unions that could be throwing their support behind the strikers? The strikers have received support from their brother and sister unions in the form of a rally that occurred on April 13th in Strongsville. Representatives from 15 unions across Northeast Ohio came out to show support and solidarity for the striking teachers. (3)
The 45 minute rally itself was rather unimpressive. Various union bureaucrats used the microphone to call for solidarity with the strikers. An all too vague solidarity. Nowhere did they call for ways for people to help the strikers. Nowhere did they call for any solidarity strikes or other actions. It is quite easy to call for solidarity when it requires nothing other than saying a few words. And of course nowhere was any linking up of the strike to a larger political picture made. With the exception of when SEA President Tracy Linscott said “This is what democracy looks like”, referring to the show of support by the people attending the rally. However, we would say that a few hundred people showing support at a rally for other workers who are getting beat down by capitalism is what “bourgeois democracy looks like”.
However that is about all one can see as far as support and solidarity goes from the unions. Even prior to the rally the unions did not have any publicity or mention of the upcoming rally posted anywhere on their websites for people to see. Is that what solidarity looks like to the bureaucratic unions?
With the support that the 383 teachers have been receiving from their affiliated Education Associations and from the rest of the Unions one can really see the resolve and strength that these 383 teachers have shown.
Unfortunately, not all members of the working class see their interests represented by the Strongsville teachers. There are those who see the Strongsville teachers picketing and think to themselves that the teachers, who possibly make more than they do, already have it easy. That the teachers have no right to go on strike as some of them can make $80,000+ per year. That the teachers are holding the students hostage and they are hurting the students for their own greed. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The fight of the Strongsville teachers to stop the attacks on their working conditions represents the interests of all members of the working class. The workers must look at the Strongsville teachers’ fight as their own fight. The workers must come to the aid of the teachers. Every fight won by the workers strengthens the entire working class. Their fight is our fight.
We call for all rank and file union members (NEA, ALF-CIO, UAW, etc) to take immediate action to force the bureaucratic union leadership to support the Strongsville teachers in real actions up to and including sympathy strikes, not just a few supportive words here and there.
We call for all non-unionized workers to support the strikers in all and every way they can up to and including joining the SEA on the picket lines, donating food and money to the strike fund, sympathy strikes, etc.
We call workers, students and their parents to organize in solidarity committees to rally support for the striking teachers!
Victory to Strongsville Teachers Strike!