Students Take The Lead
Public school students throughout the State of Idaho staged a series of walkouts and demonstrations last week to protest planned budget cuts and teacher layoffs. Hundreds of students walked out in Boise and other cities, while at least 100 Boise High School students staged a sit-in at the state capitol building. (For more, see Democracy Now).
Three weeks ago, someone vandalized the truck of State Superintendent of Schools, Tom Luna, slashing his tires and spraying painting his name with an X through it. Luna had called for increases in class sizes at all grade levels and an increase in online learning, while dismissing 770 teachers, and moving toward a value-added merit pay scheme for teachers. The new legislation will also eliminate tenure for new teachers and force all new hires into one- to two-year contracts. Collective bargaining would be limited to only issues of salaries and benefits.
The Idaho legislature also proposed $7.6 million in cuts to higher education, which will result in higher tuition and losses of course offerings and students services. In the past year, many of the state’s universities have already raised tuition by more than 8 percent. The legislature is proposing a 5.6% cut in community college funding, amounting to $933,800.
The Idaho Education Association, in a typically wimpy move, tried to distance itself from the student protests, calling for “rallies” after school hours, when it was safe for teachers and meaningless to legislators. On March 5, teachers were advised to wear black for a “Day of mourning for the loss of collective bargaining rights.”
Don’t Mourn, Organize!
As labor organizer and song writer Joe Hill said just prior to his execution in Utah: “Don’t Mourn, Organize!”
While mourning the loss of a loved one is a normal and healthy part of the grieving process, mourning the loss of labor protections is not only premature; it is useless, like grieving the existence of poverty. Rather than mourning, which is tacit acceptance for the injustice, we should be organizing and fighting to end the injustice and to make the world a better place. This was the intent of Hill’s testament. He didn’t want workers to waste their time and energy grieving his death. He wanted them at the barricades, on the picket lines, creating mischief in the factories, and generally making life miserable for the bosses. It is this collective and militant power of workers that wins struggles with the bosses. Unions that forget this or relinquish this collective power consign themselves to irrelevance.