By SHANE REDDEN
The Oakland Education Association (OEA) is authorizing a one-day ULP (Unfair Labor Practice) strike on April 29 to fight against the Oakland Unified School District’s plans to close/merge up to 11 public schools between the end of this school year and the next school year. After the initial announcement there was a significant amount of community outrage and pushback. The school board then pared down the list from 18 schools to 11, with four set to close permanently at the end of May 2022.
The teachers, parents, and students at those four sites (Parker K-8, Community Day, La Escuelita Middle, and Rise Elementary) are very much still actively fighting. However, the district’s divide and conquer strategy, whereby they eliminated the threat of closure for some schools and also delayed until next year the closing of eight more, was instrumental in deflating some of the momentum from what has become a real movement against public school closures. And while it’s hard to see this one-day strike alone as preventing these four schools from being shuttered, this movement has created a coalition with its sights set on the sustained fight against the privatization of public sector resources.
A coalition made up of workers is emerging—Schools and Labor Against Privatization (SLAP). This development is a product of the resistance to dual schemes of privatization: A shuttering of 11 Oakland public schools (all campuses will either go to the charter school industry or real estate developers) and a land grab at the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal by the billionaire owner of the Oakland A’s, John Fisher. Fisher is also a stalwart in the Charter School Industrial Complex, as his parents helped start the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Model Charter School chain—the largest in the country.
It was SLAP that was instrumental in bringing more workers into the fight against privatization. More than a few Oakland public school teachers participate in SLAP meetings, and OEA’s one-day ULP strike is in coordination with the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) Local 10’s shutting down operations for a stop-work meeting on April 29. Local 10 annually has been shutting down the Port of Oakland for International Workers Day (May 1). This year, May 1 lands on a Sunday, which meant that Oakland Education Association Teachers wouldn’t be able to show their power in withholding their labor to fight the Oakland ruling class. Thus, ILWU voted to hold their stop-work meeting on Friday, April 29, in order for teachers and longshore workers to join forces in this class battle for public space and resources.
The level of solidarity that has been built with the longshore workers Local 10 is years in the making. It was during OEA’s Feb. 2019 strike when OEA President Keith Brown first reached out to Local 10, a historically Black and militant trade union, to set up pickets at the Port of Oakland. Although that attempt failed, shortly after the conclusion of the strike, OEA rank-and-file activists continued to meet with Local 10 activists to plan an action together for a May 1 Port of Oakland shutdown with an OEA teacher sickout. These were the seeds that we now see maturing to form SLAP.
A big question lingering for the workers and community activists who form the core of SLAP is how we can sustain this coalition while at the same time keeping out the slimy tentacles of the California Democratic Party political machine, which is looking to encircle our labor militancy and smear it with the taint of the NGO industry or electoral politics. Interrelated is the question of how OEA’s Rank-and-File Caucus, of which La Voz comrades help comprise a committed core, can maintain and expand the bottom-up push from the ranks.
Without this push from the bottom, even OEA’s April 29 one-day ULP strike would likely have been another dog and pony show in Sacramento, pleading with our “friends” in the Democratic Party to halt the public school closures that they are ultimately responsible for, albeit through alternate layers of bureaucracy, aka., the Alameda County Board of Education and FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team), along with a progressive-sounding state loan (AB 1840), which requires the district to shore up its budget shortfalls on the backs of school closures and layoffs.
Photo: Stephanie Lister / KQED