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Los Angeles teachers strike: our fight is international!

Translated by Barbara Chiavegatti


Today begins a big strike in the public schools of Los Angeles just like in the city of São Paulo, where a teachers strike will begin on the first day of school year. In the United States the education workers are also mobilized in defense of public schools. Fighting for better salaries, better work conditions and against the privatization of the public system of education, this educators’ movement built a big popular support on behalf of public education, gathering students and families in their fight.

Why do Los Angeles teachers fight?

The demands of Los Angeles teachers strike are the increase  of funding, the reduction of students per classroom, the strengthening of child education, youth and adult education, special education and bilingual education, as well as hiring professionals to the staff, like nurses and librarians. Also, they defend the strengthening of parents and educators in the school board, the reduction in the amount of external tests on the students and also denounce the privatization of public education through the maintaining companies of the charter schools, that in that town receive more than  US$ 600 thousand per year from the state.

Last November the Los Angeles times paper revealed that Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), plans to dismantle the institution and privatize all public schools from the city in a few years, cutting financing and subsidies, and directly attack the union organization.  The LAUSD schools have more than 85% of students with low income and more than 90% non-white, evidencing the elitist and racist character from Beutner measures.

Despite the attacks, the strike signs are cheerful. On last December 15, more than 50 thousand people occupied the center of Los Angeles in defense of this fight. The teachers’ category consists of 35 thousand members, and this expressive number shows that the set of school communities embraced the teachers’ mobilization. This makes an enormous difference in the fight between the teachers unions UTLA (United Teachers of Los Angeles) and the LAUSD. UTLA’s president, the teacher Alex Caputo-Pearl, defined the movement as “a strike to defend our schools, a strike of hope”:

“ If we are forced to strike, it will be a strike for our students. A strike with parents. A strike for our schools, for racial justice, and to defend the future of public education and the educators’ right of being well treated for the vital work we do.”

In an amazing example of this community spirit, the Los Angeles teachers initiated a campaign to guarantee food for the students and workers who will be on the fight. Reflecting this spirit, the educators at the same time demonstrated their commitment to participation of everyone in the strike’s actions hence silencing the critics that denounced the interruption of meal supply on schools during the strike.

The North American Working Class Rises

Los Angeles mobilization is not an exception. In 2018, the victorious teachers strike in West Virginia demonstrated the strength of the teachers’ movement through the whole country, reaching states like Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, among other states. In Oakland, birth town of the Black Panthers Party and also located in California, a new education strike is being prepared for the next months. All these fights are in the context of the national campaign “wear red for education” (or simply Red for Ed), in which crowds of teachers, students and families go to the streets wearing red in support to public schools.  

The north American working class has a long history of combativeness and it has already built historical strikes and mobilizations, and the current wave of teachers mobilization represents a thread of direct continuity with the fight of combative categories in the past, such as the truck drivers of Minneapolis in 1934 or the flight controllers in 1981. On this subject, the comrade Jeremy Gong, head of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) wrote:

“ These incredible rises (…) proved to millions that if they organize together and fight against the capitalist control on their lives, they can conquer not only better wages and conditions, but dignity and a new sense of autonomy and solidarity. In the next years, millions of workers will strike, organize in unions, and will conquer major victories from their bosses and the government ”.

These words of hope coming from the country ruled by Donald trump show us Brazilians that it is possible to fight against and defeat the Bolsonaro government and its extreme-right parties. The proximity of the American teachers’ demands and the Brazilian ones is enormous, both inserted in a context of the application of austerity policies that deteriorate and make the public education more precarious, and that makes the unity between the workers from these two countries even more important.

