LOS ANGELES: Reformist Leadership Clouds Future of Teachers’ Strike

By Alexeyia Morina

The Los Angeles teachers’ strike kicked off on January 14th, led by nonprofit union United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and backed by over 34,000 teachers. The strike is demanding better pay for teachers, smaller class sizes, less testing, new hires of librarians, counselors, and nurses, and a moratorium on charter schools.

These demands echo the spirit of those made 30 years ago during the last teachers’ strike and even involve some of the same teachers. Due to its eclectic and liberal nature, the strike is supported by a disorganized coalition made up of working-class youth and parents, but also social fascists, liberals, and government agencies like Metro.

Despite the large numbers, the tactics of the strikers have been limited to holding picket lines as well as dancing and singing in the streets. This non-confrontational stance illustrates that those leading and organizing the strike want to suppress the revolutionary urges of the masses.

UTLA is a bourgeois labor union which has worked under the confines of the bourgeois state since its very inception. The union’s first strike in 1970 ended before fulfilling even its deeply reformist goals of winning education funds from then Governor Ronald Reagan. The strike in 1989 did not see any lasting victories either, with teachers actually experiencing a 10% paycut in the decade to follow.

It is telling that “progressive” Democrats, crypto-fascists in Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), social-fascists in Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and gentrifying agencies like Metro have all offered support to the ongoing strike. One of UTLA’s fights is against the privatization of schools, a trend that goes hand in hand with gentrification.

As revolutionary organizations like Defend Boyle Heights have pointed out time and time again, however, Metro brings gentrification wherever it goes. The transportation planning agency is no friend of the public school system or of working-class students.

If UTLA were a principled union which was really fighting for teachers and students, their relationship with Metro and with any other gentrifier would be antagonistic. But UTLA is not a principled or progressive union; it is a collection of class collaborators who are willing to sell out teachers, students, and parents alike. This is represented in both the methods they use, and who they choose to align themselves with.

Of course, there are progressive elements to this strike. For one, students and parents have walked out and joined teachers on the picket lines, displaying solidarity with the striking teachers, despite fear-mongering on the part of the school district to keep students in class.

It is important to note that most students and communities within the Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) are working class and composed of oppressed nationalities – over 400 campuses are considered “high poverty” and over 70% of students enrolled in the school district are registered as Latino. The lack of resources offered to these students is directly related to their class and nationality.

The fight against school privatization and the creation of charter schools is a progressive fight which can only be truly effective once combined with the fight against gentrification. However, it cannot be led by teachers’ unions which often even incorporate teachers from charter schools. (UTLA itself represents teachers from charter schools). In fact, it shouldn’t be led by teachers at all, but by a revolutionary organization.

In general, the role of teachers in imperialist nations like the United States must be more thoroughly assessed. The job of teachers is quite literally to indoctrinate the youth into the capitalist system. Schools are not only a way for the bourgeoise to ideologically indoctrinate the youth, but to further the amount of surplus value they can extract from the proletariat. This is something that must be understood and criticized.

One of the most intense battles of the Cultural Revolution was against bourgeois schools and teachers, and the rebellion of the working-class youth against teachers, schools, and universities was deeply important and progressive.

It must also be noted that the intelligentsia has historically played a role in every revolution, both within imperialist centers and oppressed nations. Marx and Engels were both a part of the intelligentsia and so was a significant portion of the Soviet vanguard. Teachers and academics played a large role supporting students in May ’68 in France and they formed a large bloc of opposition against the Vietnam War in the United States.

The intelligentsia – which includes teachers – has a certain set of skills and knowledge which has been and will continue to be useful to progressive and revolutionary causes.

The reactionary elements of the teachers’ strike must be swept away by Communist revolutionaries and militants. Bourgeois unions like UTLA should no longer be allowed to trick the progressive masses. In the same breath, the progressive elements of the strike – primarily the working-class youth and families – must be mobilized not only for short-term gains, but against their class enemies to destroy them altogether.