The strike is any worker's most potent weapon. Short of guerilla
warfare or revolution, the general strike is the highest form of
open resistance. School workers strikes are especially effective
because they immediately ruin the baby-sitting role schools play.
Hence, a strike denies surrounding companies the full attention
of their work force. Over time, strikes begin to expose the
nature of school itself, an institution designed forthe most part not to serve the mass of people but only a tiny minority of the citizens. Even so, school can be a weapon for equality and democracy.
In the best of world's, thorough strike preparations are
frequently enough to be the justification for bargaining
victories. Ours, more and more, is a defective universe.
Preparations may well be not enough. Our preparations should be
real, not sham. The employer should never be given reason to
believe that they face a bluff.
A strike is a battle of will. But we should minimize the
sacrifice the rank and file must make. A thoroughly prepared
strike can draw a local and its community much closer together.
But a poorly prepared strike, even if it wins on paper, can cause
divisions that take a long time to heal.
The key components of strike readiness are:
A. Membership and Public Preparation
B. Legal Preparation
C. Financial and Materials Preparation
D. Communications, Planning and Tactics
Lets take these one at a time.
1. Strikes usually rise out of a bargaining situation of some sort, whether or not it is formalized in law. Bargaining representatives must make the talks as open as possible. Be sure the results of all discussions are reported promptly to the rank and file. This presumes the members have already been surveyed and are generally supportive of the bargaining goals.
In schools, bargaining demands must be linked to the needs of
children and lend to cooperation between school workers, students
Those bargaining should have a clear understanding of the other
side, their strategy, tactical plans, key leaders, potential
tenacity, and power figures. The information should be shared
with the public and the rank and file.
Ideally, a strike vote should be held in a mass meeting which
openly discusses the issues and the complete range of opinion is
heard. Sympathetic parents and kids should be welcome at this
Timing of a strike is critical. The union leadership cannot allow
itself to be provoked into a premature action, nor, by
underestimating the potential of the membership and community,
forestall a job action that should happen. This balance can win
or lose a strike.
2. The membership should be registered. Email can be expecially helpful. You will still need names, addresses, phone numbers and a telephone tree. If you have this in place, test it by putting the phone
tree to work. Insure that everyone gets the same message. In
addition, focal locations should be chosen for meetings with
members who might not be able to attend regular union meetings,
for example, secondary leaders' homes.
As members are registered, they should be surveyed to guarantee
coverage of buildings on picket duty. The goal should be to close
all buildings. Members should be reappraised of the issues and
warned that they may be contacted directly by the employer with
appeals for acquiescence.
Key people like coaches, bus drivers, librarians, and others with
close internal communications systems should be carefully
surveyed and asked to lead.
A general strike committee, composed of key leaders from diverse
areas, should direct the broad actions of the strike and control
the other committees created to serve the strike. This committee
should have final financial and strategic authority.
3. A committee should be in place to deal with members' financial
problems, to deal with the electric company, unemployment
offices, the banks, and insurance carriers. Contact should be
made with key providers before a strike.
4. A picket committee should insure that picket duty is widely
shared with as mass a presence as possible. The pitiful sight of
one Greyhound worker picketing a bus station should be lesson
enough. This requires a picket committee to assign people to the
lines and provide signs, warming facilities up north and after
picket swimming pools in the deep south.
Use cards to keep logs of people who have fulfilled picket duty. Picket captains should be responsible for behavior on the line, record the names of scabs, and keep members informed of latest developments. Picket lieutenants should be responsible for contacting inactive members and visiting them to explain the importance of their participation. Child care must be provided to picketers. Picketing is purposeful. Close the buildings. All this should be in place before the strike starts.
Or seize the buildings. Hold a work-in. Bring blankets, food,
games, and prepare for the long haul. Most teachers have access
to their own buildings. Getting inside should not be a problem.
Bring parents with you if possible. Have sympathizers picket
outside. Be flexible, prepared to shift buildings if necessary.
5. Members should be forewarned as much as possible to set aside
savings for a long struggle.
