Pay raises, affordable healthcare: Teachers strike across the country

West Virginia teachers, wildcat strikers, on the move

When teachers in West Virginia closed every school in the state for nine days to strike for better wages and better healthcare plans, other educators, and the public around the country, took notice. One of the key issues of the West Virginia teachers was the Public Employee Insurance Agency, or PEIA, and the increasing payments from employees’ paychecks alongside the lack of quality take-home pay for teachers. West Virginian teachers rank 48th in the country in terms of pay, and any raise agreed upon between the West Virginia Education Association and the state would not have been enough to cover the rising PEIA costs.

Instead of caving to the governments’ demands, and suggestions to return to work from the union leaders, West Virginia teachers continued striking two days longer than the union had wanted; when a tentative “agreement” for a five percent raise for teachers and three percent raise for public sector workers was announced by union leaders, the teachers balked, rejecting the agreement and voting to continue the strike, shouting, “We are the union bosses!” and “Back to the table!” The fear would be that the raises would not do anything to fix the more pressing concern of rising healthcare costs, which, teachers argued, would only have short term impact. Chants echoed at the state capitol while the Senate was in session, “Pass that bill or we walk out!” “Hey, hey, whaddya say, fund PEIA!” In the end, instead of a watered down 3-4% raise, the Senate passed a 5% raise and will consider long term action for fixing the state’s public employee healthcare system.

News of the success in the teachers’ strike seems to be emboldening educators in other states. Oklahoma teachers, the lowest paid in the country, are considering a strike, the first major strike since 1990, to demand higher pay from the State Legislature. Teachers in the state are so underpaid that there has been an educator crisis, forcing the state the allow for three day weekends to entice teachers to work in Oklahoma.

On February 26, graduate student workers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign launched a strike to protect tuition waivers, which the university is planning to roll back by allowing academic departments to exclude students in their program from being members of the Graduate Student Union (GEO) bargaining unit. The strike also aims to making graduate education accessible for all students, demanding comprehensive childcare, healthcare and financial provisions to keep access to graduate level education open to poor and working-class people. The “Education for All” proposal was announced on day four of the strike.

In New Jersey, Jersey City educators have voted to strike, demanding relief from the rising cost of insurance. The union and teachers are demanding a reform of a Christie Era law, signed in 2011, called Chapter 78. The law required teachers to begin paying for their healthcare costs by percentages that increased over a four-year phase-in. Now that the four years are over, the district is permitted to allow teachers to pay a lower contribution than Chapter 78 requires, something the school board does not want to give in on. Any raises from the contract would not cover the cost of the healthcare payments, as one special education teacher pointed out, “I’m making less than I was five years ago.” As of today, the teachers are still working without a contract.

The rising tide of labor, like waking a slumbering giant, is a welcome relief form the ongoing attack on unions across the country, especially during the Trump administration. This time, instead of relying on union bosses, teachers relied on a collective, on each other, and on public support. And they’re winning.

University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign graduate students, strikers, on the move

 

(Photo Credit 1: In These Times / West Virginia Education Association / Facebook) (Photo Credit 2: In These Times / GEO / Facebook)

Paris chambermaids strike against the cleaning inequalities of the neoliberal state

In Paris the chambermaids of the Holiday inn of Clichy in the Northern district of Paris are striking in a struggle for dignity in the face of increasing dehumanization of service workers. They have decried their work conditions with the company Héméra that contract their work to the Holiday Inn. The workers went on strike after they realized that some of their colleagues had been redirected to another hotel far away, and that workloads had increased while wages stagnated. This is part of a general workers’ response to mounting inequality.

Recently, inequality has resurfaced as a major issue in “democratic” as well as in non-democratic nations. Last week, the Word Inequality Report brought to light a multilayer study of the global rise in inequality. Although Europe has seen a slower increase of inequality, compared to the rest of the world, the increase is still significant and even more troublesome since the European model supposedly relied on a system of protections against inequality.

