“Lawmakers thought they could eke through another austerity budget with the last-minute addition of a $6,100 wage hike. But an estimated 30,000 educators stopped work starting Monday to force some 200 schools to shutter, in order to send the message to elected representatives that their gesture is insufficient. The planned raise paled against teachers’ demands for a fully funded school budget, as part of a $3.3 billion package to restore massive cutbacks across state agencies, as well as the basic dignity of a living wage for all state workers.
“Following a decade of bruising austerity, the numbers still don't add up for Oklahoma schools. They lead the nation in annual budget cuts, and rank 45th in funding equity levels and 46th in academic performance, according to recent national rankings. With pay scales for teachers statewide frozen since the recession, salaries have declined in real terms to rank near dead last in the country…
“Even with the proposed pay hike, teachers’ salaries are still devastatingly low, despite being years into the economic ‘recovery.’ With the 15 to 18 percent salary boost offered by state lawmakers, a typical teacher’s pay would reach the $40,000 tier only after eight years. That still trails the estimated annual living-wage income for a family of four with one working parent in Tulsa County, according to the MIT living-wage calculator. By comparison, workers in the construction and extractive industries often earn about the same amount. But while school budgets have bled nearly $200 million since 2009, the fossil-fuel industry receives special protections and subsidies, including rock-bottom tax rates.
“The state’s austerity axe delivers daily punishment to a struggling student population: The proportion of special needs and English-language-learner children has soared in Oklahoma in recent years, according to the OEA, and the majority of kids are so impoverished they need subsidized lunches…
“Lawmakers should have seen the revolt coming. Weeks ago the OEA published online polling results showing that if the state failed to provide living wages and full funding ‘for education and core government services,’ organized school closures and mass walkouts to the Capitol would be supported by overwhelming majorities of teachers, students and parents.
“The Oklahoma rebellion caps a wave of mass mobilizations in the past few weeks, including similar wildcat actions in West Virginia and, more recently, Kentucky, with potential strikes brewing in Arizona. The uprisings evoke a decades-old tradition of teachers' labor militancy. Yet the latest eruptions signify a bold new anti-austerity resistance, fueled by an undercurrent of simmering left-wing backlash in Trump Country.
“Weak union power and overarching right-to-work policies in Republican-dominated Oklahoma mean any mass political action carries risks, especially given the sensitive nature of schools’ role in the community. Teachers’ strikes are essentially ‘wildcat’ in Red States like West Virginia and Oklahoma, where educators are legally restricted from striking and have anemic union protections. The political constraints on workers’ collective actions—which may presage the gutting of public-sector union protections in the upcoming Janus Supreme Court case—could have a radicalizing impact. When the rules can’t contain them, teachers have no choice but to write their own, including grassroots work stoppages…”
For the complete article, The Oklahoma Teachers' Strike Is a Mutiny Against Austerity by Michelle Chen, click here.