One struggle, one fight: reflections on the LA teachers strike

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Photo Credit: United Teachers Los Angeles

NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda reflects on her experience stumbling into the recent LA teachers strike, and what we can learn from their struggle Downunder.

While returning from an overseas wedding last week, I broke the trip home with a stopover in Los Angeles. I was downtown in the historical heart of the city, when I noticed hundreds of striking teachers. They were under such a massive attack, and they were fighting back!

For some context: their school district wanted to turn local public schools into so-called ‘charter’ schools – that is, to effectively privatise them. For them, the main issue was not the pay (although they were asking for a 6% pay increase, which if they got would not even allow some of them to afford to live where they teach), it was about the quality of education they could deliver to the students in poorer areas.

Teachers relayed to me that some of their classes had up to 50 students. In some classrooms, they didn’t have enough desks, so students were required to stand! How can a child learn while standing?

We have seen this in public health in New South Wales. Governments run the system down, then say it’s not working and that the only answer is privatization and
“competition”. We’ve seen how well that has worked in places like the new Northern Beaches Hospital, and it is female dominated unions taking up the massive fight.

We won our privatization struggle in many parts of New South Wales through our hard work and advocacy. However, we must never allow governments of any persuasion to undermine our health and education systems. The public system must be brought up to speed, and provide our society what it needs to flourish. As one unionist I spoke to said, “The conditions of the workers reflects the service provision to the recipients of that service”. Hear, hear!

If we want as nurses and midwives to be able to deliver safe patient care, each one of us must take responsibility by installing a Government that will be able to deliver for our community. We must #changetherules, and change the Governments at a State and Federal levels. We must hold politicians to account. At the end of the day, they are our servants, not the other way around!

Judith Kiejda is the Assistant General Secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, a 66,000 member strong industrial and professional union for nurses and midwives. You can join the union here.

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