Employment deregulation and privatization have been touted as a rational means to resist competition in Western Europe.  In the process of privatizing services, cleaners who were employed by hotels or public services are now generally employed by service companies that contract their work. This process lowers the conditions of employment. Service provider companies have multiplied, fragmenting the gained negotiating power of workers and unions. The majority of the people thus employed are women as are 70% of the poor in the world.

Within Europe, until recently France had retained some of the best labor protections, but in recent years the labor code has been reshaped under the pretext that it was too complicated. Most recently, President Macron struck the final blow, redefining labor protection.

At the Holiday Inn in Clichy, the chambermaids said, “NO!”. Blandine Laurenjolla, a chambermaid at the Holiday Inn in Clichy with 10 years seniority, was being forced to transfer to a hotel a few hours away from her home. She is a mother of four, the youngest is only 11 months old. When she complained that she would have to leave her home every day at 4 AM, she was told that with young children she should stay home. In total 2 women were forced to transfer. These transfers and the constant pressure of Héméra company on their domestic workers was such that the strike was voted and supported by a large movement of solidarity. Even some customers of the hotel showed their support.

Thus far, Héméra and the Holiday Inn have turned a blind eye to the demand for dignity and respect for work. Additionally, the workers face constant police pressure, as a chambermaid told us: “I am a chambermaid, we are picketing and demonstrating every day. The management ignores us they send the police every day.” The district’s congresswoman has said that they were not the most visible and “important” personnel of the Hotel, not the people who count. Language opposing people who count to people who are invisible has increased. This language signifies inequality.

The struggle against invisibility is constant in the cleaning service as this crucial work is in patriarchy traditionally attributed to women.

The contracted cleaners of 75 train stations of the northern “transilien” Paris railroad network went on strike after their company was sold to another service provider company in November. The companies merge, sale and buy and the workers’lives are negotiated to a lower grade. After 44 days of strike, the movement succeeded in obtaining their affiliation to the railroad collective agreement with an increase in their bonuses, a guarantee of not being transferred without their agreement and other small advantages.

This strike was a success because the train stations were visibly dirty and dirtier every day. The work of the cleaners was visible in the absence of it. Then, the public train service was more willing to push for a better ending than the warped service businesses left alone.

These movements of resistance by the invisible contracted women workers reminds us of the importance of solidarity. Contracting work is a process key in transferring public power and money into private hands that practice individualism with no concern for a sense of human dignity. The world has never been so rich and the public wealth never so low. That is the source of a human catastrophe.

 

(Photo Credit: Julien Jaulin / Hanslucas / Humanité)

In India, school girls go on strike for education and respect … and win!

On May 10, 86 school girls decided to upset the sleep of the “sleepy hamlet” of Gothra Tappa Dahina in the Rewari district of the Haryana state, in India. Fed up with administrators and parents who thought less than nothing of the sexual harassment the girls endured every day on their way to and from school, the girls decided to go on strike, with 13 of them going on hunger strike. A week later, the administration gave in to the girls’ principal demands. Since then, other school girls have started similar strikes. As with the school girls in Malawi, the school girls of Rewari know that they deserve a decent education, and that that includes the trip to and from school. With that knowledge, they may have started a school girls’ movement that will do more than disrupt the sleep of many. It may be an awakening.

The story is straightforward. The local school stops at 10th grade. That means for 11th and 12th grades, the girls must walk about 3 kilometers to the next village. According to the girls, they complained about the abuse they received on their walk to and from school. They petitioned the administration to upgrade their local school to include 11th and 12th grades. They received no response. They urged their parents to push for upgrading the local school. Some told the girls it’s better to be quiet; sexual harassment of girls and women has been going on forever. Others were more supportive but couldn’t offer much else. And so, the girls took action. As Sheetal, one of the hunger strikes, explained, “Almost every day, we face eve teasing. Should we stop studying? Should we stop dreaming? Are only rich people and their children allowed to dream? The government should protect us or open a higher-secondary school in our village.” Parents joined the strike, laying down their work tools and protesting outside the school. On May 17, 10 of the hunger strikers were sent to hospital, as the Haryana state government agreed to upgrade the school.

