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The Internationalist
  September 2020

Prepare a Joint UFT/AFSCME/TWU Strike Against “Doomsday” Cuts

NYC Teachers: Use Your Union Power
to Make Schools Safe to Reopen

(Above) Class Struggle Education Workers, the Internationalist Group and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth on August 3, protesting against NYC mayor de Blasio’s plans for unsafe school reopening. (Below) Internationalists say: “Where infection rates are low, schools should reopen safely with billions for: Sanitation & ventilation, Triple classrooms now, No hiring freeze, hire thousands.” (Internationalist photos)

By Class Struggle Education Workers/UFT

SEPTEMBER 6 – New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans to reopen city schools on September 10, after they have been shut down since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, sparked widespread unrest among teachers and other school employees. Many are concerned over unsafe classrooms, others want the schools to stay closed until there are no cases of COVID-19. The pressure from the ranks was so strong that, on August 19, United Federation of Teachers (UFT) leader Michael Mulgrew held a press conference in which he presented a checklist of conditions to be met before reopening and vowed that “every single person, both adult and child, who is to enter a New York public school must have evidence that they do not have the COVID virus.” If the UFT’s demands were not met, the UFT leader said, “the union is prepared to go to court and/or go on strike if we need to.” The UFT has not struck in 45 years, and doing so would clearly violate the state’s vicious Taylor Law banning strikes by public employees.

(Internationalist photo)

De Blasio’s July 31 submission to state education authorities of unspecific plans for school reopening had set off weeks of turmoil. AFSCME District 37, which represents school staff, objected that conditions in the schools were not safe, principals represented by the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators said they were not ready. As the deadline approached, the UFT and NYC Department of Education (D.O.E.) announced separate teams to inspect the schools, plans for a chaotic “hybrid” model of “blended learning” (with staggered days of in-person and remote instruction) were discussed, parents were polled on whether they would send their children to school or opt for “remote-only.” But on September 1, Mulgrew and de Blasio announced a deal to delay reopening until September 21, while teachers (except those with medical accommodations) were told to report to the schools on September 8. The tabloids declared that the mayor “backed down” (Daily News) and was “outclassed again” (New York Post).

In reality, it was the UFT leader who caved. Schools were clearly not ready anyway, but the union negotiators abandoned demands that everyone be tested before reopening. Instead no tests will be required at reopening. Ventilation reports from the D.O.E. or the UFT are still unavailable. But even the union’s original demands were far too limited. A spokesman for Class Struggle Education Workers insisted 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,” that “we need thousands of new teachers and educators hired,” and it should be a joint strike with transit workers and all city employees that could shred the Taylor Law (see “Get Ready to Strike to Make NYC Schools Safe to Reopen,” The Internationalist, 30 August). But the deal between the unions and the city is not the final word. Educators can still use their power to make schools safe.

(Internationalist photo)

Class Struggle Education Workers calls on union chapters of teachers and staff at each school and every building, working together with parents and students, to insist that they – and not some educrats at D.O.E. headquarters in Tweed Courthouse – must approve the reopening in detail, after union-led inspection together with outside experts. If the necessary repairs have not been made, if ventilation is still inadequate, if additional staff has not been hired to ensure small class sizes, with limits specified in a formal agreement to be adhered to in the future, then strike action by the unions, with mass pickets joined by students and parents, should block any attempt at an unsafe reopening. And when the schools are ready to open, then point-of-care rapid testing for COVID-19 should be required for all. UFT members are the union, not Mulgrew and some bureaucrats at 52 Broadway. If the education workers who make the public schools run hang tough, we can win. Teachers unions right now have power like never before – we have to use it.  ■

See also: “The Fight Over Reopening Schools Is a Class Battle” (6 September 2020)

A Class Struggle Program to Reopen New York City Schools Safety” (6 September 2020)