Bradford: Teachers Are Hugely Important. But I’m Not Only Against the Strikes in L.A. and Other Places, I’m Hostile to Them. Here’s Why
Opinion polls indicate that Americans are generally understanding and supportive of the recent wave of teacher strikes that began with the Chicago Teachers Union and gained momentum in Oklahoma and Arizona with the #RedForEd movement before reaching the Los Angeles Unified School District. This sentiment is not surprising considering the importance of great teachers and their role in shaping the next generation of leaders, thinkers, and citizens in our society.
However, this support for teachers only goes so far, as there are significant disagreements when it comes to the other aspects of the teaching profession, such as recruitment, training, compensation, and evaluation. Additionally, the emerging trend of teacher strikes, like the recent one in Los Angeles, complicates the situation further and brings about even more disagreement.
For clarity, I want to state that I not only oppose teacher strikes, but I am also hostile towards them. While some people argue that striking is the last resort for teachers, I find it increasingly difficult to believe this as strikes become more common. Once a tactic of last resort is employed, it becomes easier to use again in the future, just like how President Trump declared a national emergency to build his border wall. It’s unrealistic to think that this tactic won’t be used by future leaders.
However, this is not the main reason for my opposition to teacher strikes. There are two unique reasons why I am against them, regardless of the specific claims, desired outcomes, or intentions behind the strikes. First, the relationship between teacher unions and the public is distinct from that of other public employee unions due to the compulsory nature of public education. The state mandates that children must receive an education, either through attending assigned public schools or via homeschooling. If you choose not to send your child to a public school, you may face legal consequences, including fines or even jail time. This level of compulsion and intertwining of education with the public creates a different dynamic between teacher unions and the citizens they serve compared to other unions.
No other union has such an intimate and complex relationship with the people it serves. While fires can be devastating, they do not affect entire cities all at once. On the other hand, when a teacher union decides to go on strike and remove its members from the classroom, it can have far-reaching consequences, particularly in large school districts. Millions of people may be affected by this disruption. It’s akin to every bank in a city refusing to provide money or facilitate transactions, causing widespread chaos. This unique relationship and the power it gives teacher unions to disrupt life sets them apart from other public sector unions.
However, the impact of teacher strikes on families within a district is not evenly distributed. This is another crucial reason to oppose strikes, regardless of one’s stance on organized labor. During a strike, there are those who may consider the situation a mere inconvenience, while others are deeply threatened by its implications. Unfortunately, as is the case with many things in America, it is often the low-income families that bear the brunt of such disruptions. Despite discussions about raising the minimum wage, childcare remains extremely expensive, particularly for those with limited financial means. When parents cannot send their children to school due to a strike, they are forced to find alternative childcare, which can be a significant and unexpected expense. Moreover, finding available childcare becomes even more challenging when thousands of families are in the same predicament due to a strike.
In conclusion, while there is sympathy towards teachers and their struggles, it is crucial to consider the broader implications and consequences of strikes. The unique relationship between teacher unions and the public, combined with the unequal impact on low-income families, leads me to oppose these strikes and view them as detrimental to the overall well-being of our society.
These possibilities can be seen as the logical outcomes of a capitalist system, but they can also be seen as the realities of the situation.
Teacher strikes may result in positive outcomes such as increased salaries, better health insurance, and even pension benefits for educators, which are often unattainable in actuality rather than just on paper. Supporting these strikes can make one feel empowered by supporting the labor force and standing against powerful entities that seek to privatize education (although it should be noted that charter and private schools usually remain operational during strikes). However, these strikes also have negative consequences, particularly for low-income families who already lack leverage in the situation and have no choice but to endure the political fight.
It is important to remember that both elections and strikes have consequences. We should not overlook the impact on families who face more than just their child’s education being at stake when a local chapter of the National Education Association or American Federation of Teachers decides to take action.
Derrell Bradford serves as the executive director of the New York Campaign for Achievement Now (NYCAN).