The recently settled strike by thirty thousand Los Angeles public-school teachers offers a timely reminder of what organized labor can achieve with a well-planned and well-executed work stoppage. Union leaders began preparations about two years ago, and when teachers walked off the job in mid-January there was a clear strategy in place for articulating their demands. These included pay raises of 6 percent, smaller class sizes, and greater funding for support staff and other resources. All of those demands were accepted in the tentative deal reached with the city six days later.
The Los Angeles strike was the latest in a series of successful teacher walkouts, following strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and elsewhere. Like teachers in those states, the Los Angeles strikers had widespread public support, underscoring the reality that Americans by and large have a positive view of both teachers and organized labor. But unlike the 2018 “red-state rebellion,” in which grassroots activism fueled strikes against Republican governments openly hostile to organized labor, the Los Angeles teachers’ strike unfolded as a traditional, union-led effort in a progressive, Democratic city in the bluest (and wealthiest) state in the nation. California’s public schools have been chronically underfunded since the infamous passage in 1978 of Proposition 13, which cut and capped the property taxes that used to support them. A recent study shows that spending for low-income districts falls 47 percent below the baseline established by the state itself. While there has been talk of raising the limit on corporate property taxes to help fund schools, so far no official proposal has been made. Property taxes remain the third rail of politics in California—home to the highest concentration of billionaires on the planet—and the Los Angeles strike isn’t likely to change that reality.