Barbara Madeloni

Strikes Are Hard Work

Dedham educators in red, on a picket line, with red and white signs.

They stood on a picket line at the entrance to the school parking lot: seven educators out on strike for the first time.

Public sector strikes are illegal in Massachusetts. But the night before, after two years of fruitless negotiations, the 300 members of the Dedham Education Association had voted overwhelming to walk out.

Now educators lined the main street from the high school to the middle school, celebrating each passing car that honked support.

“I’m nervous,” said one. “I am a new teacher, two years in the district.”

Crowd of LIttle Rock educators and supporters in support of LREA.

The site of struggle to defend unions and public education has moved quickly from Chicago to Little Rock.

The 1,800-member Little Rock Education Association began preparing for a potential strike after the Arkansas State Board of Education ended recognition of the union. Their demands: return collective bargaining rights to LREA, give full local control of the school district back to the people of Little Rock, and provide education support professionals with raises that were being negotiated at the time that the union was decertified.

Defying Injunction, Massachusetts Teachers Strike

Line of workers on picket line in red union T-shirts holding signs that say "Dedham Education Association on Strike" and "Fair Contract Now"

In Massachusetts, strikes are unlawful for public sector workers. That didn’t stop the Dedham Educators Association from walking out this morning after an overwhelming 248- 2 (out of 280 members) strike vote last night.

The educators in this Boston suburb are crying foul about health insurance costs that eat into their salaries, and district demands for more time on the clock and in professional development without any increase in compensation. Teachers are also demanding contract language that allows for real enforcement of sexual harassment policies.

Three Chicago teachers, one with bullhorn and two with arms flexed.

In 2012 the Chicago Teachers Union woke up union members and educators across the country with a winning strike. Seven years later, after a wave of teacher strikes in the last two years, CTU is at it again.

As educators walk out today, a lot feels like 2012. The strike authorization vote was high (94 percent) and the mayor is disparaging their demands and branding the strike as hurtful to children.


But there are noteworthy differences.

Refuse the Soft Handshake


“Hey, Barbara. This is Arne Duncan. I just wanted to congratulate you on your election victory.”

In 2014, as an insurgent candidate from the Educators for a Democratic Union caucus, I won the presidency of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Duncan, then Obama’s Secretary of Education, was one of the first congratulation calls I got. The message he left on my phone provoked lots of astonished laughter when I shared it at meetings and in bars.

Less Messaging, More Action

L.A. teachers in red rallying during their January 2019 strike.

You’re at a union meeting, brainstorming for a campaign, when a hand shoots up. “What we need is better messaging. Can we get a billboard? Maybe we could make a meme.”

We’ve all been there. Maybe you’ve said it yourself. It seems like common sense that if we can just find the right words and the correct medium, we’ll win over our fellow workers, or the community, or politicians.

I was frustrated daily by this logic when I was president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, leading the campaign against a ballot question that would allow for more charter schools.

Dan Clawson, labor organizer, scholar, and activist, died suddenly of a heart attack on May 7. We had just come off of our Massachusetts Teachers Association annual meeting, where Educators for a Democratic Union, the caucus Dan helped to form, beat back attempts to strip the budget of organizing funds and won a motion calling for a national teachers’ strike for the Green New Deal. In our caucus meetings throughout the weekend, Dan was clarifying strategy and reminding us that we shouldn’t back away from conflict when taking a principled stand.

VIDEO: Fighting Austerity and the Boss in Higher Education

The ivory tower of academia does not protect its workers. Across the country, austerity politics are bleeding colleges and universities dry, opening the door for the corporate takeover of higher education. But, like their colleagues in elementary and secondary education, higher education workers are fighting back.

Labor Notes staff member Barbara Madeloni led a conversation with higher education activists on on Tuesday, May 7.

It's Our World to Make

Teachers on a picket line in Los Angeles January 2019

The guy at the car rental counter found my T-shirt puzzling.

It was early on a Tuesday morning, and I had just flown back into L.A. Why, he wanted to know, was someone from Massachusetts wearing a shirt that said “United Teachers Los Angeles”?

I explained that I had been out the week before to support the teachers strike. I was back for a second round because this strike was important to educators across the country.

“The whole country? Why?”

“Don’t start those buses tomorrow,” said Joe White, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association.

He was announcing the second statewide education strike in West Virginia in a year, alongside the leaders of the state’s two teacher unions.

The next morning, February 19, buses throughout the state sat idle in garages.

And by the middle of the day, strikers declared victory with the defeat of an anti-union, pro-privatization education bill in the state House.