The months leading up to the school year is known as 'Strike Season' for the education workers and teachers of Pennsylvania. Two nearby school district workers are fighting the cuts the school boards are trying to impose on them; at present through their union (National Education Association) negotiating teams- though the threat of striking has been made.
The heavy rain of cuts and austerity is constant and unrelenting. The bourgeoisie is often not acting just to benefit (or salvage) the immediate situation, but also to use the crisis to force unfavorable conditions and contracts against sections of the working class that typically fight back readily to attacks on their living standards. One such instance is the recent teachers collective bargaining negotiations in Chambersburg, PA. On Wednesday, December 1st, the Chambersburg Area School Board unanimously voted down the most recent incarnation of the collective bargaining agreement with the Chambersburg Area Education Association (CAEA- affiliated with the National Education Association union). After voting down the initial contract on the table, the school board brought in a negotiator, The negotiator put forward his recommendations, to which the union agreed, and the school board rejected it. Next the school board hired a 'fact-finder', whose evaluation was almost the same as the negotiator. This fact-finder report was also rejected. After refusing all of these proposals, school board president Norm Blowers said in a statement that they have, "Taken another step in [our] efforts to adjust to the new reality of this school districts finances."
The two main unions in the United States that represent teachers and other education workers are the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. Of the two, the NEA is considered the more conservative; yet this fight against the living standards, benefits and wages of education workers is enough to make parts of the membership of the NEA take an increasingly militant stand. Chambersburg Area Education Association president Dave Snyder said, "This rejection by the board takes us one step closer to striking. . . I'm just saying if you look at the process. . . this is one of the last hoops you have to jump through before you start thinking about whether you really need to strike. . ."
Nearby Waynesboro, PA is going through a nearly identical ordeal. The local school board has been using parliamentary, procedural roadblocks to slow the collective bargaining process down, wearing on the goodwill and patience of this workforce. Since the labor unions have become tools of the state to enforce industrial peace and the interests of the national capital, the likely path the Waynesboro Area Education Association will take is one of attempted conciliation. Even though the initial contracts in both Chambersburg and Waynesboro could be classified as 'modest' at best, and have been recommended by state mandated negotiators and fact-finders (the Waynesboro contract is, as of Tuesday December 7th, just going to a fact-finder), they are still unanimously rejected by the school boards. The likely scenario is that they will push for as many cuts against the teachers and education workers living and working standards as possible, and the union will try and force the contract through, or the increasingly angry and militant workforce will strike and defend their hard won benefits and standards (as the Chambersburg teachers are threatening). Either eventuality will be a win for the ruling class- if a long drawn out procedural battle and union salesmanship on a terrible contract ends with ratification, a number of 'bonus' victories will be scored against the teachers and education workers on top of making them pay for the recession (such as no salary percentage increases for 3 years in Waynesboro and a hiring freeze for 39 'nonessential positions' in Chambersburg for example). If the teachers in one, both or more PA school districts strike, the media campaign (locally and nationally) will be relentless and extremely cruel. Teachers, along with other largely state employed professions, have become a target for the bourgeoisie to blame for the recession and large deficits and further confuse the working class as to the origins and contributing factors to the current global economic crisis. The recent anti-teacher, anti-worker movie ‘Waiting For Superman’ is an example of the kind of bourgeois propaganda that seeks to target and victimize one section of the working class by turning the rest of the class against it. Even a successful strike (that led to a decent contract, unified more than one school districts education workers in struggle, etc) could be a defeat, as the moral loss such a media campaign can cause is difficult to quantify.
The media is already rumbling against the teachers and education workers before strikes have begun. The December 5th Herald-Mail article, “PA Remains National Leader In Teacher Strikes,” emphasizes how Pennsylvania teachers go on strike more than any other states teachers. The author of the article cheerleads for Republican lawmakers who are likely to try and ‘be tough’ on the public education workers by banning strikes among teachers (as 37 other states in the United States have done).
These attacks on the standard of living on teachers and public education workers in two Pennsylvania school districts are just a glimpse of the all encompassing assault on the living and working standards, wages and benefits, of all workers everywhere. Becoming isolated in our own back yard is the first step to defeating a struggling group of workers before a strike action even begins. Only through solidarity and spreading the struggle to other workplaces, other groups of workers, other industries, can every section of the working class defend itself and repel the attacks of the bourgeoisie.
Chambersburg Area School Board rejects teacher contract proposal
By C.J. LOVELACE
December 1, 2010
Chambersburg teachers union ponders next bargaining move
By C.J. LOVELACE
December 3, 2010
Teachers, board to vote on fact-finding report
By JENNIFER FITCH
December 7, 2010
Pa. Remains National Leader In Teacher Strikes
Dec 5, 11:03 AM EST
By MARK SCOLFORO