January 13, 2022
From It's Going Down
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Across the US, Omicron infections continue to explode, as “more children are being admitted to hospitals than ever before,” according to CNN. Vaccination rates among children remain low and community spread, accelerated by the holiday season and the return to in-person instruction, is rippling across the social terrain; hitting teachers, parents, and family members. In just the Los Angeles school district, “Approximately 65,000 students and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to mandatory testing conducted by the district during the winter break.” The drastic spike in COVID cases has also been coupled with increasing shortages of medical staff, which has hindered the ability of many people to get tested and receive medical attention.

In a push to get the population to except this new normal, medical and state officials have embraced a narrative that eventually “most people” will become infected with the virus, and are even championing COVID-19 killing “people who are “unwell to begin with” as “encouraging news.”’ The cause for this push is clear: both corporate parties have campaigned for schools to re-open, in the hopes that with kids in schools, parents will also return to work; re-opening supply chains and increasing production.

But in the face of a horrifying spike in infections and death, tens of thousands of students across the US are getting mobilized and pushing back: organizing walk-out strikes, ditching class, or simply not showing up to school at all. In many schools, students are demanding a return to online instruction and free access to rapid testing kits. Workers, both at schools and in the private sector, have also organized themselves to take action: walking off the job, forming pickets, calling for sick-out strikes, and organizing demonstrations, while calling for better working conditions and a return to online instruction in schools.

The response from the Biden administration and the so-called Democratic leadership to this wave of self-organized strike activity has been to crush the new rebellion:

When Chicago teachers went on strike last week to protest COVID-19 safety protections in the nation’s third-largest school district, Democratic Party officials leapt into action.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker pushed for a quick end to the job action and helped secure rapid tests to entice teachers back to work. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the strikers “abandoned their posts” in “an illegal walkout,” and White House press secretary Jen Psaki stressed that students should be in school. The standoff ended with a tentative agreement late Monday.

“I have been watching the failure of my party happen in real time,” said Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union and a committee member of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, “and it’s devastating because unfortunately I feel like the Democrats in this country are just not in conversation with parents, families and communities, and have completely ignored us to listen only to the priorities of the unions.”

Predictably, the far-Right and sections of the press have also joined in on the attack: hoping to smother any grassroots, organic working-class response to the pandemic in its tracks. From school administrators threatening students with punishment to putting schools on lockdown, to the Mayor of Chicago calling recent job actions by teachers an “illegal wildcat strike,” those in power are hoping to isolate and drown out these actions before they spread.

But in many ways, it seems that they already are too late. “We save us,” a slogan popular among those walking out which echoes, “We keep us safe,” from the George Floyd rebellion, speaks to the fundamental reality that both parties, the ruling class, and the entire capitalist economic system do not have our best interests at heart. We cannot wait for those in power to act in our interests, we must organize and fight to save ourselves, our families, and our communities from mass death and infection, because no one is coming to save us.

What follows is our roundup of current wildcat, sick-out, and walkout strikes organized and carried out by workers and students. This roundup will be updated over the coming days – so if we miss anything, email us at info [at] itsgoingdown [dot] org. If you are also involved in actions at your job and/or school and want to speak to us on our podcast/radio show, shoot us a message!

Pacific Northwest

Seattle, WA: Chaos erupts at Seattle public schools as student and staff shortages lead to many schools switching to online instruction.

Portland, OR: Schools close down due to labor shortages and against a backdrop of labor unrest.

California

San Francisco, CA: On January 6th, San Francisco teachers stage a sick-out strike to demand a return to online instruction.

Also:

Students shuffling onto campus at Junipero Serra Elementary School on Tuesday were greeted by neon picket signs and teachers advocating for more safety supplies as COVID-19 cases continue to soar.

Teachers also demanded:

…the district to provide daily disposable KN95 or N95 masks for all staff who are part of the unions. They also want access to free weekly testing for all staff and all students should be arranged, with free rapid testing available at all SFUSD sites and central offices — including the continuation of 10-day paid sick leave for staff due to COVID and COVID vaccination-related illness.

Oakland, CA: On January 7th, around 500 teachers, or 20% of Oakland teachers carried out a sick-out strike:

…calling on the district to purchase and distribute N95 and KN95 masks for all students and staff, provide weekly PCR testing for all students and staff, and take other measures while closing campuses for two weeks. The group said withholding their labor is the “only solution” to winning “the pandemic response we deserve.”

Another sick-out strike is reportedly being organized. From the East Bay Times

Employees at some Oakland Unified School District schools will stage another “sickout” Thursday in solidarity with students, who are threatening to boycott classes unless their COVID demands are met during a surge in cases fueled by the omicron variant.

Not to be outdone, students have also launched a petition demanding a return to online instruction, proper PPE and COVID testing. If they don’t win these demands, they are promising a mass walkout. According to one report:

Nearly a thousand students have signed onto a district wide online student petition in Oakland, California, stating that students “are not comfortable going to school with the rising cases of COVID-19.” The students are fighting for an end to in-person learning and proper PPE and testing if and when they do return to the classroom.

Contra Costa County, CA: Teachers across Contra Costa County in the bay area are also carrying out job actions:

Groups of teachers at West Contra Costa Unified are planning sick-outs throughout the week in protest of what they believe are insufficient safety measures by the district.

