Seattle Teachers to Vote On Possible May Day Strike

Councilmembers Sawant and O’Brien have voiced their support for the labor action.

Seattle teachers picket outside Washington Middle School in 2015. Photo by Sara Bernard.

“If you decide to strike, we’ll have your back!”

Thus ends an op-ed, published today in the South Seattle Emerald, by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and Mike O’Brien in support of “bold action” by Seattle teachers and other unionized workers on May 1st, aka International Workers’ Day, aka May Day. The Seattle Educators Association (SEA) is voting this week on whether to strike on May 1.

Such a strike would add a new element to May Day in Seattle, which in recent years has consisted of gigantic, permitted marches by immigrant and labor groups during the day and smashier anti-capitalist marches in the evening.

“We applaud the incredible courage Seattle educators are showing in considering strike action on behalf of their students, their schools, and all those in our community under attack from the Trump administrations,” wrote Sawant and O’Brien. “Your bold actions are an inspiration for working people everywhere.”

This coming May 1 is the first to occur under the presidential administration of Donald Trump, suggesting that marches could be even larger than usual. But marching may not be the end of it. If it happens, the strike will be partly because of Trump, partly because the state legislature still isn’t fully funding education, and part of a larger show of force by the activist Left across the country on that day.

Garfield teacher and union representative Jesse Hagopian says that a group of social justice educators put forward the resolution calling for a May 1 strike because, “the McCleary decision mandates that the state legislature fully fund education, and they have not made any ample progress toward the full funding of education,” he says. By failing to follow the state Supreme Court’s order to fully fund education, he says, the legislature is violating “not just any law but the ‘paramount duty’ in the state constitution, the highest law of the land…That’s a contradiction that educators just can’t abide by.”

Striking and marching are also important as acts of solidarity with undocumented immigrants who at risk of deportation, says Hagopian. “Raising our voice on May 1 [also] connects with the large immigrant populations of Seattle, and says ‘We’re here to support your families and your youth.’”

However, the strike resolution has to get three-quarters of the vote to pass. That may be too high a bar, admits Hagopian. “We may or may not reach that [75 percent threshold], but regardless, the fact that the state legislature has provoked this [strike] vote sends a really powerful message to them,” says Hagopian. “They’ll feel the heat of the fact that this vote is even being considered.”

SEA isn’t the only union flirting with a May Day strike. UAW Local 4121 is also voting on strike action, according to the op-ed. (We’ve got a line out to the union.) And the Martin Luther King County Labor Council voted last week in favor of a resolution supporting strikes and other direct actions (for instance, teach-ins) on May Day in cooperation with organizers of the labor and immigrant marches.

cjaywork@SeattleWeekly.com

This story has been edited.

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