Thursday, April 29, 2010

Strike One

"It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done." - Charles Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities"
I won't be lining up for the guillotine today. I will be lining up, however. And I hope that the revolution that I am taking part in is bloodless and brief. I have been a member of a union for thirteen years now, and I have never walked a picket line. I have attended rallies and carried a few signs, but for the most part, I tend to ascribe to the Marxian philosophy that I would never be a member of any party that would have me for a member. Groucho Marx, that is.
Why now? The most obvious reason is that this is the first time that the Oakland teacher's union has had an official strike since I have been a card-carrying member. We came close, once before, but the superintendent called a "snow day" and cancelled classes to turn it into a "teacher's work day." We all ended up in the break room, eating sandwiches our principal bought for us. It was, to say the least, less than confrontational.
Today is different. We have already had some of our thunder stolen by a school board who voted to impose a contract on us that keeps us "status quo." The truth is, I can survive on that. I can limp along in these horrid economic times with the salary that I have managed to ascend to and keep my house, and buy new tires for my bike. It's the new teachers who come to our district and have to make a life out of thirty-eight thousand dollars a year. Where will they be in thirteen years?
It is easier for me to remember the names of all of my own elementary school teachers than to list all of those I have worked with at this school since I began my teaching career. I have also seen all the numbers that say that giving anybody raises at this point in time is mere folly, and we should all be happy that we have a job at all.
Believe me, I am happy about that. I am also sad. Sad because once upon a time my son said something that many children say at some point: "When I grow up, I want to work with you." If he were to say that now, I would probably flinch. The relative value placed on education versus the expectations we have for it is skewed. We want no child to be left behind, but we want to be able to do it on the cheap. Higher test scores with lower spending.
I understand that by standing in front of my school for a day, carrying a sign that I will not change the world. Not all at once.


Anonymous said...

I was proud to stand with you.

Anonymous said...

The movie "Matewan" educated me on the role of honor in labor strikes.

The documentary "American Dream" gave me a look at the courage required of many strikers (it was also a stark reminder that courageous little guys get trampled by the big boys all the time).

Various strikes by professional athletes and Hollywood folks over the years taught me that we may enjoy their work, but we don't *need* them a bit. My own response to the 1994 baseball strike was a ten-year shrug.

Meaningful strike activity is the exclusive province of the various guilds which provide a service that's: (a) essential to the community and, paradoxically (b) somehow under-appreciated by that same community.

Stand tall, brother.