In the subsequent days, this big win for the Rewari girls has been followed by similar strikes by school girls in Gurugram and Palwal districts, both in Haryana state. Sapna Kumari, one of striking students in Gurugram, explained, “Some girls have to drop out after Class 10th because their parents do not want to send them to school afar, fearing their safety. Those who manage to convince them face problems of eve-teasing everyday. Be it buses, autos, the problem does not end.” Her school is 4 kilometers away. Anjali, one of the striking students in Palwal district, asked, “How can daughters study when there was no government school up to senior secondary level in their village?”

These school girls know the meaning of education, and they know they deserve it. Period. They know that a state that creates unsafe conditions for girls on their way to and from school has no commitment to girls’ education. They also know that they have the power to move the State and change the world, and now the school girls of Haryana are teaching that lesson to the rest of the world.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Hindustan Times) (Photo Credit 2: Times of India)

Harmondsworth, where a sense of humanity is lost

Asylum seekers in detention in the United Kingdom are on strike. They object to being treated as trash. The action began last Friday at Harmondsworth IRC, Immigration Removal Centre. Over 300 prisoners staged a sit-down protest and hunger strike. They are protesting the fast-track deportation program; the toxic health care system; the lack of access to legal representation, and more: “They’re not running detention. It’s like prison over here.”

The spark, this time, was a broken fax machine. The fax machine broke and was left broken for days. That meant prisoners could not file their appeals against deportation. Everything came to a standstill. For the prison, the fax was just another machine. For the prisoners, it meant life or death.

The urgency that turns a fax machine into a lifeline is produced by the fast-track system, which places practically every asylum seeker into a 14-day pressure cooker, during which they must do everything, from find an attorney to learn English to get comfortable speaking the unspeakable suffering and pain. Fourteen days. The detention center is not a detention center. It’s a prison. And the prison is not a prison. It’s a factory, and its business is removal.

On Tuesday, 20 prisoners in Brook House IRC staged an all-night protest in the exercise yard. They all refused to return to their cells. Over 50 prisoners at Colnbrook IRC have also engaged in a collective action. Yesterday, at Campsfield IRC, near Oxford, about 50 prisoners started a hunger strike. In each instance, the prison’s response has been to take the bulk of prisoners and dump them into solitary. That’s what you do with defective parts.

At 615 prisoners, Harmondsworth IRC is one of Europe’s largest detention centers. It has always been an abomination. The conditions have always been inhumane. Last year, a surprise visit by the Chief Inspector of Prisons found mismanagement and worse: “A number of security procedures lacked proportionality. Separation was being used excessively and was not in line with the Detention Centre Rules. Disturbingly, a lack of intelligent individual risk assessment had meant that most detainees were handcuffed on escort and on at least two occasions, elderly, vulnerable and incapacitated detainees, one of whom was terminally ill, were needlessly handcuffed in an excessive and unacceptable manner. These men were so ill that one died shortly after his handcuffs were removed and the other, an 84 year-old-man, died while still in restraints. These are shocking cases where a sense of humanity was lost.”

They should be shocking cases. They’re not. The State responded by yanking the prison contract from Geo and giving it to Mitie, which is to say no response at all. Harmondsworth has been a private operation since the 1970s, and it’s been bad for forty years. There is no shock at the end of four decades of abuse.

Ten years ago, doctors commented on the inappropriate shackling of sick and dying prisoners: “I had told the manager of the centre that in my professional opinion handcuffing was wholly inappropriate. We have a number of detainees brought here in cuffs. The question is: at what point does a doctor’s intervention cease to carry weight?” There is no room for shock. In 2007, the Inspectorate found Harmondsworth was more a high-security prison than an immigration removal center, complete with over use of solitary confinement and unrestricted antagonism from prison staff. In other words, they found in 2007 what they found last year.

