Seattle Education Association ends teachers’ strike in anti-democratic maneuver

The Seattle Education Association (SEA) announced Tuesday afternoon that a vote called to end the week-long strike by teachers in Seattle has risen from 57 percent to 43 percent. Teachers and staff were ordered back to work on Wednesday.

Educators should reject this anti-democratic maneuver, reject the still-unpublished agreement in principle (TA) and organize to take control and continue the strike.

The entire process by which the SEA held and passed this vote is illegitimate. A TA was announced by the union late Monday evening, around 10 p.m. Pacific, but no details were released to members.

Seattle teachers on the picket line before the strike was forcibly stopped by the Seattle Education Association [Photo: WSWS]

In a Facebook Live video, SEA President Jennifer Matter said she would “provide…a summary at best,” while she and her fellow bureaucrats “finalize the language of the full text.” Soon after, local news agencies reported on developments as if the strike had already been called off.

Then the vote to suspend the strike took place at a one-day meeting on Tuesday, based on highlights only. The vote violated a resolution that had previously been proposed and passed by the base that the strike could only end after a vote on the TA. Moreover, voting was conducted online and controlled by the SEA itself, with no grassroots oversight, providing ample opportunity for ballot stuffing.

Finally, the union’s latest update on the contract is that “information on the TA ratification vote will come later in the week.”

As one primary school teacher put it World Socialist Website“[The] The SEA management/negotiation team came in with a very clear bias. The email from today’s general meeting said the meeting was ‘to hear TA highlights and vote to suspend the strike’. Many of us are frustrated and feel disrespected by SEA leaders at this point.

“Originally, we voted in favor of the strike, stipulating that the strike would only end if the members ratified the TA. Today it turned out that we voted to suspend the strike or not, when we all know very well if we suspend, it’s the end. We will have lost our momentum and influence in the negotiations. Essentially, we agreed on a TA that we still haven’t seen.

Another teacher commented on social media: “We are back to work with 7 [percent wage increase] including cost of living assistance. … I vote no on the TA. Also, members in other districts have seen drafts of everything, including actual numbers for class sizes and a pay schedule…we haven’t seen actual numbers. I am very disappointed.”

An article in the Seattle Times confirmed the figure, while noting a 4% increase in the second year of the contract and a 3% increase in the third year, as well as small bonuses for certain levels of educators. That’s under conditions where inflation is over 8%, in fact higher in cities like Seattle, meaning the contract would sanction deep cuts in real wages.

The Time also reported that most student-teacher ratios for special education have remained the same.

The highlights are a slap in the face for teachers, all of whom raised the need for a big increase in the number of teachers working with multilingual students and those with individual education plans.

Moreover, a fifth of the union’s 6,000 teachers did not vote, could not vote or could not even attend the members’ meeting. A substitute teacher wrote on social media, in a post that has since been deleted: “Although I am a member of the union, I was unable to vote or even attend the meeting today for reasons that I do not don’t quite understand. Were other substitutes able to?”

That so many teachers were excluded from the vote speaks to SEA’s broader strategy. The strike was not called to launch an offensive against years of cuts to special education, dwindling resources for students and lower wages, but to try to blow off steam while a deal was reached in behind closed doors with the district which would continue the offensive against teachers.

The SEA’s machinations to end the strike raise the need for educators to seize their struggle for themselves, through the development of rank-and-file committees.

The SEA carried out its maneuvers in close consultation with the National Education Association (NEA) and in turn with the Biden administration.

The Democratic Party is counting on unions to quell a growing labor movement across the country against soaring inflation and inequality.

Currently, the Biden administration, along with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, are gearing up to intervene to prevent a strike by 100,000 railroad workers. Last month, the NEA helped end a teachers’ strike in Columbus, Ohio, based on a “conceptual agreement” that educators weren’t given a chance to vote on.

The World Socialist Website calls on Seattle educators to stage a strong “no” vote on the tentative agreement. However, this must be linked to the development of independent organizations, grassroots committees, to unite the struggle of teachers in Seattle and Washington with educators across the United States and other sections of the working class.

Andrew B. Reiter