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Classrooms First! - A History of the 1996 Oakland Teacher's Strike

By Jason Justice, 1996

The San Francisco Bay Area is known for its diversity and political activity. Throughout Berkeley, San Francisco, Oakland and surrounding communities there has been a great deal of organization and activity both in recent years as well as years forgotten. The Black Panthers emerged in Oakland, People's Park was formed in Berkeley, and San Francisco is home to many organizations and years of political activism. While Bay Area political and labor activism may have been, or may be, relatively high, it is not necessarily the result of interested parties. It is often, instead, the self-defensive result of institutional abuse; workers and community members, in other words, have been, and are, forced to engage in political activism in defense of undesirable power relations and coercion. In late 1995 and early 1996 school teachers in the Oakland community were also forced into the realm of Bay Area labor activism due to unfair working and educational conditions.

In February 1996 political and labor activity in Oakland reached an unfortunately dramatic level of resistance. The strike that grew out of the Oakland school district was not desired. Teachers, like other oppressed workers, however, had no other option and so the strike was born. During the Oakland teachers' strike of 1996 many things happened. There was disapproval, there were fabrications and there were scabs. But there was also a tremendous sense of solidarity. Levels of support were high and strikes well supported. While the strike was never wanted, it was, perhaps surprisingly, the concerned reflection of both workers and the community, and thus, favorable to some degree.
Many other spectators were interested in the Oakland teachers' strike as well. It was read about by parents and teachers, community and authority. But the goals, the process and the outcome of the strike left many confused. Press coverage of the strike included many points of view. Within these points of view, however, statistics, ideas and outcomes were both manipulated and distorted due to various sources of misinformation. The coverage of the outcome of the strike left its audience especially unclear as to what it was that actually happened. The results, as explained in post newspaper articles, were examined only briefly, and, as with the coverage of the strike itself, the outcome has been misrepresented as well.

Attempting to understand the strike, in its conception, birth, process and outcome can only truly be understood when the totality of the activity is taken collectively into consideration. Since the time of the strike's victory, there has yet to be a comprehensive overview of the strike and its manifestations. Since, in my opinion, understanding the totality of the strike is central to judging and learning from it, I decided it was necessary that the strike be documented from its conception to its outcomes and manifested for public understanding.

While the Oakland teachers' strike accomplished no extraordinary victories or marked any seriously devastating outcomes, it is worth studying. There are valuable lessons to be learned in all strikes, in all labor victories, and in all labor defeats, and the Oakland teachers' strike is no exception. Whatever important lessons can be learned from this strike, I hope can now be studied more easily with the presented overview of the history and outcome of the Oakland teachers' strike compiled within the pages that follow.

Chapter 1 - The Strike Conceived
Chapter 2 - The Birth of the Strike
Chapter 3 - A Disgruntled Response
Chapter 4 - District Tactics
Chapter 5 - Teacher Tactics
Chapter 6 - Solidarity Forever
Chapter 7 - Negotiations
Chapter 8 - The Victory
Chapter 9 - The Betrayal
Chapter 10 - Reflecting on the Outcome of the Strike
Song - Solidarity With Teachers