I live in a small town south of Oakland California, almost like a suburb of Oakland really. As is the case throughout the country, public education is being savaged as the crisis of capitalism is being shifted on to the backs of workers and the middle class. I have been somewhat active in Oakland political issues to the detriment of my local community although much of the reason for less activity has been health and this blog.
But I attended the school board meeting last night as there have been some heated sessions as of late as the crisis becomes more acute and I would like to help link anyone who wants to fight back rather than simply apply a damage control strategy in San Leandro with like minded folks in neighboring communities. The situation here is no different than other school districts of course with the school board shuffling the assault from one group to another, saving staff by reducing programs i.e. PE art and music. The school district's budget has declined $11 million since 2007 and more cuts, including positions are needed. Class sizes have increased as the student to teacher ratio goes from 28-1 to 32 to 1. During the Hayward teachers strike of a few years ago , which is another community next door, I put out some fliers on picket lines and showed that at the time, schools like the Golden Gate academy, Head Royce, Bennett and other fancy schools in this area had ratios of 14 to one or so; this is how the rich educate their kids.
The school board is threatening to eliminate middle school counselors reduce further programs like music and layoff custodians. Nothing new.
I managed to speak under public comments as did many of the students from San Leandro high school. A couple of teachers and students had made mention of the fact that there is a crisis and the reality is that cuts have to be made continuing the general trend that students, teachers and other sections of the working class have to find some way of shuffling the burden around, less staff, save programs; fewer programs save staff etc. The two parties of the 1%, Democrats and Republicans agree on the basics, that the working class will bear the brunt of the burden----they only differ on which sections and how much. I heard more than once last night that there has to be "shared sacrifice". Throughout this year on year struggle against the cuts in education I have heard many disastrous and divisive strategies. A couple of years ago in a neighboring community the horrible slogan was, "Cut furthest from the classroom" in other words, lay the janitor off. Another divisive and sure to fail strategy which is supported by the trade Union leadership and advanced last night is a parcel tax on home owners. This is only a band aid but the worst of it is it is totally divisive making it harder to build a generalized movement that can actually drive back this offensive of the 1%.
You don't generally get much time to talk although the board was more generous than these bodies usually are last night. I addressed those in attendance stressing that there is no economic crisis as such and that we must reject their reality, the reality of the 1%, that cuts have to be made. I made the point that we are here talking about how we can best cut our own throats, it's never about how we can stop the attacks and actually make gains. This is made easier by the fact that the heads of the potentially powerful Unions (the California Teachers Association alone has about 330,000 members in the state) accept that we have to "sacrifice" and their strategy of damage control flows from this view.
"Why is this happening then?" Given limited time I gave some examples of the vast amounts of money in society. There are the trillions allotted to the financial industry, the nationalization of private debt basically as they did in the Savings and Loan fiasco. I explained how they had gorged themselves for a while and now we were to foot the bill. I added a couple trillion for Iraq and Afghanistan and mentioned that they will be back for more as Israel's PM and Obama met this week and reiterated their commitment to bomb Iran if that country builds nuclear weapons of which Israel has many. US corporations alone are sitting on mountains of cash.
The politicians on these boards often say about how saddened they are and that they don't like what they're doing but have no choice. Given that, what they say doesn't matter, it's what they do that does. I don't accept they can't do anything. I said that they could refuse to carry out these attacks on behalf of the 1%. It's no help them crying about how hard it is then acting as the agents of the 1%. They should vote against the cuts as a board and refuse to participate in the dismantling of public education. The alternative is to then go out in to the community and help to build a movement from below that can link with other communities and drive this offensive back. I raised Occupy Oakland and said that despite the movements mistakes and confusions this movement has changed the debate in society and proven that if there is enough of us we can defy their laws. The repression for this audacity is increasing.
I raised the banks and that we must make them pay but unlike some speakers I do not have faith this board will take such action and that we must not simply come here and then go home but participate in building that movement. I said that I was involved in the Occupy Oakland education committee a little and that I would like to participate in building such a movement here and linking up with Oakland. There is no community or municipality that can fight this alone. This is the frustrating thing about the Union leadership. Each community has a CTA local that is fighting the attacks at the local level but there is no real generalized offensive. This is intentional on the part of the Union leaders as they basically agree with the view that we have to sacrifice, that US capitalism is in crisis therefore we have to bail it out, so mobilizing the millions of workers, students and parents to fight back can only lead to crisis from their point of view of the world.
The Oakland teachers Union have a bank campaign and I have participated with them in occupations and protests at banks and this would be a good thing to join with and do in each community.
I spoke to some of the students from the "social justice" group at the local high school and they told me that 200 of them went up to Sacramento to join the protesters up there on Monday. Their teachers were also there and one of them spoke quite well raising the need to tax wealth including taxing the oil companies that do not pay tax on oil they extract from the ground. California is the only state in the Union that does not tax energy companies this way.
One speaker, a city council member got up to support the parcel tax. I know this individual through years of Union activity and he was always attached himself to whichever hierarchy was there, notably the trade Union bureaucracy as opposed to the members of the Union and local Democratic politicians in the political sphere. He is the preferred candidate of the Union hierarchy, a staunch Democrat on the local city council. His wife is on the school board.
Members of the board spoke in response saying how they couldn't do what I suggested as the state would just come in, their hands are tied, its Sacramento etc etc. . The state would take over the school district is the line. But so what! They are already taking it over. They are dictating what should be done and the board is carrying it out. The face of the state is not there, it is replaced by the faces of their representatives on the board. One of them is on the Union negotiating team and complained about CTA doing nothing and portrayed himself as the radical rank and file I guess. I spoke to a blue collar worker (Teamster) outside afterwards whose kids go to the schools. He completely agreed with me about the parcel tax issues that it is a "divide and rule" tactic. Why would someone get involved in a movement that campaigned to raise their taxes?
I raised with some of the folks there what might happen if the entire board voted against implementing cuts and called a press conference announcing that they will not be a party to this and then used their time organizing and mobilizing the community as well as visiting other boards in neighboring communities urging them to do the same. The press couldn't avoid this and it would send shock waves up through the system and empower parents, teachers and students alike as they would see someone taking a stand and a force that they can turn to; being removed from the board by bureaucrats from Sacramento for defending education would be a badge of honor. I made it clear that I did not believe the board would do that, not without massive pressure from below anyway, but feel we have to offer some alternative to the students parents and teachers to these boards' usual whining that there is nothing they can do.
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