A number of teachers at Korematsu Middle School participated in the sick-out protest today, and teachers at Stege Elementary plan to protest Wednesday, said Stege teacher Hannah Geitner. According to the district, nine of 32 Korematsu teachers called in sick. All district schools were closed Monday and last Friday due to high numbers of Covid cases and staff shortages.

Hayward, CA: Increased COVID infections and shortages of students and staff in classrooms have forced the district to switch to remote learning.

Redondo Beach, CA: This Wednesday, hundreds of high school students walked out of Redondo Beach High School in protest of the school’s handling of the pandemic.

San Diego, CA: Teachers have organized a “work-to-rule” strike.

Central

Austin, TX: Workers at a Pizzeria protested for paid sick time and better conditions. From a local news report:

On Saturday, Jan. 9, some employees protested in the streets of Downtown Austin. Many said they feel pressure to go into work sick without the benefit.

Organizers of the protest alleged management retaliated by suspending workers who were asking for sick pay, hazard pay and COVID-19 safety measures. Supporters said 46 employees signed a petition asking for safety protocols.

Midwest

Chicago, IL: In Chicago, at the start of the week, schools have shut down classes for over 340,000 students, after teachers demanded a return to online instruction. According to one report:

The current center of the opposition to school reopenings is in Chicago, Illinois where thousands of educators voted overwhelmingly last Tuesday to teach remotely until January 18. However, late Monday night the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) pushed through a vote at a House of Delegates meeting to “suspend” the teachers’ remote work action and resume in-person learning on Wednesday, before a vote by the whole membership. Outraged at the collaboration of their union with the local politicians to force them back into schools, teachers and students have begun to organize their fight independently.

According to VICE:

…students announced a citywide walkout for this Friday at 12:30 p.m. to bring increased attention to their demands for “physical, mental, spiritual, and structural safety. We are tired of adult leadership not being able to represent the voice of the people that are affected by the shit that they’re putting into place,” Santiago De La Garza, a 16-year-old junior at Solorio Academy in Chicago who plans to participate in the walkout, told Motherboard. Garza and several organizer-friends watched Omicron cases rise and, after having flashbacks to the nightmare that was last January, formed Chi-RADS, a radical youth alliance of largely queer Black and brown youth from a multitude of high schools and neighborhoods.

On Jan. 10, Chi-RADS released a detailed proposal that includes COVID-19 relief stipends, the funding of mutual aid projects, providing every student with a personal laptop, and ensuring one full-time therapist for every 30 students, alongside implementing basic safety measures, such as N95 masks, rapid antigen tests, and an efficient contact tracing system.

“There is no blanket plan that will work for every school and every student. To try to make one would deny some group, it’s inevitable,” Chi-RADS wrote. “The schools should have their own ability to create plans that work best for their environment and their students. Every school should have a peer pod task force that makes up members of the school body, including teachers, staff, students, parents, and administration to create the school’s specific Covid Response Plan.”

“Why don’t we radically reimagine school? When they say we are ‘behind,’ we are ‘behind’ what? All of this stuff is made up,” said Judai Smith, a senior at Kenwood Academy in Chicago. “We could literally change education. What is the stuff that we really need? What is the stuff that is actually going to help us grow?”

Okemos, MI: High school students walked out of school this Wednesday. From one report:

[D]ozens of Okemos High School students walked out of their classrooms, over rising concerns over the school’s COVID-19 guidelines and its backpack policy. Social media posts say students are frustrated that individuals are getting sick frequently and the school isn’t responding.

Southeast

Columbia, MI: Students stage protests and walkouts over conditions on campus. From one report:

Saying fellow students were falling ill from COVID-19, around 120 masked Hickman High School students on Monday walked out of class in protest of the Columbia school board’s decision to drop a mask mandate that was in place.

Another report noted that:

Students returned from winter break Jan. 4. The Columbia School Board voted to drop the mask mandate starting on that day.

East Baton Rogue, LA: Teachers organize a sickout. From one report:

Teachers in the East Baton Rouge branch of the Louisiana Association of Educators announced a planned “sickout” Wednesday to protest the school system’s response to the recent COVID-19 surge and teacher shortages this semester.

Northeast

Boston, MN: Thousands of students have signed onto a petition and plan to walkout of class this Friday. According to one report:

In Boston, Massachusetts, in less than a week, over 5,000 students signed a petition posted by a senior at Boston Latin School. Similar situations are developing across the West Coast, including significant protests in Portland, Oregon that forced the closure of the schools.

Almond, NY: Bus drivers organize sick-out “to protest…unfair pay and poor working conditions.”

New York City, NY: In New York City, around 300,000 students did not show up to school last Monday as classes resumed after the winter break, with many parents keeping their children home. Student walkouts took place across 29 schools.

Mass walkouts across New York schools have taken place in different boroughs. Reports of teachers and administrations pushing back against student organizing. One school reportedly went into lockdown to prevent a walkout and some students have been targeted with punishment.

Buffalo, NY: Workers at a Starbucks have walked off the job for several days in protest of working conditions.

Portland, MN: In Portland, MN, workers at a pizzeria walked off the job after multiple calls for better workplace safety.

Connecticut: Teachers organized a protest “to promote safe schools during the recent wave of the Omicron variant.”

According to Newsweek:

Some teachers, custodians, school bus drivers, and other staff members across the state wore black on Wednesday during classtime in an unconventional protest. This demonstration comes after The Hartford Courant reported that more than 60 percent of teachers and other staff members at schools felt that their employers did not have proper supplies or protocols to protect themselves and students against the current COVID-19 surge.

photo: Pixabay

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