The Struggle for Safety and Justice in SF Public Schools

by José Monterrojo
The challenges educators and schools face this coming semester can only be addressed by the collective power of our educators, students, and families. In the midst of the chaos of underfunded schools, a resurging pandemic and climate change, UESF members should unite to wage a common struggle for justice.
To fight for the schools we all deserve, UESF can begin by addressing the chronic underfunding we’ve faced for decades. This school year, K-12 schools in California will be receiving a historic level of state funding, primarily through a significant increase in income and corporate tax collections during the pandemic. Our starved special education sector will also receive a significant federal influx.  The economic basis for successful union-led struggles for school-wide improvements exists, both on the level of the district and school-site.
The challenge for us will be to determine how we think this influx of federal and state funding should be used.  We have a newly elected leadership which promises, as stated in its program, to increase member participation and activism, two essential ingredients for successful campaigns. With our contract still open and a huge increase in k-12 funding, our union can start the year strong by organizing all its members and community to fight for demands we’ve raised for years, such as a reduction in classroom size and SPED caseloads, the hiring of more paraeducators and SPED staff,  therapists, and counselors. Given the increased health risk posed by the Delta variant – and the possibility of further variants – fighting for community schools with accessible health services can help to unite our organizing with our students and families.
Many of these demands can and should be codified in our contract, which would give them permanence and facilitate our defense of these potential gains. We can fight to increase the number of available staff positions in the schools that most need it (particularly in San Francisco’s Southeast schools) and to train SFUSD family and community members to take these jobs. The conditions are better than ever before for us to win, but victory can only be achieved through mobilizing the rank-and-file of UESF to take the fight directly to the district and the city.
Our union leadership has a responsibility to involve members in decision-making in relation to our contract fight. One potential way to do so would be for our leaders to organize site-based discussions across all of our sites – in particular in those where union building committees don’t yet exist – so our members can determine bargaining priorities.  Our union leaders can organize the data from these discussions to develop bargaining proposals that are then sent back to our sites, where our members can discuss such proposals and then to our delegates’ assemblies, where our site representatives can vote on the proposals our bargaining team will take to the negotiating table.
Our power to win these demands lies at our school sites and our ability to disrupt “business as usual”. UESF leaders and members should develop a series of escalating actions to win concessions from management, up to and including a strike. Such a platform can greatly increase member participation and strengthen our position in relation to the district.
The San Francisco Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (SF MORE), a recently-formed rank-and-file organizing caucus in UESF shares this perspective, and hopes to build the broadest possible unity within UESF. We are an organizing caucus with the primary goal of assisting our membership, through organizing and mobilizing, to make UESF the robust and democratic institution we need in order to win the schools we want.
As socialists participating in this caucus, we believe the value of building such an organization stems from our larger goals in the working-class movement. We don’t limit our goals to a better union contract; for us, a contract struggle is an opportunity to fight for our demands through democratic deliberation and direct action, the most effective methods for winning and building lasting solidarity and confidence. As such, SF MORE seeks to be a catalyst for a union movement anchored in democracy, direct action, and working-class unity against all types of oppression. While our union leadership may pay homage to such ideas, we believe a revitalized labor movement must come from a bottom-up rebellion of rank-and-file workers, as demonstrated by the working-class struggles of the 20th century, both in the U.S. and abroad.
In our first campaign as a caucus, we introduced a pro-Palestine, pro-BDS resolution at our final delegates’ assembly in May, during an Israeli offensive in the Occupied Territories.  After a prolonged debate between pro-BDS educators and pro-Israel educators, assembly delegates voted in favor of our resolution in solidarity with Palestine. We became the first educators’ union in the United States to take a clear pro-BDS stance, inspiring educators in other locals to take similar positions.
While this resolution is largely symbolic, it is a small example of how rank and file workers can organize together to push our unions to take radical and internationalist positions. SFMORE is committed to taking on campaigns around our most immediate needs and to connect these two the regional, national, and global struggles for justice and liberation.

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