We were representing public school teachers and students across the US, and workers throughout history who fought for better pay and work conditions.
It turned out to be a seven-day strike for Los Angeles teachers — including Martin Luther King Day, for which we will now not be paid — and it was worth it. Reducing class size, even just a little, helps our most challenged students the most. And it increases the likelihood that new teachers will survive those first few months and years. So will the moderate pay increase.
It is a shame that we had to walk out at all. I know some two-teacher families that will struggle with next month’s short paycheck. We’ve got students trying to get ready for AP tests and college, and students whose only stability is their teachers and our classes. There isn’t anything in our new contract that could not have been given to us two weeks or two months ago — especially when you consider the millions of dollars in revenue the district has lost because of low student attendance during the strike.
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Superintendent Austin Beutner knows this, so perhaps he held out to test the strength of teachers and our union. Perhaps he did not believe we would walk out or stay out, or that parents and the public would stand with us. Perhaps he hoped to break or at least to weaken the United Teachers Los Angeles.
If so, that was a foolish hope. A Loyola Marymount University poll of parents in our community had them supporting us by nearly 80 percent. For thousands of teachers who stood out on the street and heard drivers blast their horns continually to show solidarity, that was not a surprise at all.
Fighting for all students, teachers and schools
We were not just representing the teachers and students of our district but public school teachers and students throughout this country — inspired by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona — demanding adequate funding for schools. And we were representing workers from throughout this nation’s history who often put their lives on the line for better pay and working conditions.
On Saturday, at a union strike meeting, I saw two women who were now on the line in their third strike. The first was in 1971 when they went out for 23 days in order to create the union. Now, near the end of their teaching careers, they were with us marching to save the union at a time when organized labor and the middle class are under assault.
We are educators and so this was also about improving the conditions in which our children can learn and prosper and be informed citizens. In an era of fake news perpetrated as espionage, educating the next generation is essential to preserving our democracy.
A lesson in confronting economic injustice
Which makes it incredible that we had to fight for any of this. And ironic that Mayor Eric Garcetti’s political aspirations — he wants to run for president — are what it took to get him involved and get us to an agreement.
This time our superintendent, and the interests that elevated him to his job, underestimated our resolve and, perhaps, our intelligence. This time educators and students and parents hung together and stayed tough through rain and wind and through the insult of a leader, a non-educator, who tried to devalue us.
We will return to work now stronger and more resolved to educate the children of this city. This was an important lesson for everyone, perhaps most of all our students who will hopefully have the strength to stand up to all the economic injustices they will soon have to confront.
Larry Strauss has taught high school English in South Los Angeles since 1992. He is the author of more than a dozen books, most recently “Students First and Other Lies.”
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