I’m writing to share, as broadly as possible, some of what I’ve been hearing about the International Women’s Day strike from DAE members and other DPS educators. On this kind of matter, a formal statement from the organization would require a lot more space for discussion and debate, and it would clearly be a process led by women. Since the momentum has picked up too quickly to allow for that, I’m just putting these out on my own to represent what I’ve been hearing or talking with people about. None of what I offer here is an official position of DAE, and none of it is intended to be comprehensive. It’s exciting to see all of the conversations, and I’m hoping they continue.
First, the history of the day
Many people have been asking about the significance of March 8, so here are a few things to know:
- The first recorded observance was actually known as International Working Women’s Day and commemorated the anniversary of a strike by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in New York City
- In 1917, Russian women went on a one day strike, demanding an end to World War 1, food to feed their families, and the removal of the Czar from power
- Working women have been using March 8 to demonstrate their power all over the world for well over 100 years
It isn’t broadly marked in the United States because of our relatively weak labor movement, but the call for this year’s strike has clearly built on the momentum of the 3.5 million strong women’s marches across the country on January 21st , the recent Day Without Immigrants, and the various forms of resistance we see on the rise all over the country right now. Strikes, it should be noted, are a tool for working people.
Bosses can hire and fire workers, which gives them power. Workers can organize ourselves and control our work, which gives us power. I’ve heard a lot of people saying that tomorrow feels like a day that they need “to take a stand” by withholding their labor. People want access to health care for all and an end to the gendered pay gap. People are demanding a world without sexual violence and safety for everyone irrespective of their gender or sexual identity. People are shouting loudly that Black Lives Matter and ICE needs to stay out of our communities. The issues are broad.
For educators, questions of gender are always central. Since K-12 teaching was created as a “woman’s role” in our society, there is a lot of sexism in the way our system is built. Educators are “supposed to” work long hours for low pay. Educators are “supposed to” sacrifice personal lives and health and emotional well-being in order to take care of others. Educators are “not supposed to” speak up or fight back or break rules, even if they hurt us or our students.
For educators, then, the fight for better working conditions, better pay, and the schools our students deserve is a fight against sexism. That feels clear as people shared that they are going out tomorrow:
- Because they need their daughters, and their sons, to see them stand up with dignity
- Because they can’t wait to talk to their students about it when they are back on Thursday
- Because they won’t wait for permission from their bosses or be shamed out of standing up for themselves
It is exciting to know that many DAE members and many of our co-workers see a strike as a way to take a stand. And it’s even more exciting to see that people aren’t limiting the stand they take to “school issues” only. Everything that happens in our communities impacts our schools. We have a right, and a duty, to act.
The Challenges of a Strike
I’ve also seen a lot of conversations where people are struggling with the decision.
Some people are worried that their principals or bosses will retaliate against them. Power is clearly not always on our side on these ones. It’s a scary risk for people to take in general. But I’ve heard other people speak specifically about words or actions or a tone from a principal or a boss that have made them think twice. Some people have felt shamed. Others have been worried that there would be small pay backs that aren’t obvious or easy to report. Subtle intimidation and harassment are real. Fortunately, many school leaders have extended support or made it clear that there would be no negative consequences. Since that is not the universal position, and power is real, it makes sense that some people are having doubts.
Other people are worried about the consequences for parents. The impacts of a work stoppage will always inconvenience some. Child care would be costly if the schools shut down. Our students would miss out on valuable instruction and, for some, two meals that they might not otherwise have. Undocumented parents, reluctant to drive in the current climate, will be troubled if transportation options are limited. Strikes by public sector employees are tough, because so many people rely on us every day. In cities across the country, when educators prepare for a strike, they work long and hard to build support among parents and work with them to meet the needs of our students. It’s what educators do. Because this strike wasn’t organized in that way, I hear people expressing reservations.
Other people are struggling out of concern for their co-workers. Substitutes are already in high demand throughout the district, and increased absences put a strain on those who go to work. This is an opportunity to be intentional in our support for each other. People tell me all the time that we “need a union in North Carolina.” Unions are not magical creatures. They are built by people supporting each other and working together in our buildings. The concerns about tension between co-workers is real. The desire to have good morale at work and collective power is real. We can use this moment creatively.
The last concern that I’ve heard is that people who haven’t been organizing around other issues are suddenly energized to go on strike tomorrow but haven’t helped out in the buildings before now. The people expressing those concerns have been doing the hard work of building relationships and taking risks and assuming the challenges of leadership for some time. That should be respected. And those folks bring irreplaceable wisdom and skills to the table. But we all got started somehow, and so many newly energized people is nothing but a good thing for us. I feel hopeful that people who join the strike tomorrow will come back to their buildings motivated and ready to organize, and I trust that the building leaders will welcome them into the ongoing work. It’s hard work, and it takes patient commitment; we can only get there together.
Individual Choices, Collective Power
I’ve been really excited to see people supporting each other. People who aren’t going out tomorrow are telling their co-workers that are that they love them and support them. People that are going out are checking in with their teams to make sure that they have what they need. Folks are weighing the risks, making choices to stand up for themselves, and making choices to stand up for their students–and landing on either side of the decision. We should trust each other and respect one another’s choices.
We should also use this as an opportunity to act together. If you don’t go out, wear your red (and take pictures) talk to your students about what’s going on, urge your co-workers to take good care of each other in the midst of a resource strain, and show support for those that strike. If you do go out, wear your red (and take pictures), talk to your students about what you did and why you did it, and do something nice for your co-workers that held you down. Together.
We can have all of the power in the world y’all. Educators and schools are the heart of our communities. If we build our own strength and stand with our students, parents, and community supporters, there is nothing that we can’t accomplish. Let’s dig in and build our organization and build our power. Our students deserve it. We deserve it.
Thank you to all of the women leading the strike tomorrow. You are teaching so many of us courage. And thank you to all of you holding it down with our students. You teach us courage every day.