In England, teachers have gone on strike at Rawmarsh Community School in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, over proposed job cuts. The school plans to cut 34 staff, including up to 20 teachers, in order to reduce a £1.3 million deficit. This would slash one-fourth of the teaching staff, as there are currently 80 teachers at the school.
Teacher strikes are rare n the U.S. Here, it is typical for teachers unions to take the simplistic and wimpy attitude that they should only fight over contractual issues. They will resist violations of their contracts, bad faith by admin during negotiations and, most of all, threats by admin to cut pay and benefits guaranteed by their contracts. But when admin starts handing out pink slips due to budget shortfalls, unions typically acquiesce, arguing to their members that it is admin’s right to do so under Ed Code (so long as seniority rights are protected).
This approach treats newer teachers like fodder, throwing them in front of the train as a buffer against job cuts for more senior teachers. However, it also undermines working conditions for the remaining teachers and learning conditions for their students by increasing class sizes, cutting course offerings, and creating an atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty.
I am not suggesting that we get rid of seniority rights, particularly when the alternatives currently under consideration by the Ed Deformers are so biased and open to abuse. What I am suggesting is that unions need to take a more proactive and militant approach to protecting the interests of all their members, novice and senior alike, especially in the case of job cuts, which impact everyone. We need to be willing to fight layoffs, as well as NCLB, value-added and other bogus performance-based evaluation systems, vouchers, and privatization schemes with job actions, if necessary.