According to David A. Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, there have already been nearly 19,000 pink slips issued to teachers in California and he predicts that the number could climb to over 20,000 by the time the final numbers are in. “In my 30 years as a kindergarten teacher, I have never seen such unprecedented cuts that are so deep and impact so many,” he said.
As appalling as these numbers are, it is only the tip of the iceberg. “Layoffs” refers only to permanent tenured teachers. There are likely thousands more probationary and temporary teachers who have been let go as well. However, no one really knows exactly how many. According to Kathryn Baron, from the blog, Thoughts on Public Education, no one keeps track of these numbers, not even the CTA or the State Department of Education.
California’s $21 billion budget gap is being used to justify the mass layoffs. Teachers across the state have already accepted de facto pay cuts through furloughs and increased contributions to their health plans. Virtually no teacher has seen a raise in the past three years. Class sizes are increasing. Programs and services for students are being cut.
Where have the CTA and CFT been during all this? Well, David Sanchez showed up in San Bruno to join teachers who were Demonstrating in Red for Public Ed. It was a nice gesture, but on the whole it was completely meaningless: A feel good moment for teachers, and cheap propaganda for the union. If teachers unions hope to avoid becoming completely irrelevant, they need to start making progressive demands and fighting for them, rather than their usual pleading for mercy and then accepting rollbacks.
The mass layoffs (as well as the pay and benefits cuts) are all the product of a budget crisis which is the result of the greed and stupidity of Wall Street billionaires combined with continual tax breaks for the richest Californians. The only way to save our schools and state social programs and to provide public sector workers with decent wages and benefits is to raise taxes. These increases need only apply to the richest 1% of Californians. In fact, if only the state’s 80 billionaires paid a few percent more in taxes, we would have an enormous budget surplus.
Some teachers may question whether they have any business addressing issues of taxation or state politics. I have heard colleagues (union representatives) say this. However, we must recognize that we are not private sector workers with a boss who profits directly from our labor. We cannot simply go on strike until he decides that it is cheaper to give us a raise than to continue to lose profits while we aren’t working. For public sector workers the purse strings are held by politicians. The only way to improve working conditions and pay is to confront the politicians and political system. However, voting, lobbying and supporting individual candidates simply results in continued stagnation of benefits and working conditions, if we are lucky, or aggressive union-busting, as we are seeing in many other states. The confrontation must be done through direct actions, such as prolonged demonstrations, general strikes, building occupations, and other tactics that make life unbearable for the politicians (and the rich). We must convince them that it is easier or less painful to concede to our demands than to continue doing the bidding of the rich.