The unique racial dynamics of the LAUSD teachers’ strike
In a highly anticipated move that for key organizers has been years in the making, more than 30,000 educators on Monday kicked off a strike that’s put regular K-12 classes on hiatus in the country’s second-largest public-school district. A whopping 98 percent of L.A. teachers, who because of stalled negotiations with the district have been working without a contract for more than a year, voted to authorize the strike. They are demanding smaller class sizes and more funding for support staff such as counselors and nurses. They’re also calling for higher pay, though that is less of a sticking point now that the district and teachers’ union are all but in agreement on this front, with the former offering raises that are just 0.5 percent lower than the 6 percent hikes educators are demanding.
Rodolfo Dueñas, an L.A. native and public-school teacher who is picketing, describes this burgeoning movement as a natural next step for the many Latinos like him whose activism can be traced back to the mid-1990s, when thousands of Latino teens staged a school walkout in opposition to an anti-immigrant state-ballot initiative known as Proposition 187. For many like Dueñas in the “187 Generation,” those experiences eventually drove them into teaching. And Dueñas’s generation has been following in the footsteps of the Latino education activists who came before them, during the 1968 walkouts known by some as the Mexican Student Movement.
The L.A. strike is the latest teacher uprising in a string of walkouts across the country over the past year. Strikes took place in Republican strongholds including West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona last spring, all of them generally calling for increased funding and improved school conditions on top of better pay and benefits; smaller-scale walkouts also took place in Colorado and, just last month, Chicago, when teachers at a predominantly Latino charter-school network went on strike to demand things like smaller class sizes and stronger support for immigrant children. While the L.A. strike, which is United Teachers Los Angeles’s first strike in almost 30 years, is the latest installment of a trend driven by exasperated educators, various factors make it unique.