Thursday, April 19, 2018

I Stand With Them

I've never understood how people who believe in democracy can be opposed to labor unions. Most workplaces are, in fact, small dictatorships set up in the midst of our supposedly democratic society, and while it's true the dissatisfied workers have the theoretical right to simply quit their jobs, that isn't a reality for most Americans who need their incomes to feed their families. Coming together to collectively bargain and, yes, to sometimes to act together to withhold their labor in some form of a strike or work slow down is how working people inject self-governance into an otherwise top-down system.

I've never understood why corporations are free to ally themselves through cooperative working agreements, mergers, and acquisitions, while so many want to deny those very same rights to every day working people.

Over the course of the last few months, public school teachers across the country, protesting stagnant and even falling wages as well as the underfunding of schools, have been forced to resort to taking matters into their own hands. Over the past decades state legislatures have responded to pressure from corporations by lowering their taxes, in an era of record profits, then pleading poverty when it comes to schools. These strikes are evidence that we are reaching the inevitable breaking point.

The opinion polls I've seen indicate that parents, despite the hardships strikes in places like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona have caused, are backing their teachers. And they should. After all, our teachers' working conditions are our children's learning conditions. Crumbling buildings, broken furniture, out-of-date text books, and wages that require many teachers to take on second jobs just to make ends meet while also paying out of their own pockets for essential classroom materials are far from ideal learning environments. Our children, in a very real sense, are paying for those corporate tax cuts with their futures and both parents and teachers have had enough.

The good news is that so far these strikes are ending well for our children, with elected representatives scrambling to come to terms. The state of Oklahoma even reversed decades of tax policy by increasing taxes on oil and gas companies to pay for it. What teachers and parents are showing is that no one can stand in our way when we come together to fight for our children. No one.

Underfunding to public schools is not isolated to these states: it's a nationwide problem. Teachers and parents in other states like Indiana, Texas, and North Carolina are now considering their own actions. And our children in those states will win if we stick together.

I know that I'm hard on public schools on these pages, but I try to never be critical of my fellow teachers, most of whom are doing their best to teach the children despite deteriorating learning conditions. Every day I hear from public school teachers who know how they should be teaching, and who are subversively at times, doing so within the cracks and crevices, even as they are being forced into the drill-and-kill methods that have come to dominate our schools. We all know that a child who must worry about where their next meal will come from will struggle to learn; we also know that a teacher with the same worries will struggle to teach.

There will be more strikes, I'm afraid. No one wants that, but I thank public school teachers for being courageous enough to go there, not just in support of themselves, but also for our children. No one can stand before teachers and parents united. I stand with them because I stand for democracy.

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