Here's How Arizona Teachers Organized Their First-Ever Statewide Strike

How did teachers build their co-workers’ support to demand more school funding, culminating in the first statewide teacher strike in Arizona’s history? What they did is a great example of a classic organizing strategy: the escalating campaign.

The best campaigns build the union and shift the balance of power through actions that are public, participatory, confrontational, and escalate over time.

Secret #32: Turn Up the Heat



Give $10 a month or more and get our "Fight the Boss, Build the Union" T-shirt.

Why an escalating campaign? Organizers should always be thinking more than one step ahead, and it’s usually best not to bring out your big guns right away. Instead, you want to start with an easy activity that gets lots of people to participate.

If the first action doesn’t win your demand, you can try something a little harder that pushes the boss a bit more. Gradually increase the intensity of actions, making sure not to leave people behind by escalating too quickly.

A few reasons it’s wise to escalate gradually:

  1. Take the high road. By starting small, you show you are reasonable and credible. You did try asking politely.
  2. It builds your group. If you start off with low-intensity actions, members who have never said “boo” to the boss before will be more likely to participate. As your actions get more intense, make sure not to leave people behind.
  3. Strength in numbers. If you leap straight into high-intensity actions only a few people participate, it’s easy for your employer to single them out. If you start smaller and build, you can achieve greater participation.
  4. Each action has a greater impact than the action before. As your actions get more and more intense, managers begin to understand that you mean business. You also keep them guessing.
  5. Don’t play your aces too soon. If you do your worst first, there’s nowhere for your campaign to go but down. It’s more effective when managers can tell there’s a lot more to come—and there’s still time to save themselves a headache by giving in.


One way to visualize escalating tactics is to arrange them on a thermometer, with each action “hotter” than the last. These are the steps the Arizona teachers took in the lead-up to their statewide strike (start reading at the bottom):

  1. Walk-out and massive march
  2. Member and non-member paper ballot voting to support a walk-out
  3. Rally at the capitol, with signs and stickers: “I Don't Want to Strike, But I Will”
  4. Distribute window and lawn signs to businesses and homes
  5. Walk-in Wednesdays to pass out leaflets to parents and students before school
  6. Hand out flyers in the community
  7. Post a sign in your car window
  8. Sign-making parties at rec centers and parks to “Paint the State” red
  9. #RaisesNotLies Twitter campaign to debunk anti-union myths
  10. Share selfies where you hold a sign telling three reasons why you are “red for ed”
  11. Wear red T-Shirts on Wednesdays and post photos on social media

Secret #37: Count Noses

At any given moment, your group’s power depends on how many people you can move to action. So you should assess, reassess, and re-reassess your support by tracking participation in each union activity.

Arizona teachers found several opportunities to tally their support in the course of their escalating campaign:

  • Site liaisons tracked how many people attended the walk-ins.
  • At the pre-walkout rally, teachers distributed printed rally chant cards that included a website link. Participants were asked to log in during the rally and fill out the form to show their support for the demands.
  • At the vote, site liaisons distributed paper ballots to their co-workers, counted up the vote results, and called in their totals. Of those who voted, 78 favored walking out.

The points above are adapted from Secrets of a Successful Organizer. For more resources on escalating campaigns, visit

Chris Brooks is a staff writer and organizer with Labor


Gene Ralno | 04/28/18

Does anyone believe these strikes, protests and speeches are spontaneous? Doubtlessly, they're organized by the leftist movement. Time for bold leadership and major change. From my perspective, public schools are simple tools of the left. I’d just lock the doors. I'd also cancel state funding which usually is an amount per pupil. I'd issue "education savings account" vouchers to the parents to be used immediately in any accredited school or held until one becomes available. Trust the Constitution. Private enterprise works. We'd see countless schools spring up all around us. The bad ones soon would fail and the good ones soon would grow.

Much of the problem is the notion of "public" education and "federal" intrusion into it. No issue is as important as this one. Public schools are government schools, indoctrination centers if you will. They've also been fundamentally transformed into an enormous entitlement vehicle and dispensing entitlements is the heart of the democrat strategy. It cannot be said too many times. The absence of competition is the problem. A free enterprise education system would eliminate the ability to trample one civil right by supporting an opposing civil right. Perhaps more importantly, it precludes indoctrination of students to unwelcome political agendas.

Let's face it. Public schools are monopolies in a nation where monopoly is a criminal enterprise for everyone else. The solution is privatization, school choice if you will. Not the teachers' idea of choice and certainly not the union's idea. Most know what's needed is a robust free market filled with all kinds of accredited schools, able to deliver general subjects as well as all kinds of specialties, including athletics and the arts. School taxes should be returned to parents in the form of a voucher, spendable in any accredited school by parents according to their choice. Every student would receive the same amount regardless of school taxes paid. Such a system would remove the tyranny, drugs, crime, bullying and bias because no business would survive if it tolerated such behavior.