Seattle teachers strike: Liberation through public education!


— SEATTLE — Six thousand Seattle educators have had enough! After extended negotiations, district administration has refused to give a significant counter-offer to eight of 19 union demands for a new union contract. On other issues, the district’s offer is inadequate.

The Seattle Education Association is bargaining for teachers, para-professionals, and some other staff. The union is especially concerned about better pay and conditions for lower paid workers. SEA’s key demands are:

  • Supports for Special Education and Multilingual learners
  • Smaller classes/caseloads and more staffing
  • Higher wages, especially for classified staff

The union only went on strike at 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 7 but is already receiving large-scale public support. People have stopped by picket lines to bring snacks, walked the picket line with the workers, and honked support from passing cars. The spirit on the picket line is very high. Though the teachers see the issues as serious, they expect the strike to be fairly short.

The World School, a high school at 17th and Union Streets, specializes in educating students learning English. The multilingual teachers and staff are able to give adequate attention to these students with relatively small class sizes. Picketers at this school want to maintain good staffing and are especially concerned about projected staffing cuts and less student support.

The district administration wants to dump special education students and English learners into regular classrooms without adequate support. The administration claims that this “mainstreaming” is progressive, and some studies show that mainstreaming is beneficial to students. However, this is only true when mainstreaming is accompanied by adequate support staff! One educator at World School explained what would really happen if the administrators get their way:

“If you have 10 students who speak Amharic, you can justify a support staff member who speaks Amharic. If you spread the Amharic speakers into different schools, there won’t be enough students to justify language support in any one school. The district is using mainstreaming as a way to cut staff and save money.”

When asked if they were concerned that World School might be closed one teacher responded: “Not right away. But the district is trying to push English learners into regular classrooms. If they do that enough, our enrollment will fall and they can justify cutting teaching positions.”

Many of the educators complained about skewed priorities for SPS. They feel administration is top heavy while there are not enough classroom educators and support staff.

Of course, the strikers want raises that will keep up their living standards, especially for lower paid workers. They are also concerned about library funding, air quality, benefits for classified (non-certificated) substitutes, Social-Emotional learning staff, more school nurses, capping class sizes, rights to personal days and continuing a “Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying policy for staff rooted in restorative justice”.

Overall, the educators want more wrap-around services as well as better educational conditions for students. They are fighting for their students and the community as well as themselves.

As in every private business and in public institutions especially during cut backs in social and educational funding, management is pushing the other way. They are trying to cut costs even if this undermines the education of students.

Washington State has the most regressive tax structure of any state in the U.S., which is one reason education here always faces a shortfall. The federal government, which should be funding more of public education, is instead spending billions on wars around the world. As one teacher said, “They don’t see education as part of national security.”

The educators in Seattle are fighting for more humane priorities. Everyone should support them! Go to their website to learn how:

Photo: Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times

Steve Leigh is a member of the Seattle Revolutionary Socialists and the Revolutionary Socialist Network.


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