In response to the Burlington teachers strike some lawmakers have introduced legislation to take away their right to strike (“Burlington fuels debate over banning teachers strikes,” Sept. 18, 2017). We must oppose this misguided, knee jerk proposal.
Why? The strike itself proved to be the fastest path to an agreement. After months of unsuccessful negotiations a four day strike brought resolution. And, perhaps more importantly, the right to organize and strike are fundamental democratic rights and it is bad precedent to take away a right simply because citizens decided to exercise it.
After all, no one wants to outlaw protest rallies because citizens decided to hold them. Even if we didn’t like the message.
One has to see the effort to ban strikes as an attack on a fundamental right and an attempt to undermine the strength and existence of unions. Knowing it is no coincidence that the weakening of unions has mirrored the rise in income inequality, stagnant wages and fewer benefits – clear signs of a middle class losing economic and political power.
It is also part of ongoing efforts to weaken faith in our public schools and teachers at a time when we are asking them to take on more responsibilities that used to be shouldered by family and social agencies. This is underscored by schools continuing to provide lunch to kids during the strike and that teachers concerns centered on wanting to spend more time with students and working to close the achievement gap that undermines opportunities for lower income kids.
While some will always say it’s only about money, there is something more important going on here. I think most Vermonters agree that our schools and teachers deserve our financial support. That’s why the very great majority of school budgets are approved at the local level.
But as important as financial support, our schools – teachers, staff and school boards – deserve our moral support and respect for the important work they do educating and caring for our kids.
Public schools are more than places to learn the basics. They are the heart of our communities. They are where our kids learn to live together, get along, resolve conflicts, get the support they need to succeed and, yes, exercise their rights. They are the foundation of our democracy.
Let’s also remember that unions played a major role in building the middle class in America. Anyone who appreciates the 40 hour work week, the weekend, child labor laws or workplace safety rules should appreciate committed union members, actually just regular working folks, who organized to make them possible. Including the right to organize and to strike.
Fact is, our once strong middle class has all but disappeared along with union households.
So, instead of turning on our neighbors, who are working together to achieve income security and decent benefits, we should stand with them and seek the same for the rest of us.
Bottom line – we should appreciate our teachers and schools and we should not weaken citizens rights simply because they exercise them.
Anthony Pollina, of Middlesex, is a state senator for Washington County
and chairman of the Vermont Progressive Party.