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Oakland teachers and ILWU strike against racism and gentrification

Reports from the front


Bill Balderston reports of labor actions in the East Bay, directed against school closures and gentrification. A show of solidarity in common struggles against gentrification and racism in Oakland.

On Friday, April 29th, Oakland teachers, members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA), waged a one day strike in protest over school closures. Eleven schools are being targeted in total, with three of them slated for next year.

The strike was extremely successful. Ninety four percent of the OEA members went out on strike. A similar percentage of students and parents did not come to school (as the District had acknowledged the schools would not be functioning that day). And there were active pickets at nearly all 85 sites. There were also large numbers of parents and community activists (including from the Democratic Socialists of America and other left groups) on the picket lines, especially at the targeted schools.

In addition, there were members of other teacher unions in the region (Berkeley, San Francisco, et al. ) who turned out in solidarity. SEIU Local 1021, whose members include school workers, were also present, along with leaders from the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association, to which OEA is affiliated. Even members of the principals union were in the house (or in this case, outside). There was a workers/ community festival later in the morning, celebrating the militant turnout.

The core of this strike was that such closures especially impacted schools that were majority black and brown students. The ACLU has filed action against OUSD for racial discrimination and demanded the state attorney general, Rob Bonta, to take up the case.

The strike itself was an Unfair Labor Practice action (thus, the one day length), based on the violation of agreements in the 2019 OEA contract and pandemic MOUs, by the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD).  The agreements had specified a process of negotiations before proposing any school closures. These proposed closures even contradicted a policy passed by the school board the previous October.

Thus, when OUSD threatened action, they had no basis for an injunction.

Flyer for the April 29 SLAP rally and march.

What made the OEA strike even more impactful, was that it coincided with a one-day strike called by the longshore workers, ILWU Local 10, over the proposal for a new stadium to be constructed directly next to the port of Oakland. This development project is championed by Donald Fisher, the primary owner of the Oakland A’s baseball team and the head of the GAP corporation. Of relevance, Fisher, his wife, and GAP are also major proponents of the charter school movement. In reality—and similar to the school closures struggle—the Local 10 fight primarily centers around issues of economic development, gentrification, and disparate impact.

The coordination of the two mobilizations was organized by a coalition called Schools and Labor Against Privatization (SLAP), initiated by Local 10, but involving many teachers and other labor/ community activists. There was a rally at city hall in the afternoon, opposing both the stadium project and school closures, and then many folks, including substantial numbers of teachers, went to support the ILWU by picketing at the docks. The OEA, and its president Keith Brown, publicized this rally and reaffirmed our support for Local 10, but did not formally endorse the event, due to a major divide in the labor movement in Alameda County, with the majority of the Labor Council, especially the building trades and Teamsters, backing the stadium.  Nonetheless, there were a large number of OEA members at the city hall rally and at the docks. As the SLAP media advisory put it, Same Struggle, Same Fight!

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Bill Balderston View All

Bill Balderston is a member and organizer for the Oakland Education Association.