By Greg Margolis and Adam Rothstein
A critical part of the strategy of the corporate campaign to maximize profits has been focused on attacking organized workers and eliminating unions. Over the last forty years this systemic attack on workers has successfully eliminated most unions in the private sector. Today, the emphasis is on public workers. One example here in Oregon is the war on teachers and other education workers. Three school districts in eastern Multnomah County — Gresham-Barlow, Parkrose and Reynolds — are facing contract renewal negotiations where the school districts are blatantly refusing to bargain in good faith.
At Gresham-Barlow, the school board recently voted to unilaterally implement their own plan for a contract, giving the teachers an ultimatum: accept the plan, or else. The “or else”, in this situation, is shaping up to be a teacher’s strike. Across the labor market, workers hear the same thing from their bosses and supervisors. The school board wants more work out of the teachers for less pay.
Gresham-Barlow teachers union president, Regina Norris, in an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting, said, “They’re reducing prep time at all levels, and adding more meeting time, which means that the teachers would be prepping and doing all the work that they need to do on their own time.”
At Reynolds, the school board is facing financial difficulties that they are trying to pass on to the hardworking teachers. Reynolds School District spokesperson Andrea Watson said, “If steps and salaries stay exactly flat, and our other expenses that aren’t salary-related increased by three percent – then they would be able to maintain the current level of program through the 2013-14 school year.”
Joyce Rosenau is with the Reynolds teachers union. She summed up the situation: “You’re telling us, you don’t want to pay us anything else, and then you also don’t want to help our working conditions – that doesn’t seem to be something we could live with.”
Why are our communities silent about an issue that is so critical to the social and intellectual development of our children? A significant reason is the coordinated tactic by the corporate controlled media to demonize public school teachers. While using the “austerity” argument to rationalize reduced school budgets, increases in class sizes and reduction or in some cases elimination of critical resources for teachers, along with the employment of standardized testing that makes real teaching next to impossible, the corporate press spreads propaganda that the cause of the failures of the public school system do not lie with these cuts and policies but rather with lazy, incompetent and overpaid teachers. The hypocrisy of this criticism is very apparent and the end result of these attacks is simple: privatize schools.
If you believe that the privatization of education from Kindergarten through high school will be in the interests of the broad community, do not be fooled. Quality education, like health care, will become unaffordable for most working class families and they, along with under-served communities of color, will be left with whatever underfunded institutions survive privatization. There is plenty of money available for funding of the basic public services that we rely on for healthy communities. It is our responsibility as a democratic people to take whatever steps are necessary to assure that our representatives are acting in the best interests of the broad community. Historically, these steps have required building a mass movement that is powerful enough to overturn the corrupt and exploitative system that is perpetuating the injustices that we are committed to ending. The Occupy Movement is providing a template for this movement. We have an opportunity to make the changes needed before it is too late. In Portland we can escalate our movement by occupying the seats of power and demanding revenues from the 1% and budgets for the 99%. I’ll see you at City Hall.
Tuesday, March 20 at 5 pm there will be an East County Educators Rally at the Gresham High School Gym, 1200 North Main Avenue (between Burnside & Division).