Councilmember Sawant Urges Solidarity with Seattle Public School Educators on Strike for Living Wages and Full Staffing for Special Education, Multilingual Classrooms

“If teachers are going to win their demands, they cannot put any faith in the school district or corporate politicians. They will need an all-out fight with solidarity from students, parents, socialists, and the wider labor movement…. I will donate $5,000 from my solidarity fund to the educators’ strike fund.”

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Sustainability and Renters’ Rights Committee, released the following statement in solidarity with striking Seattle Education Association members in Seattle:

“My office stands in solidarity with the 6,000 educators of the Seattle Education Association (SEA) who are on strike for a fair contract, in response to weeks of stonewalling, bad-faith bargaining, and insulting proposals by the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) district administration. I urge working people and union members across the city to sign the community petition from my office in support of the striking educators. Importantly, please attend the educator picket nearest your home or workplace today and for as long as the strike lasts!

“Across the country, educators are bravely fighting for themselves and our communities against criminal cuts to already underfunded schools and right-wing attacks like the Don’t Say Gay Bill in Florida. This brutal tightening of the screws in school budgets combined with skyrocketing inflation is causing educators to leave the profession in high numbers, resulting in a major staffing shortage nationwide. The Seattle Education Strike, where schools all over the district currently have 50 or more educators on the picket line, embodies the crucial slogan popularized this year by Amazon and Starbucks workers: don’t quit, organize

“SEA members are fighting back against the district’s attempts to cut staffing for special education and multilingual classrooms. The union is demanding that SPS maintain staffing ratios in these classrooms to ensure that educators have the minimum support needed to provide quality education to all students.

“Seattle educators are also fighting for fair wage increases that account for the record increase in prices working people have faced over the last year. Amid record inflation, educators would need a 10-percent raise this year just to break even. Anything less would be a de facto pay cut. The current salaries for paraeducators and instructional assistants are shockingly low, at around $20/hour. Even school districts in smaller cities neighboring Seattle offer better pay. Our educators deserve an immediate 10-percent raise plus full Cost of Living Adjustment every year going forward.

“Matt Maley, a union educator at Aki Kurose Middle School, said, “The political establishment is eager to cover themselves in progressive buzz-words like inclusion, but there’s nothing inclusive about cutting support staff for students with special needs and English as a second language.”

“This illustrates a key point of this strike: educators’ working conditions are students learning conditions. If teachers are understaffed, then students are underserved. Likewise, if educators are struggling to pay rent or keep gas in the tank, they cannot put their full attention towards educating students.

“After two and a half years of teaching on the frontlines of the pandemic, it is outrageous that the school district is proposing cuts to staffing and educator pay. Two years ago, the school district was lauding teachers as “essential workers.” When it comes to funding our schools, we see where the priorities of the District really lie.

“Sadly, the upside-down priorities of the SPS administration are the same as those of the Democratic Party. Democrats have controlled the Seattle City Council for decades. They have also controlled the Washington State Governor’s mansion for 30 out of the last 30 years, the Senate for 20 years, the House for 23 years. Yet, shamefully, Democrats in both local and state office are responsible for allowing public education funding to reach crisis low levels. On the other hand, State Democrats, along with Republicans, have given sweetheart deals to the executives of Boeing and other corporations and provided tax havens for billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Howard Schultz. Last month, the Democratic majority on City Council voted to end the $4/hour hazard pay for grocery workers, who, like teachers, were deemed “essential” at the start of the pandemic, but have now been thrown under the bus for the sake of increasing already-record profits of grocery store chains. After paying lip service to the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement two years ago, City Council Democrats voted last month to approve $30,000 hiring bonuses for the Seattle police. The message is clear: Democrats have money for CEOs, the rich, and police, but not for working people.

“If teachers are going to win their demands, they cannot put any faith in the school district or corporate politicians. They will need an all-out fight with solidarity from students, parents, socialists, and the wider labor movement. As SEA member Matt Maley put it, “We need a militant, sharp strike with clear demands. And we need to actively mobilize community support through big, public rallies and marches.”

“My office has worked closely with educators and students to win historic victories, so we know it’s possible to win through working class solidarity. From passing the ban on school-year evictions for both students and public school employees, to funding the Nova LGBTQ health clinic, and securing excused absences for student climate strikers, winning has always required building a movement of workers and young people, not appealing to Democrats or clever tactics in the negotiating room.  

“I stand with the Seattle Education Association and its members in their fight for a fair contract. My office will be out on picket lines today and as long as the strike lasts to support striking workers. I urge other unions and community members to attend picket lines also and to help build maximum pressure on the school district to accept the union’s demands for the schools that educators need and students deserve. 

“I take home only the average worker’s wage, and the rest of my six-figure City Council salary goes into a solidarity fund for union and social struggle. I will be donating $5,000 to the SEA strike fund from my solidarity fund. “See you all on the picket line!”