LA teachers’ action sends a message

June 9, 2008

UTLA member Randy Childs reports that the union took a chance on its membership, and the rank and file came through.

ABOUT 40,000 out of the 48,000 members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the second-largest local teachers union in the nation, staged a one-hour strike at the beginning of the school day June 6 to protest billions of dollars in budget cuts proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This illegal job action is a big departure for a union that, like most of its fellow public-sector unions in California, has traditionally done little to challenge social spending cuts during past budget crises. UTLA took a big chance on its membership, calling for a massive protest with just over a month's preparation.

Tens of thousands of members, clearly angry with the long decline in school conditions, answered that call, turning UTLA's move into a success. Picket lines went up at over 800 schools across the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

In East LA, about 95 percent of the staff of Roosevelt High School, the largest school in LAUSD, honored the picket lines, despite low attendance at the school's union meetings in the weeks of preparation. More than 250 teachers, students, and parents participated in the Roosevelt picket.

An estimated 40,000 of the UTLA's 48,000 members took part in the one-hour job action June 6 to protest billions of dollars in planned budget cuts
An estimated 40,000 of the UTLA's 48,000 members took part in the one-hour job action

At one point, Roosevelt picketers marched down the street to join about 150 people rallying at nearby Hollenbeck Middle School. Then the picketers from both schools marched through the neighborhood, drawing supportive honks from passing drivers.

After the action, Hollenbeck Chapter Chair Tommy Muñoz addressed his school's teachers and community allies: "Today's action is just the beginning of a long fight. And there's an important role to be played by every one of us!"

One of the best things about this action was the turnout of thousands of parents, students and community members to show support for the teachers' action. This solidarity came in spite of the attempts of LAUSD officials to kill the June 6 action by accusing teachers of jeopardizing school safety and "walking out on the students."

More than 300 parents, students and teachers rallied at Belvedere Elementary School in East LA, which has a teaching staff of only 55.

One parent at Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) Alternative High School in South Central LA started a petition drive in support of the teachers' job action, gathering signatures from over 70 YOU parents in about a week.

At Hancock Elementary School in West LA, a parent/teacher/staff appreciation lunch the day before the UTLA action turned into an opportunity to organize solidarity. Some 50 parents signed a petition supporting the teachers.

The big question now is what UTLA's next step will be. As of this article's publication, union officials and activists were strategizing about future actions. In any case, we should be confident in our ability to take more bold steps to stop these budget cuts.

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