The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Report back from May 16th NC Teachers’ Strike
On May 16th between 15,000 and 20,000 teachers struck for a single day in North Carolina leaving more than 2/3rds of the state’s students out of school due to school closures. Taking note from West Virginia, North Carolina teachers had made preparations to ensure their students could still obtain meals during the strike. The agenda for the day was to meet at the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) headquarters in Raleigh, then march to the capital building where the opening day of the General Assembly was to take place. Strikers entered the General Assembly which was shut down after only 30 minutes of session was held on the grounds that the strikers were too loud. This was a success, and one that should not be understated. Teachers in North Carolina were able to go on strike and disrupt governmental functions in order to make their demands heard. Being able to go on strike meant that they had access to the transportation networks necessary to bus large numbers of teachers to one place, and that they had the ability to provide meals for students who needed them. Additionally, while signs were provided by NCAE, many hand-made signs were also to be seen. My personal favorite read “First in Flight, 39th in Per Pupil Funding.” Finally, and maybe even most importantly, among the demands formally listed is the following.
“Investing in the health and well-being of our students and making schools safer through increased school nurses, counselors, social workers and other support personnel and expansion of Medicaid to improve the health of our communities.”
What is glaringly absent from this description of safer schools is increased police funding.
After shutting down the General Assembly, everyone broke for lunch. It was at this time that I started to notice most of the teachers arrived as groups and kept to themselves. There was relatively little intermingling that I noticed. Prior to the event, the people I attended the event with attempted to offer rides to local teachers so that we could attempt to organize with them beyond simply for a one day affair, but it was found that the busing situation covered everyone’s needs and we were unable to make a connection in this way. Once in the sea of people, it was a needle in the haystack situation for trying to find teachers we could organize with after that day. We realized we should have brought a sign identifying our locality. After lunch, the main rally was to take place which featured a PA system so quiet that it could barely be heard a few rows back. People around me were more likely to have their heads turned sky-ward looking at the news helicopters and drones than they were to look at a stage housing a speaker who could not be heard. Once the rain started, lots of people left.
I was, however, able to catch snippets of what was said over the PA system. This information plus a few chants that echoed backwards clued me in. “Remember, remember we vote in November.” This is what recuperation of a working class movement looks like. Called more than two months after the West Virginia teachers’ strike ended, the one day North Carolina teachers’ strike was a voting drive. All of the buses and student meal security becomes a product of capitalist political parties rather than working class initiative. Indeed, most of the teachers present were much more relaxed and comfortable than they were angry at poor teacher’s pay. One teacher said most of her co-workers took the canceled school day to go to the beach.
Perhaps worst of all, now, is the actual result of this march where police will be given a raise four times as large as the one given to non-police state employees. If the three prongs of the trident jammed in to the belly of the proletariat consist of assaults on organized labor, assaults on immigrant labor, and assaults on black labor it is unacceptable to allow one prong to be withdrawn only for another to be driven in even deeper. The raises for non-police state employees constitutes a victory for organized labor, while the higher raises for police represents a larger assault on black and immigrant labor.