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Trump crumbles and LA teachers win: the power of organized workers

LA Teachers' strike wins! Photo by United Teachers Los Angeles
Pam Johnson

January 30, 2019

In mere hours, a sick-in and strike threat by air traffic controllers brought Trump to his knees. On January 25, Trump ended the historically long US government shutdown when it became apparent that air traffic controllers’ actions were going to cripple air travel across the country.

Two days earlier in a joint statement, the unions that represent US air traffic controllers, pilots and flight attendants issued a dire warning calling the government shutdown an “unprecedented” and “unconscionable” safety threat that is growing by the day and must end.

This occurred in the same week that striking teachers in LA won their demands after an 8-day strike. 34,000 LA teachers in the 2nd largest school district in the US, picked up the strike wave for better education that teachers in West Virginia, Arizona and Oklahoma started in early 2018. This wave has become a movement, #RedforEd, demanding that public education be fully-funded after decades of erosion and privatization.

The strike wave that began mainly in red states that had voted for Trump, has won unprecedented gains: increased teachers pay and pay for all other workers in the schools including bus drivers, food service workers, librarians, counsellors and education assistants. Demands have also included restoring general funding to education system after decades of cuts that left schools in a terrible state of disrepair and neglect.

Escalating to political demands

These demands exposed not only the horrible working conditions for teachers but the systemic attack on public education, especially by the Trump administration and his henchperson, Secretary of Education, Betty DeVos. LA teachers demanded and won more than just better working conditions. They won caps on class size, an immigrant defense fund, local school control for 30 communities, and a moratorium on the funding of charter schools, to blunt the privatization draining the public school system.

Next up to call out the chronic starvation of education were Virginia teachers, they walked out on January 28. The one day action called on the Virginia legislature, which is considering $573 million for tax breaks for Amazon’s new headquarters, to increase teacher pay instead. They are also demanding that education funding be restored to pre-recession levels. “What’s happening in LA is energizing us here in Virginia. There is a sea change happening in this country, ” said #RedforEd activist, Cheryl Binkley.

The power of organized workers

The frustration and misery caused by continual squeezing of workers’ jobs and public service decimation is breaking out in resistance. Austerity measures by governments and employers are backfiring and fueling this resistance. It is a different time from 1981 and the PATCO strike, when Reagan shut down striking air traffic controllers isolating them without support from the rest of the labour movement. This time the air traffic controllers’ actions caused Trump to cave with the pilots and flight attendant unions in support.

The teachers and air traffic controller strikes show the power we have when resistance is organized and the reality that the system does not run if the workers are not working. The LA teachers victory has ‘renewed the strike not only as the last resort, but as something you do to build a social movement,”said Union president Alex Caputo-Pearl,

This resistance is not just happening in the US, there is a new mood of resistance in Canada and Quebec as well. Postal workers went on a national strike in October and, after Trudeau’s back to work legislation killed the strike, an unprecedented wave of solidarity started and is still continuing months later. GM workers barricaded their plant in Oshawa last week, after GM refused to accept the union’s proposals to stop its closure. Thousands of Ontario students have been in the streets against Premier Ford’s cuts to OSAP just in the past two weeks.

Remarkably, West Virginia teachers are considering striking again after Republican lawmakers, tabled new pro-privatization and anti-union measures in retaliation for the first strike. An organizer of that strike said, ‘A year ago we had to reinvent the wheel, but now we know how to fight this. After what we accomplished last year, we’re aware of our power. So there’s no way we’re going to let the horrors of this bill be forced upon us, our students, or our state. We’re going to organize, we’re going to take action — and we’re going to win.’

The organized resistance of the mass of workers who make the world run and create the wealth is the key to challenging the system of capitalism and the austerity measures that those at the top of the system foist upon us. They will not stop until workers stop them.




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