Job Action Guidelines

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.

Membership and Public Preparation

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 and parents.

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 meeting.

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 represent?

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 that fails.

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.

Legal Preparation

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?

Financial and Material Preparations

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.

Communications, Planning and Tactics

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 the region.

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.