2018 was supposed to be the end for organized labor. The ruling class’ second attempt to take away “fair share” fees from unions was successful. We had a stay of execution when the very timely death of ultraright wing Justice Antonin Scalia halted the Friedrich case. However, the Supreme Court ruled the collection of these fees unconstitutional — taking away a dedicated revenue source for the struggling labor movement.
Labor in 2018 told a very different story — that of teachers working outside their bloated, entrenched union bureaucracies to organize wildcat strikes that turned the nation’s attention to the deplorable working and learning conditions in places like West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona.
This rank-and-file strategy can be adopted by teachers once again to elect the most popular politician in America and the only presidential candidate to stand for labor and public education unequivocally — Senator Bernie Sanders. Education workers like me — teachers, school paraprofessionals, clinicians — see students every day, and we see the immediate impacts of bad public policies. Before we can even begin to teach our students, they have to feel safe in our schools. Deteriorating school conditions, lack of funding due to privatization schemes, family incarceration, deportations, poverty — we see the impacts of austerity in real time. None of Sanders’ opponents chose the correct side of history when it comes to combating these issues.
Kamala Harris, as a prosecutor, pushed for a policy that jailed parents when their children were truant. Ignoring the environmental factors that cause truancies, like poverty or lack of healthcare, Harris went straight to criminalization as a tool to get kids in school. This feeds into the “school to prison pipeline”—the use of the carceral state to keep students in line at school, which ultimately prepares students for a life in prison.
Cory Booker, the patron saint of charter schools, was an early adopter of the cynical use of charter schools as a means to boost one’s political career. Charter schools have a history of pushing out the most vulnerable students to boost test scores and forcing public schools to close.
None of the candidates — besides Sanders — have made a firm commitment to Medicare for All. This is an extremely popular issue with all Americans, and particularly Democrats. A candidate that would give full-throated support to a program that gives all people healthcare will be in a strong position to beat Trump. We know that policy positions like this matter more than campaign funding alone, because Trump’s last opponent , Hillary Clinton , outspent Trump and still lost the election. Clinton stated that Medicare for All would never happen, and paid the same derision towards any universal program that provides for the health and safety of poor and working class people. Not a very inspiring message and one that kept many likely Democrats away from the polls.
Labor, left, and progressive organizations in 2016 with a robust process for members to be involved in choosing endorsements mostly sided with Senator Sanders. Unions like the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers both relied on their executive councils to make the decision. Every member should have had the opportunity to make their voices heard. The technology exists to poll every member on this important decision.
Clinton has never made a firm commitment to education, has labeled our students “superpredators,” and once sat on the Board of Wal-Mart, a corporation owned by a family heavily invested in charter schools. However, both major unions chose to anoint her, giving Trump a clear path to victory.
We can’t allow this to happen again.
Teachers need to push their unions to support Bernie in 2020. This will require public education programs to show teachers how the Bernie platform of Medicare for All, College for All, and Jobs for All, will ultimately make us stronger. We can take a lesson from the red state striking teachers on how to organize outside of the union bureaucracy. Once teachers have a strong, grassroots movement to support Bernie, we can propose resolutions to our unions for the endorsement. We can push for an endorsement through our unions’ prescribed processes.
If the teachers unions heads decide to rig it for the Party again, teachers should form independent, teacher-led campaigns for Sanders. These groups can later organize to push out leaders who take their cues from the Democratic Party and not their members.