The recent strike by unionized teachers in Tacoma demonstrated how union solidarity, and refusal to bow down to injunctions can defeat an arrogant school board set on breaking teachers unions and weakening public education.
The main issue was that, under the proposed contract, principals and administrators would have the power to arbitrarily transfer teachers based on a subjective assessment system, overriding seniority. Instead of teachers being protected from arbitrary discipline and at whim transfers, teachers would be at the mercy of the administration and principal, who would target activist teachers. Other issues included adding two students to each class and a 1.9% cut in pay.
By a vote of 87%, more than 1,900 members of the Tacoma Education Association (TEA) went on strike in early September in Tacoma. Instead of negotiating with teachers, the school district petitioned the court which ordered teachers back to work. With the school board sending robo-calls to parents telling them that school was now open, the union activists and the union leadership stood its ground. When teachers went to the picket lines at 6AM the next morning, they were greeted by picket captains who convinced them to defy the judge’s order and instead go to a mass meeting of union members to discuss the issue. Teachers voted by 93% to continue the strike. By that evening the tide started to turn, as the school board was greeted by a rally of hundreds of students and parents supporting the strike.
The Tacoma News Tribune had been leading the charge against teachers, printing hateful rhetoric that included a blog recommending that people who oppose the strike drive by and show their disagreement by holding up their middle finger. As Socialist Alternative members, we visited the picket line daily, standing in solidarity with the teachers and students. We found teachers were confident and enthusiastic and told us they had received an outpouring of community support. Many students were standing with their teachers on the picket line and passing drivers showed their support with frequent honks.
The strike lasted one more week when the Governor called in both parties. The School Board folded, with 99% of teachers supporting the new contract. Teachers defeated most of the pay cut and defeated the increase in class sizes. The right of principals to transfer teachers based on test scores was also dropped, and assigned to a committee to review.
This strike should give inspiration to teachers around the country faced with similar attacks on their union rights and to stand up to the ongoing assault on public education. The TEA now needs to do extensive outreach to the public and build a broad coalition of supporting parents and students in order to defend public education in Tacoma from further budget cuts and the right wing corporate agenda that will only intensify in the next period.