Two hundred education workers from across the United States and Canada were on a call together to learn from each other about how to organize in the face of the novel coronavirus. As the virus extended its reach in Seattle and New York City, educators fought to shut down the schools.
In the light of this pandemic, it is imperative that we protect workers immediately, prevent the exploitation of this crisis by management, and consider how to use this moment to advance demands that last far beyond the coronavirus.
How do we do this? What is happening and what can we learn from each other?
Almost 900 people joined a Labor Notes webinar to hear from educators, an Amazon worker, and a worker center organizer about their successes organizing in the face of the coronavirus.
They stood on a picket line at the entrance to the school parking lot: seven educators out on strike for the first time.
Public sector strikes are illegal in Massachusetts. But the night before, after two years of fruitless negotiations, the 300 members of the Dedham Education Association had voted overwhelming to walk out.
Now educators lined the main street from the high school to the middle school, celebrating each passing car that honked support.
“I’m nervous,” said one. “I am a new teacher, two years in the district.”
In Massachusetts, strikes are unlawful for public sector workers. That didn’t stop the Dedham Educators Association from walking out this morning after an overwhelming 248- 2 (out of 280 members) strike vote last night.
The educators in this Boston suburb are crying foul about health insurance costs that eat into their salaries, and district demands for more time on the clock and in professional development without any increase in compensation. Teachers are also demanding contract language that allows for real enforcement of sexual harassment policies.
“Hey, Barbara. This is Arne Duncan. I just wanted to congratulate you on your election victory.”
In 2014, as an insurgent candidate from the Educators for a Democratic Union caucus, I won the presidency of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Duncan, then Obama’s Secretary of Education, was one of the first congratulation calls I got. The message he left on my phone provoked lots of astonished laughter when I shared it at meetings and in bars.
You’re at a union meeting, brainstorming for a campaign, when a hand shoots up. “What we need is better messaging. Can we get a billboard? Maybe we could make a meme.”
We’ve all been there. Maybe you’ve said it yourself. It seems like common sense that if we can just find the right words and the correct medium, we’ll win over our fellow workers, or the community, or politicians.
I was frustrated daily by this logic when I was president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, leading the campaign against a ballot question that would allow for more charter schools.