The historic teacher strike ended yesterday as the Union and the District reached a tentative contract agreement that was later ratified by teachers And although not every teacher who participated in the strike voted to ratify this agreement (as evidenced by their outrage in the comments section of the live-streaming of press conferences announcing next steps) here are some reasons that teachers should hold their heads up high.
1. Teachers effectively organized one of the largest and most diverse cities in the world to speak with one voice and therefor exercised REAL power. If we were to take Eric Lui’s definition of power (in the awesome video below) then we can see this strike as proof of concept that numbers matter. And therefore the multiyear effort the UTLA engaged was able to pay off in this regard. Thousands of parents and community members were empowered by these organizing efforts and may very well continue to play important roles in bettering and protecting our public educational system.
2. The union was able to limit the power of the district. This is no small feat. And not all teachers may agree or even understand how this was accomplished. For even though reduction of class sizes by numbers, to many, was not sufficient (or they expected more), the reality moving forward ends the power of the district to arbitrarily raise them again should they feel the need arise in the future. This is now codified in language requiring this to be negotiated in the future with teachers.
3. Raising the conversation while raising spirits. This I feel cannot be overstated. When the national dialogue around HUGE issues has all but died (see state of the government shut down among other things) this strike galvanized not just the LA community but the nation as well around articulating and supporting shared values and even definitions of public education. It was also able to bring other decision makers into the fold to contribute to the dialogue, demonstrating that even in the face of massive disagreement (and even a lack of trust and goodwill) that civil public discourse can continue as long as the power of the people are pressuring it so.
This last point is probably one that some might contest. For already there are those who feel that the strike was not worth the deal it got out. And while it is unusual to see in a tentative contractual labor agreement “vows” to work together to garner political will and policy action, the way that this all played out cannot be dismissed as insignificant. Teachers were never going to get everything they demanded in this round of negotiations. What they did get was a national recognition and reminder of the power of collective voice to disrupt and begin to change the system. In this lesson, we can come to understand that the teachers never really stopped teaching; the question is will the rest of us remember these important lessons?