6. Specific spokespersons should be identified to work with the
media. Beyond their obvious preparations, they should research
the backgrounds of the people on the other side, school board
members, the superintendent, etc. What are their jobs and
incomes? Where do their kids go to school? What companies do they
7. Members must be apprised of the legal situation and the risks
involved. Will the people defy an injunction? Dismissals?
Nevertheless, remember that the only illegal strike is the strike
8. Preparations should be in place to build solidarity through a
committee to reach out to other school workers and people in the
community, to enforce the vision that an injury to one is an
injury to all. The committee should prepare plans for house-to-
house canvassing to explain the school workers' positions. This
could include the creation of a parents committee to cut off
possible parent scabs. Moreover, community opinion leaders must
be contacted to seek support and pressure on the employer.
9. Obtain a list of substitute teachers and insure their support
before they are contacted to cross picket lines.
1. The legality of most workers' struggles has an inverse
relationship to their effectiveness. It's reasonable to expect
some legal problems. You will need a lawyer, preferably one who
you believe is on your side.
2. A legal committee should guide the lawyer, not vice versa.
They should know the ramifications of a job action. Is it
illegal? How can it be declared legal, or how can it be defined
as something that is not illegal?
Is a job action legal if management has committed unfair labor
practices? What can be done to overturn a possible injunction?
Has fact-finding been a part of negotiations? With what result?
Mediation? Is there a no strike clause?
Is the bargaining unit, if there is one, incorporated? How can
funds be protected? What will be the legal impact on a parent
organization if a local goes out?
Strikes cost money and require emergency expenditures. You will
need a committee to openly deal with a strike budget covering
costs like added phones, flyers, bullhorns, transportation, food,
bail money, medical coverage, and legal costs. However, the key
to a strike victory is not how much money you have; its how much
solidarity you have.
The leadership must focus on contact with the members and the
community. Ideally, publish a regular broadside aimed at both
publics. One side of a flyer could be a twenty second summary of
events, the other address developments in detail. Reports must be
absolutely reliable. No bargaining should occur without the
people being immediately told about the substance of the talks.
The communications committee must address the issues of the
strike and demonstrate whose interests are served by the school
workers' goals and why. Then the committee needs to determine:
Whose side is the community on? Do citizens see the organization
as guilty of bad-faith bargaining? What is the crux of the issue
that links citizens and school workers? Has the employer made a
big effort to win the confidence of the community? Is the
employer believable? How can our position best be briefly
presented to the media?
Identify media outlets and guarantee methods of distributing
press releases. Most large communities have a press relations
news wire. For a small fee this service hits the major media in
Be sure every section of the work force, support workers,
secretaries, special project teachers, and so on, has access to
communications from the local.
Specific people should be detailed to maintain contact with
nearby locals, the workers' community and their organizations,
the PTA, student organizations, and the parent body of the local
involved in the job action. The goal here should be to gain
strength through duplicating the action if necessary. Every
effort should be made to mobilize masses of people at school
board meetings, forums, rallies, coffee clatches, and explain the
democratist school workers' positions.
It may be that a "Freedom School", off-site classes for kids
whose parents have special problems, would do more to build
solidarity with the community than to split the effectiveness of
a strike. Some of the best schooling in history took place in strike schools.
While a strike goes on, people continue to have social needs.
Concurrently, since strikes draw a good deal of attention, many
entertainers are eager to offer assistance. Social events, a
dance at a union hall or whatever, in the midst of a strike are a
good sign of a confidant and prepared union.
It is quite possible that a strike is not an appropriate tactic
for a given local at a given moment. Perhaps a joint action with
students and parents at a forum of local government might be more
appropriate. You might want to call a town meeting of your own.
However, it remains that the strike is a weapon that can help win
gains for an entire community.
Unfortunately, most unions forgot how to strike. While the
information in this little addendum is deep in their files, union
bosses will usually discourage or even sabotage a strike. Your
local will have to be on the lookout for diversions set up by the
mis-leaders from the national union.
There is nothing romantic about a strike. People sometimes lose
income and jobs. But it remains that the opposing interests of
school workers and the elites who run their schools cause
inevitable clashes. School workers, prepared to be activists in
the ways described above, can win--if they have tied their actions with the needs of their students and the parents who need them most.