First teachers’ strike since 1975 looms in Columbus, Ohio

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Nearly 200 members of the Columbus Educators Association at a picket captain training meeting [Photo by Columbus Education Association]

This Sunday, 4,000 Columbus City Schools (CCS) educators are scheduled to vote on strike action as they seek to mount a long-overdue counteroffensive against years of attacks on public education in schools across the city.

A “yes” vote and a strike, however, should only be the starting point of the fight. The WSWS urges all teachers to join and create the Educator Safety Committee and connect with workers across the United States and around the world who are struggling against the same conditions of austerity, infrastructure neglect , increase in the cost of living and murderous decision. class policy allowing COVID-19 and monkeypox to spread unhindered.

Columbus educators face a particularly horrific and dangerous work environment following decades of bipartisan budget cuts. This includes deteriorating buildings, lack of arts and physical education teachers, standing room classes, lack of functioning heating, ventilation and cooling systems (much less suitable for COVID-19) and low wages.

Educators and students across the city (under Democratic Party control since 2000) are forced to contend with cockroaches, rodents, freezing cold or scorching buildings, unsafe wiring and downright filthy conditions. Teachers are reporting via social media about truly appalling conditions for educators, let alone children.

Pest traps with cockroaches in a Columbus classroom [Photo by CEA]

Angie Renee posted about the rodent infestation in her classroom, one corner of which “was covered in mouse droppings and urine. … It was bad. Anything in the corner had to be thrown away.

Karen Kelly wrote: “One year I bought 6 new posters for my walls. The heating pipes burst in my [class]room and the humidity knocked them all off the walls. When I arrived the next morning there were about 16 of these large creatures [water bugs] attached to the tape.

Since March alone, inspectors have flagged 32 schools for health violations. These include “water intrusion, leaking or missing ceiling tiles, lead-based paint that requires [to be] playground equipment or benches that have been treated or need to be repaired due to problems.

Stained and broken ceiling tiles in another classroom [Photo by CEA]

The district, which has also presided over the deadly spread of COVID-19 in schools, has no intention of responding to even the totally inadequate “requests” of the Columbus Education Association (CEA). Instead, CCS has provocatively pledged to bring in 600 substitute teachers to staff fully remote classrooms for its 47,000 students.

The District’s “Last, Best, and Last Deal” calls for wage increases of 3% per year, which equates to a substantial reduction in wages under conditions of 8.5% annual inflation.

The original request from the Columbus Education Association was insufficient at 8% per year, still below inflation. However, on Thursday union spokeswoman Regina Fuentes declined to answer questions from the media about the wage demands. In other words, the union is likely to have already backtracked on wages and other key issues.

In contrast, community members showed their heartfelt support for the teachers at the board meeting on Tuesday, August 16. Hundreds of educators, parents and students turned out to protest the obstruction of the neighborhood. Eighth-grade student Inara Pompi addressed the board, saying: “My impression of the administration is that they are pay-stealers, and they should try to pay our teachers in our schools what ‘they deserve,’ according to MSN.

Parent Andrew Kline also denounced the council’s plans, saying, “Whoever came up with the idea that I’m going to send my kindergarten freshman to Zoom school with a substitute teacher is completely out of touch with reality.”

CCS nevertheless ended negotiations on Thursday. The brutal action followed 21 unsuccessful trading sessions. On Friday, the CEA said the latest offer was “essentially unchanged from its last final offer on major issues, including no contractual guarantees on HVAC or construction conditions.”

School is due to start on Wednesday, August 24, with teachers showing up Monday for school preparation. The union said picketing would begin on Monday if the strike vote passes.

In a clear indication that the National Education Association (NEA) is working feverishly behind the scenes to secure a sold-out deal and prevent a strike, Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro and NEA Vice President, Princess Moss, will also be in the vote on Sunday. A particular concern of the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is to try to contain the explosive anger of educators ahead of the midterm elections and to try to avoid direct teacher conflict with the Biden administration. and the Democratic Party. To party.

Throughout the pandemic, the NEA and AFT have teamed up with Biden to push for children and youth to return to school in person, to ensure their parents are back at work and producing. benefits for businesses. Instead of fighting to protect educators, students and families from this deadly disease, teachers’ unions have betrayed the labor actions of thousands of workers and students who have struck and protested demanding COVID protections. , including the complete modernization of the HVAC systems.

In fact, the NEA dedicated its annual convention in July to standing in solidarity with the Biden administration and its “corporatist task force on organizing and empowering workers,” which was created to crush a growing strike movement. and subordinate workers to austerity and imperialist war.

The appalling conditions at CCS are an indictment of the union’s refusal to fight for even the most minimal safety and sanitation for decades. Therefore, teachers in Columbus should be warned that this bureaucracy will seek to prevent the full power of educators from being unleashed, just like last March when the NEA worked in tandem with the AFT to isolate and end two of the strikes. most powerful teachers of the year. in Minneapolis and Sacramento. These teachers were forced to return to work with increases of 2% (for each of two years) and 4% (one year), respectively.

It is time to take stock of the experiences of the past period. Educators must break out of the reactionary and pro-capitalist shackles of the NEA and AFT and fight independently of unions and the two political parties of big business. Not only is it necessary to demand the billions of dollars needed to provide decent salaries and benefits to educators and to modernize, rebuild or build safe schools, but also to mobilize the entire working class in defense of the public education, against war and social inequalities.

The way forward for teachers is to turn to the powerful movement growing among teachers and other workers around the world and join the growing network of rank-and-file committees including the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and- File Committees (IWA-RFC ).

On Saturday, August 27, the Base Educator Safety Committee is hosting an online meeting, “CDC Embraces ‘Forever COVID’: The Urgent Fight for Grassroots Committees to Stop the Pandemic.” We encourage teachers, education workers, parents and students to attend.

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