Though at first glance, the Oakland teachers’ strike, now in its seventh day, may seem simply yet another in the wave of teacher walkouts this year, it in fact represents a watershed in resistance to neoliberal economic policy. The strike in Oakland simultaneously mirrors and advances popular resistance across the country to austerity and “accumulation by dispossession”—the capitalist elite’s conscious transfer of wealth and power from us to them.
In one regard Oakland teachers’ demands—increased pay, investments in student services, smaller class sizes and an end to school closures—echo those in this year’s strike wave, a growing social movement led by teachers, with massive support of parents and community members, to save public schools from destruction by wealthy elites who have carried out a project attempting to “marketize” the education sector. This project includes an array of policies including the use of standardized testing which yields data to be bought and sold, the creation of charter schools controlled by networks of billionaire funders and the outsourcing of educational services.
Yet press briefings by the Oakland Education Association (OEA)—the union representing the teachers—and a website created by a community supporter, show an extraordinary shift: a fusion of attention to racial and gender justice alongside labor’s mission to defend the dignity of work and workers. “It’s really, really exciting—a movement that is connecting the dots” observed Pauline Lipman, whose research on the racial significance of neoliberal school reform in Chicago helped inform the Chicago Teachers Union’s (CTU) widely-adopted template for union demands: “The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve.”
The Oakland school district, like the Chicago Public Schools and urban school systems in most blue states are, as CTU researcher Pavlyn Jankov explains, “broke on purpose.” Local and state politicians, in conjunction with the corporate…