After four years of working without a contract, 800 teachers/paraprofessionals in Scranton Federation of Teachers are ready to strike. If an agreement isn’t reached between the union and district management, a strike would start November 3.
The SFT’s leadership made the announcement about striking after four years of working without a contract or a pay raise — and just after the Scranton School Board approved a budget that does not include any pay raise for teachers. Stabilizing wages mean that teachers must take a pay cut every year if inflation is taken into account. And inflation has been surgingThis year, it stands at 5.4 per cent.
Scranton teachers returned to their classrooms during the Covid-19 pandemic that has already claimed over 700,000 lives in the U.S.
Managers of school districts are being coy. They claim they offer teachers raises. But without a budget approving a pay increase, their plan would mean cutting funds from someplace else — a calculated move to turn parents against the union and split union members themselves in a choice between higher pay and funding other aspects of Scranton’s schools.
The SFT can be prepared to strike by also fighting years of austerity that have meant less services for students and more crowded classrooms — at a time when more crowded rooms means more danger of illness from Covid-19 for both teachers and students. They demand the return of important aspects of schools that were cut, such as libraries and music classes.
The Importance and Value of Rank and File Action
Judging from the past few years — and the refusal of the school district managers to concede — it seems likely that there will be no major concessions from the bosses without a strike. It will take grassroots, rank-and file organizing to win concessions from school district. Union leaders can’t win a strike; only the rank and file can.
One reason is the need to mobilize as widely as possible inside the union to stop scabs from breaking a strike — either union members who could be tempted to cross a picket or others. Stopping scabs means having strong picket lines that aren’t afraid to intimidate and shut down the scabs trying to get through and the cops who are there to help them. Union leaders all across the country have all too often been very weakIn the face of the 40-year-old scabs, only rank and file can make a strong picket to enforce it.
Another reason is the importance of winning parents’ support. Mass mobilization of union members is necessary to win their support. Local papers and school district leaders will be filled to the brim with anti-union slogans to turn public support against them.
But it’s not enough: rank and filers are crucial to winning active support OtherThe working class is divided into different sectors.
That’s because more solidarity means bigger And potentially more powerful picket lines. And since the district might try to force teaching online in the event of a strike — which would make it easier for scabs — linking with other workers and building towards solidarity strikes, would give the strikers much more power to win their demands.
Solidarity strikes would mean strengthening the teachers’ union andWorkers generally. They link the teachers’ fight with a power to disrupt the wider economy — which would put more pressure on the politicians and bosses to settle, for fear of emboldening the working class even further.
In the recent years, solidarity strikes have been very rare in the U.S. This is partly because these types of strikes are rare. illegal. The fact that they’re illegal is only proof of their power, and the fear that both Democrats and Republicans, as well as the bosses, have of them. The fact remains that a strike that’s powerful enough — wide and committed enough — to win doesn’t need to worry about legality, since it forces the bosses and their politicians to make concessions. To be successful, the rank-and-file must work together with unions.
Ultimately, rank-and-file organizing is crucial because it empowers union members in the widest-possible way, making a fight against bosses each member’s struggle. It’s the way to put decisions and power directly into the hands of the workers themselves — and that opens up the possibility for the kinds of power and solidarity that our union leaders will often balk at.
All this proves that mass union democracy is crucial. Preparing strong pickets, approaching the ranks of other unions for solidarity actions, winning parent support on the widest basis — this will require real, democratic venues — assemblies for teachers and paraprofessionals to organize themselves, coordinate, reach out to others, and mass mobilize.
“Without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn” — and not a single class can be taught. SFT appears to be facing a strike. And with it comes a chance to build broader worker power — and help turn Striketober into Strikevember.