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A Blue State Teacher Rebellion: Denver Teachers Vote to Strike as L.A. Educators Win Big Victory

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As Los Angeles teachers agreed to end their strike on Tuesday, Denver teachers voted to strike for the first time in 25 years. The strike could begin as soon as Monday. Meanwhile, teachers in Oakland are planning to vote on a strike next week. We speak with Arlene Inouye, chair of the bargaining team for United Teachers Los Angeles, and Sarah Jaffe, reporting fellow at the Type Media Center.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the significance of this strike and what’s now happening.


AMY GOODMAN: We see Denver teachers who just overwhelmingly voted to strike. I want to turn to what happened last night, Denver teachers voting to strike for the first time in 25 years, in a quarter of a century. The strike could begin as soon as Monday. This is Rob Gould, lead negotiator for the DCTA. That’s the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

ROB GOULD: Tonight, Denver teachers overwhelmingly agreed to strike. Ninety-three percent voted to strike. They’re striking for better pay. They’re striking for our profession. And they’re striking for Denver students.

AMY GOODMAN: Arlene Inouye, what are some words of wisdom you have for your colleagues in Denver? This strike to begin, apparently, on Monday.

ARLENE INOUYE: Yes, and we’re excited for the educators in Denver that they’ve taken this step.

And I feel like what we’ve learned through the years is that when you communicate clearly what the message is and you reach out to parents and community, our collective power is what got us to win. We have a chapter leader in every single school. And we have teams now, organizing teams, at every school. And we have constant communication. I think, as you see, Amy, when you talk to anybody, any teacher or parent out there that were on the picket lines, they will tell you the same message, why we’re fighting. And it’s very clear to us.

And I think by being able to organize across the board and bring in the voices, the ordinary voices of our parents and our educators—and I, myself, by the way, am a speech and language specialist. I worked 18 years in L.A. Unified. And we have a diverse work—diverse membership, including speech and language, including health and human services, OT/PT, you know, psychiatric social workers, and so forth. And sometimes these little groups feel like their voices aren’t heard. But we were able to give—we were able to draw attention to all of the needs in our schools, all of the professionals, and also the students, of course, and what they need, and really lift this up and to see it as an issue of social justice in our schools.

We were also able to bring in some nonmandatory subjects of bargaining into our schools, which we call common good issues, like green space on campus, stopping the criminalization of youth through the wanding. We were able to bring in an immigrant defense fund. We’re making a statement of our values and of what’s critical for how our schools need to address the needs of our students.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think that the district and Superintendent Beutner—what do you think they miscalculated when it came to the power of the strike? I mean, again, in Los Angeles, you went out for the first time in 30 years.

ARLENE INOUYE: Yes. And thank you for that question, Amy, because I do believe—I kept saying all along that Beutner has no idea of who he’s fighting with, because we have very, very strong emotions, very—a tenacity in our members and parents, as was reported earlier. They even went to his home to give—to let him know how they feel and how serious this matter is. I think when you come together with all of the voices, and including our students, I’ve got to say—students are coming out in record numbers on the picket line. And as was mentioned in the earlier interview with Alex, it’s a beautiful sight to see. I have never seen a strike like this, where you’re actually celebrating. It was like a love fest. And I think it’s because of the affirmation and the validation that our educators felt and the connection with our parents and communities.

AMY GOODMAN: It was hard to conduct our interviews—

ARLENE INOUYE: So, that’s a power.

AMY GOODMAN: It was hard to conduct our interviews yesterday, because as people were driving by, everyone was honking. The students were out with the teachers. You know, they weren’t saying, “Oh, this is great: This is a week off for us.” They were saying, “No, through the rain, through the cold, we are here, side by side, because we know our teachers are here for us.” Sarah, you used to live in Denver, and now you’re covering the L.A. strike. And talk about Oakland, as well—


AMY GOODMAN: —what’s about to happen there. And let’s just say, California and Colorado, these are two Democratic states.

SARAH JAFFE: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Jared Polis, now the governor of Colorado.

ARLENE INOUYE: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, you have Gavin Newsom.


AMY GOODMAN: And you have Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, who was the one who mediated these debates—the negotiations.

SARAH JAFFE: Yeah, and Colorado was still considered a red state when I lived there. I left in 2004. But what we’re seeing is the sort of return to the blue states of the teachers’ rebellion. Right? We saw last year was the sort of “Red for Ed” strike, although Colorado did have a day of action during all of that. But this all really began, you know, again, in Chicago. There was reform movements in places like Massachusetts and New York. And it’s been a real challenge to these Democrats, because, you know, again, California has been a blue state for as long as you and I can remember, and it is 43rd in per-student funding. That is on the level with some of these “Red for Ed” states. And that is the same problem they’re facing in Oakland.

AMY GOODMAN: It used to be one of the top in the country.

SARAH JAFFE: Right, it used to be one of the top in the country. And this is—Alex Caputo-Pearl will make the point—

AMY GOODMAN: Now it’s gone down to 43rd.

SARAH JAFFE: —that as the proportion of students of color in those schools went up, the number—the amount of, you know, per-student funding went down. And so, when you see these fights happening in these blue states—right?—again, Democrats have been in favor of charter schools. I mentioned Cory Booker earlier. We have, you know, had this experience here in New York. It’s been bipartisan policy to sort of beat up on teachers and argue that privatizing the schools will make them better.

And we’re finally really seeing really incredible pushback on that front, and it’s changing the way a lot of people talk about it. It was notable when the NAACP came out for a moratorium on charter schools recently, right? They had been in favor of charter schools. This is changing. And it’s changing because of teachers like Arlene. It’s changing because of the teachers in Chicago, the teachers in Massachusetts, and now the teachers in Colorado, and probably next in Oakland.

AMY GOODMAN: And Oakland?

SARAH JAFFE: Yeah. In Oakland, I spoke to teachers. I was there in December. And the complaints are very similar to what they are in Los Angeles, right? They’re overcrowded. They’re underfunded. Charter schools are cherry-picking the best students. And, you know, that’s—the charter schools, on one hand, they can push them out, but, on the other hand, you have to apply to get into charter schools. So, already you get the kids whose parents are more involved, who have time to do that, who are—as somebody pointed out to men, you know, undocumented students, their parents, especially under Trump, are really afraid to fill out any form and put any information down. So that means that those kids don’t get into charters, because they’re not applying to get into those charters.

AMY GOODMAN: And one of the things teachers kept repeating to me over and over yesterday was, in charter schools, the teachers can be fired, and the students can be fired.

SARAH JAFFE: Mm-hmm, yeah. We should mention that the Accelerated Schools, a charter school in Los Angeles, went out on strike with this UTLA strike, starting last Tuesday. And yeah, they were telling me 40 percent turnover at that school among teachers. I mean, how do you do anything when you don’t know if you’re going to have your job next year?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to continue to cover this wave of strikes. Again, Oakland, it looks like they’re about to vote. And Denver teachers overwhelmingly voted to strike last night. The Los Angeles teachers, over 31,000, are back in their classrooms today and at their offices, as they have just claimed victory in the 6-day historic strike, first one in 30 years. I want to thank Arlene Inouye, chair of the bargaining team for UTLA and UTLA secretary, and Sarah Jaffe of the Type Media Center, formerly known as The Nation Institute.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the Supreme Court makes a major decision. We’ll talk about it. Stay with us.

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