In 2004, the atrocity of Harmondsworth’s mental health care and health care was so bad it inspired doctors to form Medical Justice. Today, despite advocacy and services, the vulnerability of asylum seekers means less than nothing. It provides one more reason to speed up the line and move them out more quickly.

In 2005, Amnesty wrote extensively about the horror of Harmondsworth. In 2006, the Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers commented: ‘This is undoubtedly the poorest report we have issued on an Immigration Removal Centre’. And what comes of these reports? Some other corporation gets the contract, and then, two years later, the Inspector is shocked.

In 2010, the Inspector found there was no information about legal rights and no up to date legal materials available for prisoners. The only legal help for prisoners was a consultation room open for only ten hours a week. In any week, only 20 clients could be seen. So, the room was booked two weeks in advance. But unrepresented prisoners in the fast track could not defer their asylum interviews for lack of legal counsel. So, by the time legal help was available, their claims had been refused and appeals dismissed. It’s a perfect amped up production line factory system.

Since 1989, 21 people have died in immigration removal centers in the United Kingdom. At the top of the list, with eight deaths, is the Harmondsworth IRC. Stop being `shocked’. Close Harmondsworth. End the brutality of fast-track asylum, which turns time into torture. One Campsfield prisoner explained, “We want our freedom. We want our life with dignity.” It’s time.

 

(Photo Credit: Snipview.com)

Strike: Open Letter on the Spring 2013 IU Strike

There are many involved in planning a strike at Indiana University on April 11th and 12th. Hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty, staff, and community members, have been involved in intense planning and outreach over the past few months.

On the days of the strike, an abundance of classes will be cancelled. There will be teach-ins at Showalter Fountain, BH109, and assorted classrooms in Woodburn Hall. These teach-ins have been made possible through difficult face-to-face organizing by a large group of committed individuals.

Students have demands that include: immediately reducing tuition and eliminating fees; stopping privatization and outsourcing; ending the wage freeze; making the university honor its promise to double the enrollment of African-American students to 8%; the abolition of both HB1402 and SB590, and defense of the rights of undocumented students; and finally, no retaliation for participating in or organizing for the strike.

Graduate students have put together a pamphlet calling for instructors to cancel their classes. To start the conversation, they propose to do the following: oppose rising tuition and debt; advocate for a cap on the number of students per instructor; address the demise of tenure and job security; recognize graduate students as employees; and address the lack of representation on the Board of Trustees.

In addition, 117 faculty have signed a petition agreeing that the administration should refrain from punitive measures against the strikers and engage in a dialogue about these issues.

Student, faculty, and staff representatives can negotiate with the administration to provide immediate steps forward, and sometimes they solve very important problems. Some just on the horizon include increased sustainability and gender-neutral housing on our campus.

However, this strike – for many of us – is not about immediate solutions and minor reforms. It’s about not being silent about things that matter. This is much bigger than a pass for skipping class. This is the embodiment of opposition to the end of public education as we know it. This is more than just civil disobedience – it is the creation of community that resists the policies that keep society’s knowledge locked behind doors that open only to those with golden keys.

IU on Strike has already gotten national attention, and it hasn’t even happened yet. We wouldn’t be talking about these issues if it wasn’t for the hard work individuals have put into publicizing this strike.

These fellow staff, students, faculty, and community members are not your enemy. What the future really needs from us is to come together and build momentum, rather than fight each other.

There is something special going on here at Indiana University right now. You can be involved in something much bigger than yourself, and learn more than you could possibly imagine. I know I have learned more from these people than I would ever have dreamed.

 

(Photo Credit: Indiana Public Media / Gretchen Frazee)