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Public Education, Privatization, and Class Struggle

Saturday, October 24, 2020
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Event Type:
United Front Committee For A Labor Party
Location Details:

10/24 Public Education, Privatization, and Class Struggle

Public Education, Privatization, and Class Struggle
Saturday, October 24, 2020 at 12 PM PDT/2PM CST/3PM EST – 2:30 PM PDT
The billionaires have been looting public education resources and funds for a long time. They have been privatizing public schools. They have been handing out federal and state funds meant for higher education to “financial experts” retired from the IMF. In the last few years, militant teachers, school staff, and teaching assistants have been striking to fight back. This year on California ballot, Proposition 15 promises new taxes to fund public education. Did the billionaires have a sudden change of heart?
Join us for a discussion with distinguished panelists who have been on the forefront of the fight for high-quality public education!
Beth Bowser, UCB UFCLP
Rick Baum, AFT 2121 SF City College
Angie Sijun Lou, UCSC COLA Striker
Carol Lang, AFT PSC Cuny
George Wright, AFT 1493 Skyline College & CSUC Retired

UFCLP Public Education Forum
Time: Oct 24, 2020 12:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)
Sponsored by United Front Committee For A Labor Party
committeeforlaborparty [at]

Join Zoom Meeting

Prop 15: A Billionaire Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing! The Door is Still Wide Open for Charterization – in Exchange for Crumbs!
Oakland Teachers Vote to Authorize Strike, Stage 'Work-to-Rule' Actions in Protest of Low Pay - In These Times
Oakland teachers went on strike for a dignifying wage, pension, and to stop charterization in 2019. Photo credit: In These Times
The US is going into elections in a time of a crisis of an unprecedented character and scope. Covid-19, an economic crisis with a 33% loss of annual growth, the anti-racist popular revolt sweeping across the country, fascist paramilitary thugs, the police hunting down people of color in the streets, a race of blaming each other for the crises between the two major parties, and huge cracks in the ranks of each party – all these events and more have exacerbated each other at an unbelievable pace the last few months. It would be naïve to believe that the propositions on the ballot wouldn’t be divisive in this loaded political and social atmosphere.

Proposition 15 in California is just such a controversial, divisive one. It has already generated a propaganda war between its supporters and opponents. In both camps, one sees strange bedfellows. The UFCLP believes that the progressive elements in Proposition 15 are designed as a concession and guise to cover up for privatization.

The Sides

Organized labor in the education sector has declared its full support to Prop 15. UAW 2865, in which the teaching assistants of the University of California system are organized, has included its support for Prop 15 in its “Anti-Austerity Campaign”. Other educators’ organizations, such as CTA, CFT and OEA, have also indicated their support.

At the same time, the Facebook CEO Zuckerberg’s foundation, along with other billionaires’ charity and social organizations, have declared their support for this proposition also. An important section of organized labor in California walks hand in hand with the tech titans in support of Prop 15.

The opponents, on the other hand, consist mainly of small and medium property holders, professional organizations and chambers of commerce. In short, the Californian petite-bourgeoisie is the main opponent of Prop 15.

The sides have been engaging in a guerilla-type propaganda war for some time. Try watching a YouTube video in California without a “No on Prop 15” ad – you won’t be able to. At the same time, UAW and CFT have been organizing panels explaining their support, together with well-known left wing figures and labor organizers, such as Mike Davis, as shock troops.

How does one explain this strange division along class lines? What could have brought the top and the bottom of the class hierarchy together against the angry middle?

Why the Support?

It is not difficult to explain why the petite-bourgeois would oppose this Proposition. Since the 1950s, Californian petite-bourgeoisie has opposed adamantly any taxation of their property for public or any other purposes. Their frustration with taxes led them to abandon the big cities and sprawl into the suburbia. Sprawling, in turn, caused divestment from and underdevelopment of the urban zones where poor people of color were concentrated, as well as the uprooting of farmers of mostly of Hispanic origin from agricultural areas that were transformed into suburban settlements. The same frustration with taxation and petit-bourgeois self-interest were also behind the 1978 “Tax Revolt”, which culminated into Proposition 13 that year. Since then, all taxation on property is effectively frozen in California, although the market value of landed property has been skyrocketing. Why should we expect that this layer of Californian society to suddenly act in a different way?

The explanation for organized educators’ labor’s support is also seemingly apparent – but only seemingly. The Proposition extends a generous offer to public schools: 40% of the tax revenue, estimated between $6.5 billion and $11.5 billion, is to be allocated to public education. Given the four-decade long neoliberal assault on public education budgets, combined with the most recent and vicious cuts that came with the pandemic, this tempting offer has been welcomed as a much-needed and long-pending relief.

But what about the big sharks who support Prop 15, like Zuckerberg? After long-standing alliances with the petite-bourgeoisie against taxation and public services, what caused their change of heart? Did working-class misery and dreadful conditions of public schools finally move them?

Of course not.

For sure, they are afraid of organized labor’s power. In the past two years, Los Angeles and Oakland teachers went on strike and won a pension and wage increase, however meager it may be (2018-2019), and the UC’s graduate teaching assistants (2019-2020) have been fighting for a cost of living adjustment, making some ground.

The seemingly generous offer on the billionaires’ part is thus fueled by fear of collective action. However, a closer look into the Proposition’s text reveals an even more generous offer to the bourgeoisie.

Mark Zuckerberg talks Facebook's plan to compete with rival TikTok - Business Insider
Mark Zuckerberg: billionaire tech-titan and Charter-chain owner. Major proponent of Prop 15.
The “Hidden Gems” of Prop 15

Let us turn to the text of the Proposition itself. The 15-page long text is summarized with only a paragraph with four additional clauses on the California Government’s website. All the sentences that appear in the summary state the new taxes, the revenues they would raise, who would be exempt, and where the money would go (40% to the schools, as stated above). With relatively progressive taxation and more funding of educational institutions as its public face, the proposition impresses the initial reader and voter as a progressive one.

