News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.
Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.
February 22, 2019
Alex Webster-Guiney is a special education (“sped”) teacher at Oakland High School, and was a leader of the wildcat teacher walkouts that built toward the current teacher strike. Majority’s Florence Rosenberg interviewed Alex to get her reactions to the strike’s beginning.
Majority: What were some surprises from the first day of the strike?
We were able to communicate with a lot of different leaders and respected voices in the mix. It felt very cohesive to me. We’ll learn from it and do a better job tomorrow, and now we all know this is what a picket needs to look like.
How did the wildcat strikes contribute to today’s action?
Our staff at O [Oakland] High is high and tight. We had only one or two teachers who went to work today. The speech therapists, sped teachers, nurses, and psychologists, they were all out on the pickets — the Red for Sped energy was strong! The wildcat forced us to have communications structures in place and solidified us as a team in how we work together. We’ve had some practice now and know what it takes to have a successful action, and we know how important it is we’re all there together. It was beautiful.
The second wildcat spread to 10 schools, and that multiplied all those organizing structures we came up with by 10. We leveled up in communicating with each other and becoming aligned about the messages we communicate to the media and to our co-workers.
Tell me about student organizing at the high schools.
A super important component of the movement is student voice. We have incredible leaders, so mature, intelligent, woke, and poised. I see future Ocasio-Cortezes right and left. They’re starting to create their organizing structures, especially on Instagram. That’s the way they organize!
They need all the support and all the voice we can give them. It’s an incredible teaching and learning moment for them; there is so much education going on. This is the best form of learning you can possibly experience. They’re struggling to see how there’s representation from all the schools in their organizing and how to not rely on adults too much and have their own agency. They’re finding out what can they flex.
Students are in a position to be very influential in this struggle. They’re saying to the district, “This is about us, guys, this whole fight is about us, we’re the bargaining chip. You lost $9.1 million today because of us.”
Stopping school closures were added late as an Oakland Education Association bargaining demand. Why was that important to include?
I’m very happy it was added. The closures are an example of the Trumpian approach of the district. They’re saying, “Sure you can have a raise… but we’re getting rid of 24 schools to pay for it.” It’s like building the wall versus funding the government. They’re holding either wages or schools hostage. But everyone is clear that it’s not going to fly. It’s something the community can rally around because it’s such a traumatic event. It’s visceral in a way that teacher pay isn’t. These closures — that’s the end of public education in Oakland.
After you win this strike, what’s next for the movement?
For sure Sacramento is the next thing. We need lawmakers involved and they won’t be until we create a crisis. Our unions in California have been very passive for the last decade or so, without a lot of action. There’s a bureaucracy preventing the rank-and-file movement.
I’m trying to be emotionally prepared for this strike to drag on for a while. But I’m also thinking about a convergence on the capital for our classrooms that includes the journey there. A group of militant teachers marching to Sacramento. In the other strike-wave states, they’re doing statewide actions that cause change at a legislative level, which is what we need here.