Solidarity with Oklahoma Teacher & State Worker Walkouts!
Deepen the class struggle, strengthen our unions and fight against austerity!
The Southern Workers Assembly sends our solidarity to the education workers and their unions across Oklahoma that will stage walkouts in school districts across the state on April 2. This bold action comes on the heels of the 9-day strike by education workers in West Virginia that has inaugurated a new period of fightback particularly by public school workers. Workers in the South are playing a leading role in this rising tide of resistance – in addition to West Virginia and Oklahoma, teachers in Kentucky have staged walk-outs, along with Jersey City, New Jersey, Arizona, and elsewhere.
While conditions in each area are unique, they have opened a wider struggle against the crushing impact of years of cutbacks and austerity measures that have crippled public education and public services, driven down wages and working conditions, taken aim at workers’ ability to build our unions, and deprived our communities of many vitally needed resources. All this while banks, oil and gas companies, and other big corporations receive massive handouts. Workers in Oklahoma are showing the way forward by going out on strike on April 2, and demonstrating to the world what is possible when workers stick together and take bold action.
Oklahoma teachers are the 49th lowest paid in the country. Ninety of the state’s 500 school districts have switched to a four-day school week due to a lack of funding resources to keep schools open for a full five-day week. Many teachers report that they are forced to drive for Uber and Lyft, or take on other part-time and temporary work just to make ends meet. Stories from teachers and pictures of their classrooms that have circulated in the media and online in recent weeks show classrooms woefully deprived of working chairs, desks, and other basic supplies – which teachers have had to come out of their own pockets to try to address, or have borrowed supplies from friends and neighbors to supplement the state’s inability to provide these things for Oklahoma children and educators.
The state is also one of the top five petroleum and shale producing states in the country. The US Energy Information Administration reports that oil production in Oklahoma has recently increased by two and a half times since 2005. However, Oklahoma taxes oil and gas production at the lowest rate in the U.S. – a dismal 2%. These pipelines are often built on Native lands and there have been many struggles – and some victories – by Indigenous peoples to stop the construction of new pipelines. Cuts to education were highest in Oklahoma than in any other state following the 2008 great recession, with state funding for public schools cut by 23.6% between 2008 and 2014. The schools, the public sector, and the people of Oklahoma were robbed to ensure that the oil and gas industry in particular, and other big business in general, would continue to make greater and greater profits.
Oklahoma education workers have chosen a particularly strategic time to stage these actions – to coincide with the beginning of standardized testing – a gigantic industry in its own right in the U.S. It was the activity by the rank and file members of the OKEA and the OK AFT that chose this date and moved the strike up earlier from initial plans for later in April. Like in West Virginia, we see that the activity of the rank and file is a decisive factor in deepening these struggles and on the ultimate outcome to win against big business and the politicians who do their bidding in the legislature and other offices.
Workers in Oklahoma have already proven this to be true. The widespread activity by education and state worker union members to build and prepare for the April 2 strike, has forced the Oklahoma state legislature to pass a $447 million tax increase and raise salaries by $6,000. Buoyed by this, Oklahoma teachers have continued to march forward toward April 2 until their demands are met.
Teachers, nurses, state employees, fast food workers and industrial workers – in fact all of us – continue to grapple with the unresolved crisis of our health care system. School districts, teachers, and other school employees cannot solve this problem alone. The only sensible answer is found in a national health care system that covers all of us – Medicare for All.
The primary fight here is not against our union leaders, it is supporting the rank-n-file activity standing up against pro-big business politicians. It’s really the legislators that are striking the deals and selling out the workers. These politicians have interest of energy companies and general private capital. We are encouraged by the workers fighting within their unions, to make them more progressive and class conscious.
The Southern Workers Assembly affirms our support for the rank-n-file members in this historic battle, and urges you to continue to build your unions. Oklahoma, like many southern states, bans public workers from having collective bargaining agreements. This forces unions into a different relationship with the decision-makers. In the days as we await the Supreme Court decision on the Janus case, which would effectively make public sector workers in all states right-to-work, we are reminded that even workers in the RTW states, concentrated in the US South, can build their unions, fightback and win. The type of mass rank-n-file action displayed by Oklahoma educators is an example for us all to follow.
Medicare for All!
Defend Union Jobs and Public Services!
Defeat Right-to-Work for Less!
Organize the South!
Southern Workers Assembly, Coordinating Committee