Buried deep down in the law text, however, lurks the cancer of privatization. Section 4, Clause (2) allocates 89% of the revenue to “school districts, charter schools, and county offices” (our emphasis). Subclause (A) further specifies on what basis this revenue will be shared between each school district and charter school. Clause (3) promises no “less than $100 per unit of average daily attendance” to every “school district and charter school” (our emphasis).

What are charter schools? Schools built with public money and resources, then privatized and handed out to billionaires as sweet deals. And how do they grow? By sucking up the resources and successful students from public schools – just as cancer feeds off a sick person’s body. Furthermore, they don’t hesitate to use the most cold-blooded methods of deception to loot public resources. For example, they allocate no resources whatsoever to students who need more help in learning, expelling low-performing students towards the end of each school year. The expelled students are then reabsorbed into the public education system, which has neither the resources nor the time to help them out in their classes. This way, charters inflate their scores, and sell this falsified data back to the Boards of Schools as a “proof” that they are more successful than the public schools, continuing the vicious cycle.

Now, Prop 15 offers not only resources sucked out of the public sector, but also new tax revenues to the charter schools alongside with the public schools. It is not enough for the billionaires to cut sweet deals with the State and feed off public resources! They now want to devour the new tax revenues that Prop 15 will create!

“But,” some may say, “public schools are offered the same rate as charters! The Prop is still progressive!” Charter schools, as we said, are like cancerous cells feeding off the public school system’s metabolism. Fighting off cancer requires destroying or cutting off the cancerous part of the body, not offering the same nutrients to the healthy parts and the cancerous parts for some “fair competition”. The same thing should be done with the charters.

Moreover, charter schools have the upper hand both financially and politically. Though they are privately owned, they have expanded their share of public resource allocation with the blessing of the political elite. The despicable tactics they employ to inflate their test scores are well-known, but not one Democratic politician moves a finger to stop this corruption. Should Prop 15 pass, charters will devour public schools at an even faster pace with more money and resources in their command. In these conditions, “offering equal resources” to both public and charter schools amounts to weighing in on the side of the charters.

No wonder, then, billionaires like Zuckerberg have declared their support for Prop 15. The taxes the Proposition imposes on them are manageable; in return, they are to get even more funding for their cancerous charter chains!

To Union Leaders: Which Side Are You On?

By declaring their unconditional support for Prop 15, education unions are shooting themselves in the foot. They are striking an unfavorable deal with the devil by accepting immediate relief, even though the privatizing, charter-supporting vultures will devour them in the long run anyways. By not explaining to their rank-and-file what Prop 15 entails, the union bureaucrats are committing grave class treachery.

Some might oppose what we say because they believe this relief is desperately needed as soon as possible, regardless of the potential for privatization long-term. From their perspective, this might be the only chance to get a deal as decent as Prop 15, and, given the abysmal conditions of the public education system, anything is welcome. Prop 15 supporters believe sharing resources with charters may be a necessary concession or simply are unaware of the fact that charters are included in the proposition.

We would be the last ones to deny how grave the conditions of the public education system are. Yet, precisely because of that, we are opposing Prop 15 as it stands because it gives the charters a strategic opening to attack the public education system.

Moreover, this attitude reflects the deep ambivalence of union bureaucrats. They ask nicely to the billionaires for more, meanwhile viewing their own rank-and-file with more suspicion than they view the bosses. We saw the disastrous impacts of such an attitude very concretely during both the Oakland Teachers’ Strike in 2019 and the wildcat strike of UC TAs in 2020. In the former, the bargaining team struck a quick deal with the Board of Supervisors without telling the striking members. The wage increase was much less than what the teachers initially demanded, and the question of charterization – one of the key issues that triggered the strike – wasn’t addressed at all. In the latter, the union leadership tried everything in its power to prevent the wildcat action, giving the UC the reigns to crush it.

Now, the same bureaucrats are engaged in the same trickster maneuvers. They lead their rank-and-file to believe that some crumbs are the best they can hope to get from a capitalist feast. We believe the working class will not win by begging. It will win by waging a bold struggle!

Working Class Response: Living Wage and Sufficient Resources, Not Crumbs!

In its current form, Prop 15 is unacceptable for the working class and public education. Although the additional resources the Prop offers are welcome, the privatization it covers up cannot be tolerated. We therefore propose the following demands in addition to the tax revenue the Prop offers:

Strike out all mentions of charters from Prop 15! Inscribe into the Proposition clearly and explicitly that all resources emerging from the new taxes will be allocated to public schools only!
Include into the Proposition a fair living wage for all teachers, substitute teachers, teaching assistants, librarians, staff, and all other personnel in public education institutions!
Hire additional personnel (teachers, nurses, janitors, librarians, and so forth) of adequate qualifications and numbers to all understaffed public education institutions!
Turn all charter schools into public schools and public assets without compensation!
Inscribe into the Proposition a capital tax for the billionaires to pay for these measures!
As long as the door remains open for privatization, the Proposition will threaten the interests of the working class. In order to make Prop 15 the progressive law the union bureaucrats claim it to be, the conditions enumerated above should be included. We should shut the door of privatization and ensure the dignity of all education personnel!

United Front Committee for Labor Party, UFCLP

Added to the calendar on Fri, Oct 16, 2020 10:59AM
§Teachers Are Being Coerced Back Into School Rooms
by United Front Committee For A Labor Party
Teachers are being forced back into the class rooms without proper PPE and proper circulation in the schools.
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