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The Internationalist
  August 2020

Get Ready to Strike to Make
NYC Schools Safe to Reopen

Demonstration called by Internationalist Group and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth in solidarity with anti-racist protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, at New York City's Union Square, August 30. (Internationalist photo)

On Sunday, August 30, some 80 people gathered in New York City’s Union Square to demonstrate in solidarity with the anti-racist protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A week ago, Jacob Blake was shot by police there, who fired at least seven bullets at his back in front of his three sons. His “crime”? Opening a car door while black. Unlike George Floyd and so many other victims of racist killer cops, Blake survived, paralyzed from the waist down, but was then shackled hand and foot to his hospital bed, treated like an escaped slave. Two days later, as thousands marched in the streets of Kenosha, a 17-year-old rightist vigilante gunned down two of the anti-racist protesters, Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, and seriously wounded a third, Gaige Grosskreutz, who was serving as a medic.

At the New York City solidarity demonstration, called by the Internationalist Group and the Revolutionary Internationalist Youth, one of the speakers was Marjorie Stamberg, an NYC public school teacher and former delegate of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), who is also a member of Class Struggle Education Workers and a supporter of the Internationalist Group. With the UFT poised for a possible strike authorization vote, we print her edited remarks to the rally.

Tomorrow (August 31), the UFT Executive Board is meeting and may take a strike authorization vote to say that teachers will not go back to school on September 10 unless certain safety conditions are met. After that, on September 1, there’s going to be a meeting of the highest body of the United Federation of Teachers, the Delegate Assembly, to vote to authorize a strike, to say the teachers will not go back until the schools are made safe for both the students and everybody involved in education.

I want to go back to school, teachers want to go back to school. The community spread [of the coronavirus] in New York City is very low. The environment is good enough for the students to go back. But we need certain conditions to be met. The schools need to be inspected by a body of the union, by committees of teachers and students and parents and all school workers, to inspect those schools and ensure that they have proper ventilation, that they have proper PPE [personal protective equipment], that they have proper means of support.

And that does not mean, as we saw on a video that went viral, taking a stick and putting a piece of toilet paper on top and waving it in front of a vent to see if it waves. And then when you see that three of the vents don’t make the paper wave but one does, you say “oh, the classroom’s safe.” No. We are saying that every classroom in New York City has got to be made safe, every school building has to be approved by a committee of educators and families in that school.

Point 2: Everybody that goes into those schools needs to be tested, so that we have a safe environment. This may seem like a very radical proposal, but don’t forget that to go to school children need to be vaccinated. To go back to school health conditions need to be met. There is safe and effective on-the-spot testing that can be done in 20 minutes for everyone. Why don’t we have it, why does the mayor refuse to do this? Because this costs money. They do not want to spend a dime on public education. The real agenda of the parties of the capitalist bosses is to shut down public education. They would love to see everything online. So we say that we want the schools open, but we want them safe for everybody.

Right now, we have an important opportunity. We have said for years that we need to cut class size. Okay, they are cutting class sizes, but to do this they are limiting the number of days students are in school to one to three days a week. In order to make this effective education, we need to double, triple the number of teachers. But instead we have a so-called hiring freeze. Once again, they won’t spend the money for public education. We need thousands of new teachers and educators hired for the schools. So on Monday and Tuesday, we need to vote to authorize and prepare for a strike.

Marjorie Stamberg at August 30 solidarity rally: “Every classroom in New York City has got to be made safe, every school building has to be approved by a committee of educators and families in that school.” (Internationalist photo)

But let’s make this be an effective strike, not just a walk-through. To do that we need to fight for certain things. One, we have to smash the Taylor Law that bans strikes by public employees. How are we going to smash it? We’re going to go out there and strike. They cannot arrest 100,000 teachers. Two, go out with the power of the city unions. The teachers are pretty powerful, but not alone. We need to go out with the workers of the TWU [Transport Workers Union Local 100] that keeps the city running. Once the TWU shuts it down, the city stops. We need it to be a joint strike. The transit workers themselves are facing doomsday cuts coming up.

There’s a real moment in this city to fight for workers power. We have it, but we have to use it. What’s the obstacle getting in our way? It’s what we call the union bureaucracy, the unions’ top leadership that separates itself off from the rank-and-file, and that is beholden to the Democratic Party. That is the main obstacle for the unions to be able to fight with their power. We have to oust the bureaucrats and break with the Democrats. We need a class-struggle leadership in the unions and a class-struggle workers party that will forge solidarity, not only for union workers but for every member of the oppressed and for every section of the population of New York City. So yes, let’s go out, but for a strike that wins.

We are educators, and we have come out here to say their names, because so many black people have been killed by the police, or who are fighting for their lives like Jacob Blake. The police like to present them as nameless, as not even human. So we’re going to say their names, we’re going to chant again so we know who they are. That is part of the job of teachers, to teach the real history of this country, to not let them be forgotten or walked over by history.

Many people are now saying “yes, it’s the system,” they understand that racist oppression is a system. But what is that system? It is the system of racist American capitalism that was built on the bedrock of chattel slavery and which is still behind the oppression and superexploitation of black people. Our task is to be a “tribune of the people,” and to understand that black and Latino and Asian workers of this city and this country are in the vanguard of that fight for liberation.

So what do we need? It’s hard to believe that 56 years after Brown v. Board of Education, here in the North, New York City has been designated the most segregated school system in the country. And it’s going to stay that way as long as we have capitalist rulers. What do we need to do specifically to fight the segregation in New York City? We need to get rid of the so-called “gifted and talented” programs. We need to get rid of the specialized high schools. We need to make high-quality education available in every school in New York City.

We also need to get rid of these very poisonous “implicit bias trainings” that are a mark of this schools chancellor [Richard Carranza], because what that does is divert attention from the systematic racism of American capitalism, from the fight to integrate the schools, which they have abandoned. It divides our working class, whereas we desperately need unity. So these are some of our demands.

Finally, we need cops out of the schools. We marched day after day after day after the murder of George Floyd. We wanted to get the cops out of the schools. So what did [NYC mayor Bill] de Blasio and the ruling class do? They said, “Oh yeah, we’re going to defund the police.” It’s sleight of hand. They take the money from the NYPD budget and put it into the D.O.E. [Department of Education] budget to pay the salary of the NYPD who are still in the schools, they are still in their uniforms. That has not changed, just as it never stops – the racist killing of black people. So we have to say, “cops out of the schools,” “down with the school-to-prison pipeline,” and “cops out of the unions.” We’ve got to get the schools open. And how are we going to fight for this? We need to fight for an end to the whole system of racist capitalism, through socialist revolution.

And particularly, we don’t need mayoral control of the schools. We don’t need that schmendrick down there in City Hall telling us what to do, or the chancellor. We are in the schools, we are the teachers, we are the educators, the parents, the students, we know how to run the schools. So we need to fight for teacher-student-parent-worker control of the schools and get rid of the whole crowd down at Tweed [D.O.E. headquarters] who are making wrong decisions every time. Thank you. [Chants: Cops out of the unions, cops out of the schools!] ■