USA: Denver teachers fight against austerity

For the first time in 25 years teachers are walking off the job in Denver, Colorado, demanding better working conditions and a fair compensation system.

Teachers across the USA are demanding better working conditions and an end to austerity. The latest union to take strike action, yesterday, 11 February is The Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association. They struck for higher salaries and a change in the bonus system. After The strike was called after 15 months of failed negotiations between the school district and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), a member of the National Education Association (NEA, affiliated to Education International). This is the first strike in Denver in a quarter of a century. They received considerable support from students who joined them in the walkout.

A system undermined by austerity

Teacher turnover in Denver has been steadily increasing as real salaries have been decreasing. Educators are forced to rely on bonuses and incentives that are beyond their control, as part of a system established in 2005. “Unfortunately, bonuses are really variable, and we can't depend on them from year to year," social studies teacher Nick Childers told CNN news. The union said it's still waiting for "a fair, competitive and transparent salary schedule that prioritizes base salary over complicated, unreliable bonuses.

In town to support the Denver teachers strike, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said the labour unrest should serve as a cautionary tale for other districts that want to pay teachers in bonuses and incentives: “There is not one school district in the country that is going to look at Denver and think, ‘Oh, I think I’ll try that.’ No. They should have stopped this and changed this years ago, and they didn’t. And this is the result.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), also a member of Education International, said these walkouts are part of a broader trend of teachers combatting decade-long systematic funding problems in public education. “Our communities have made clear that they want safe, strong public schools, where kids can learn and where teachers can teach,” Weingarten explained.

A winning wave of collective action

According to the newspaper The Guardian (US edition), teachers in Oakland and Sacramento in California are also potentially heading toward strikes in coming weeks as part of a broader wave of actions that occurred in several states and cities in 2018. Those strikes led to significant victories for teachers in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Arizona, and, most recently, Los Angeles.

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