Building power- the role of teachers and their unions

Building power beyond elections: The unique
role of educators and their unions

 By Joshua Pechthalt, President, California Federation of Teachers

The Republican victory in November reminds us that organized labor and the progressive movement can’t rely on elections to advance our agenda. Our power to improve the lives of members and community allies flows from our ability to organize the kind of powerful labor-community alliance that can demand change from politicians.

In spite of the national drubbing inflicted on Democrats, there were a few bright spots. The reelection of Tom Torlakson as state superintendent of public instruction demonstrated once again that mobilized educators can beat a multi-million dollar, anti-teacher campaign.

Significant victories across the country suggest that voters are not necessarily moving to the right on key issues. Voters passed measures to raise the minimum wage, legalize marijuana, and protect a woman’s right to control her body. In California, Democrats won every statewide office and continue to hold strong majorities in both the Assembly and Senate. They also picked up one congressional seat.

Electoral support for the Republican Party reflects the public’s deep uncertainty about the economy. While there has been consistent job growth for months, the majority of Americans worry about their current situation and the future.

Economic disparity is greater now than at any time since the Great Depression. Real wages have stagnated for years, job growth is primarily in the low-wage service sector, and for young people, a college education is expensive and no longer guarantees a decent middle-class job.

Conditions are ripe for the reemergence of a progressive political movement, yet none has developed. Democrats are not providing leadership; many people have lost confidence in them. They are unwilling to articulate a vision that puts people to work, rebuilds the nation’s infrastructure, invests in our schools and makes higher education affordable. Continue reading