Our Struggle Is The Same

Just like Brazil, in the United States the low income and the poor work conditions are very serious problems. Crowded rooms, the lack of teaching material and support staff, besides the devaluation of child education and the teaching of young people and adults are also marks of the public education system from that country, especially in poor areas inhabited by black people and latinos. With the reduction of public investment and the deterioration of schools, just like in Brazil, in USA the fallacy of privatization arises as a solution to the education problems.  
On this matter, the North American situation is still more complex because the charter schools system is profoundly established. In this model, that has already received the support of Bolsonaro (and the minister of education Ricardo Vélez), the government allocates funds to private entities for them to manage the schools, through direct or indirect transfers. In this process, the public control of services is lost and the State’s resources are drained on behalf of education companies, phasing out the participation and the autonomy of the school. The democratic spaces of management are weakened and the whole process of learning is turned into a big market.

In Brazil, we see this privatization model largely used in child education and also in the system of public health care through the “Social Organizations”, where private entities receive public resources to manage the social equipment or to receive users from the public system in their own units. This dismantling of direct public service profoundly affects the quality of the service provided, reduce their workers salary and worsens their work conditions, making the healthcare logic more precarious and transforming a social right into a market service.

Another great similarity between educators’ fight in Brazil and in the United States is the importance of mobilization of the school community, seeking to embrace students, families, neighbors and the population in general in the fight in defense of the public schools. The big teachers’ marches that occurred in USA 2018 were composed not only by servers, but also by members of the school community actively engaged in the fights.

The North American teachers give a great example in that way. The unity with the whole of the working population on behalf of the common good, that breaks with the logic of corporate unionism and with the traditional division of the fighting sectors, shows that class solidarity can defeat governments and bosses. And in Brazil it’s necessary to amplify this disposition of unity, braking with the bureaucratic model of organization and establishing alliances that allow the mobilizations of the categories to overflow their borders and become mass movements.

The Danger of the “School without party”

This popular unity represents great dangers to the established powers in the USA, and its bases are fought by the government through not only economic attacks, like the cut in wages and firing threats, but also through an ideological offensive against the organization of the workers. In this offensive, the media and the government’s denounce the alliance between the educators and students as a “indoctrination” of the young, as if the students weren’t capable of thinking about their own realities and making fight initiatives. The political actions of the young, including the ones during class time, are the example of political pedagogical learning process that is much wider and more conscious about their realities.

In Brazil the extreme right also attacks this process of awareness and action through the project “School Without Party”. A Bolsonaro’s and his party companions’ flagship, the project defends the censorship in schools, prohibiting debates on political and social issues, including the debate about the public school itself, and through this the conservatives seek to interrupt the dialog between the educators and students. Furthermore, they defend the mechanization of education and the emptying of meaning of learning, promoting a non-critic and repetitive education that makes the plans of transforming public education into a market easier to apply. Using professor’s Paulo Freire term this “banking education” model is essential to the businessmen of education that seek to transform all levels of public education in business as a way to profit.

The students on the street, along with their families and teachers are the example of political awareness and community sense. If the school has problems, questioning the motives of these problems and thinking solutions to them is an essential part of the pedagogical task of developing critical thinking. In Brazil and in the USA the extreme right postulates the opposite, and under the pretext of ending indoctrination, they defend the retreat of students and educators voices.

We Stand Alongside The Los Angeles Teachers!

The current international process of the worsening of attacks on public education is part of austerity policies disseminated by governments in the whole planet, product of the worldwide economic crisis generated by the financial system. In several countries, the market needs to push governments to advance in making a market out of the public services and withdraw even more rights from its workers and users.

We, teachers of the Movimento Esquerda Socialista (MES-PSOL), are with the Los Angeles teachers. The fight that these comrades initiate today is caused by the same motives that also attack the education in Brazil, through austerity policies that seek to privatize and hunt down critical thinking.

Just like in Brazilian cities, in Los Angeles the educators and school communities will take the streets against these measures of austerity in defense of public schools that value their professionals and fulfill their social duty, promoting a quality education for all, especially in territories and on communities more socially vulnerable.  

To spread and support the USA strike is also to prepare for the fights for education in Brazil! All our solidarity to the fights for education in the whole world.  

We stand with LA teachers!

1 https://www.utla.net/sites/default/files/utla_pub_dec18-low-rez.pdf

2 https://socialistcall.com/2019/01/01/mayflies-and-mass-strikes/

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