For more information on Will Lehman’s campaign for UAW President, visit WillforUAWPresident.org.
More than 4,500 teachers, nurses, librarians and other educators continue their massive strike in Columbus, Ohio. The Biden administration, fearing the departure of Columbus will spark a broader movement of educators against the dangerous reopening of schools, social equity and austerity, is intervening with a federal mediator in a bid to end the strike before teachers can assert their demands.
On Wednesday, Will Lehman, the socialist presidential candidate of the United Auto Workers, toured the line and issued a statement calling on UAW workers, including all teachers and other sections of the workforce, to mobilize in support of the striking Columbus teachers. “In their defense of public education,” Lehman said, “they are fighting for the interests of all working people. They cannot win this fight alone.”
The district, which is controlled by the Democratic Party, is pushing for real pay cuts for educators, offering an insulting raise of 3 percent a year for three years below 8.5 percent inflation, and a one-time bonus of $2,000.
After 23 rounds of negotiations that failed to reach an agreement, neither the Columbus Education Association (CEA) nor the district has released a statement about the resumption of negotiations ordered Wednesday by a federal mediator. CBS News reported that “negotiations are ongoing at an undisclosed location.”
Educators in the state’s largest district are staging their first strike in nearly 50 years. They are calling for adequate learning conditions for children, including air conditioning and heating in all buildings, smaller class sizes, limits on the number of lessons per day and wages that keep pace with inflation. Teachers are talking about and posting pictures of school rat and cockroach infestations, black mold and outdated and dirty ventilation systems.
Employees across the city, well aware of the problems at the school, turned out to vote, bringing their children in a show of support and donating to educators. The determination to fight is evident throughout the city of Columbus.
The striking teacher told the WSWS: “Teachers are proud and they are standing firm. I don’t hear about any upheaval. Every move made by the district to discourage us has its consequences. Every step inspires movement, and we stay true to our purpose.
“We had a ton of students that came and participated because it was supposed to be their first day of school. We get a lot of support, food and drinks, flowers, compliments, horns, therapy animals.
In a provocative move, district officials attempted to end teacher health care. Without issuing a legal notice, this attack was stopped for a while. Instead, they blocked teachers’ variable spending accounts, funds that teachers themselves contribute.
CEA’s parent organization, the National Education Association (NEA), does not pay strike pay to educators, despite having more than $400 million in assets. Neither the NEA nor the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has done anything to mobilize the millions of educators who are facing the same struggle and are ready to join in a common struggle. . In contrast, unions are calling off strikes, including that of the 35,000-member United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), affiliated with the NEA and AFT, nearly two months after their collective agreement expired.
“There should be a national teacher strike,” Nicole, a striking teacher, told Will Lehman as she joined teachers in the picket line at Columbus Downtown High School. “It’s the only way to make ourselves heard.”
“Things are so bad in public education that students no longer want to specialize in teaching. There are not enough resources. We have to pay about $1,000 out of pocket for equipment every year. There was a dead rat in front of one of my students’ lockers. There are also bugs. I carried a poster with a picture of a mouse and a cockroach and said, “They are not classroom animals”.
Lehman emphasized that automated workers, like teachers, needed to develop ways to communicate with each other about their problems and coordinate actions. Since the union bodies are against this, he said, it is up to the senior workers to plan and prepare for this struggle. Lehman said what is needed is to confront teachers, nurses, auto workers and all people who work against price gouging and exploitation.
A teacher with more than 30 years of experience told Lehman, “My heartbreak was knowing that this is happening everywhere. The problem is not only in one school. In every school, the situation is bad and getting worse.
“Schools are falling apart. They are old and not properly maintained. No air conditioning, no proper ventilation; it is so hot that my children sleep. They cannot stay awake during class. It’s dangerous, and you can’t teach kids in these situations.
“I’ve been a teacher for 34 years, here in Columbus since 1990, and things have gone downhill. Teachers here haven’t gone on strike since 1975, and it’s time to do something about it. It’s not just here that teachers are facing problems; It’s everywhere. The same or similar problems happen almost everywhere. every district. It will be great to be able to unite to fight.
Responding to Will’s call for unity among all workers, he said: ‘I agree that car workers and teachers, all workers in fact, need to unite. I have heard of corruption in the UAW, but the problem is not only in the UAW. I am for low power and fighting bureaucracy. We have to do something, and it seems like a good thing to do”.
“It’s been piling up for a long time,” said another teacher, “but we had enough when nothing was done to fix the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that no longer work and prevent large classes, even for 32 students. winter, sometimes it’s 32 degrees in the classroom, and sometimes 5 degrees. Not having a good ventilation system is bad, especially with COVID. The district received federal money to fix it, but we don’t know where that money went. We’re fighting not just for of educators and our children, but also all the staff”.
Traci, a veteran teacher at Columbus Downtown High School, said, “They don’t even want to guarantee us 45 minutes of prep time. Instead, they ask us to call parents, attend meetings, and do other tasks. We have to prepare six lessons a day. These 45 minutes are not a break, they are work. If we don’t get that, it means we have to do all our preparations at home. That means you won’t get paid, or you won’t prepare at all. How can children get the education they need if we don’t have time to prepare?
“They also do not pay us on time for the extra work we do. We cannot delay sending school report cards”.
“We also can’t delay paying our bills,” said Martha, another teacher at Downtown High School.
Bryan, a 16-year high school teacher in the district, said, “There have been no improvements since I was hired. We had advanced exams, and the conditions at school were not good.
“After the financial crash of 2008, they blocked our raises, reduced our pension contributions and split insurance. Those hired before 2009 benefited from a medical plan, and teachers hired after that had to pay higher fees for family medical care. .
He told Lehman: “Inequality is a huge issue. Schools in poor neighborhoods like Linden and Hilltop are in dire straits. In influential areas like Clintonville, schools have more resources. It’s not a matter of skin color. Poverty is poverty”.
Like other Midwest industrial cities, Columbus has been devastated by factory closings and deindustrialization. In 2007, General Motors closed its Delphi parts plant that once employed more than 5,000 workers. The Hilltop neighborhood, once home to many workers from the GM plant as well as the shuttered Westinghouse refrigeration plant, is now one of the poorest in the city.
Meanwhile, state, city and county officials have offered tax breaks to Columbus companies such as Nationwide, Cardinal Health, American Electric Power, L Brands, Alliance Data and Huntington Bancshares, which are listed in the Fortune 500.
“They’re giving these big corporations a 10-year tax break, and that money is coming out of our kids’ mouths,” said Traci, an experienced high school teacher.
Earlier in the day, Will Lehman spoke to Stellantis (Chrysler) Jeep workers in Toledo about the need to combat the growing wave of layoffs in the auto industry.
After spending a day on the ballot with teachers in Columbus, he told the WSWS, “I’ve seen the effects of plant closings and layoffs by GM and other companies in cities like Flint, Detroit and Columbus. School systems are being destroyed, neighborhoods are crumbling, lives And at the same time, corporations are making more profits than ever before.
“Columbus teachers are taking a stand for all employees. They need the support of all employees to win”.
(Article published in English on August 25, 2022)