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Chapter 4 - District Tactics

The district was happy to attempt to bring the issue of race into the strike. The district is well aware that the majority population in Oakland is African-American, and as a result the greatest number of students in the Oakland school district are African-American as well. However, only 1/3 of the district's teachers are African-American. The district attempted to exploit this fact by pointing out that it was white teachers, supposedly, who wanted a raise and didn't care about Black school children's education. This claim was relatively ignored until the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) began to vocalize the issue. In a conference held between the NAACP, the Oakland school district, and the AfricanAmerican Allen Temple Baptist Church, the new accusation of racism in the strike was expressed by the groups: "the striking teachers' union represents the interests of white teachers who are trying to discredit the primarily black district administration and school board."[20]

The NAACP, the district and the involved church insisted that the strike be undermined and class solidarity ignored. As one writer reported in Z Magazine, the NAACP, the district, and its supporters have, "jumped into the fray by insisting that black teachers scab and black parents send their children to school in spite of the strike."[21] Janet Lee-Fulcher, a campus supervisor at Hawthorne Elementary School went on to express her concern over the strike's interference with African-American festivities; the strike was apparently interrupting Black History Month. "Black History month is a serious issue," she said, "African Americans have struggled so hard for the right to get an education, and now it's being disrupted because two groups of adults can't get it together."[22]

While the wealthy district and the NAACP were busy working to polarize struggling workers with the introduction of charges racism, the union and the teachers knew well that this was not a race issue. It was clearly a class struggle. Gerald Sanders, an African-American school board candidate understood this, he noted, "There's a black working class and a black petit bourgeoisie ... And the black bourgeoisie is mainly who has been feeding at the public trough."[23] The Oakland teachers refused to be divided by the introduction of fictitious racist notions, and whites and teachers, parents, and students of all colors locked arms and continued to hold the picket lines.

Further attempts at segregation became quite noticeable when the district began to threaten both parents and teachers. The first threats went out to parents and their children. According to the Oakland Tribune, "many Oakland parents and teachers insist officials are trying to scare kids into going to school during the strike." Parents have reported, "threatening calls from the principals," and the calls, "have spread quickly in recent days, leaving many parents anxious about their children's status."[24] The Tribune further pointed out that the school denies any such threats, but when asking Carmen Rodriguez, a parent of two students in the Oakland school district, she responded by reporting that the school officials warned her that if she continued to keep her kids out of school and respect the strike, her kids would be, "erased from the computer [and] if you don't send your kids to school they will be dropped from the list."[25]

The most powerful threats were directed at the workers. Striking coaches in the school district were told by the district, "certified teachers who strike cannot coach ... You are either in or out," and concluded, "That's the district's position."[26] One coach responded angrily, "They are blatantly bullying us. It intimidates some coaches who are teachers. Some of us are not going to take it."[27] The threats were worse for others though. Strikers who were non-unionized faced the greatest district threats. One writer explains one such incident:

The school district has attempted to force certain employees to cross the picket lines by threatening their jobs. Christina Halsey, a school psychologist at Oakland Technical High School is one such example. Employed by the district and not a member of the teachers' union, this psychologist has shown support for the teachers by walking out with them. She has been given an ultimatum to cross the line and return to work or lose her job.[28] Similar threats were being used to force other workers, students and parents to cross picket lines and undermine strike solidarity. The district was attempting to turn strike supporters into scabs.

The worst tactics, many argue, were the use of real and willing-to-work scabs. Scabs were not only employed, but they were high paid, perhaps under-qualified, and their numbers were exaggerated to help destroy public hope and turn the community against teachers' apparently losing battle. While substitute teachers were normally paid $90 per day for their work, the district was now paying scabs twice that much at $180 per day. The money they "didn't have" to buy student supplies and give teachers raises was suddenly available to pay scab workers. High pay was used to lure in more scabs and break the strike. As one teacher put it, "Wow, they're paying $180 a day! I'd come in for that much money!"[29]

Some scabs attempted to express their concern. As one scab explained, "The teachers on the line, they don't think I care. That's not true, this was not an easy decision for me." She further expressed her concerns over the children in school, "I support the cause, but the school is not closed. There are children who want to learn and it is my job to teach them." She concluded by saying, "It's a personal decision for each individual teacher. I respect theirs, I wish they would respect mine."[30] It was difficult, however, for striking teachers who were risking their jobs, their families and a lifetime of work to have respect for anyone who was helping to destroy their efforts because "they really needed the money."

Although the district denies it, many strikers reported that scabs were being hired without proper qualifications. As one striker noted in Z Magazine, "To make up for the teacher and substitute shortages the district has hired unqualified scab substitutes and waived many hiring requirements."[31] It was claimed by many strikers, though not authenticated, that scabs were being hired without FBI background checks and other requirements. If this were the case then children sent to school during the strike were being taught by strangers, some of whom could have had criminal records but were never researched. However, secrecy of the hiring procedures during the strike leaves this issue unclear, so it can only be speculated.

To add insult to injury, the district also fabricated scab rates. According to the district, by March 15, forty-one percent of teachers and 16,453 of 51,705 students had returned to class.[32] Yet these statistics were blatantly exaggerated. The schools remained empty and the picket lines full. By this date, the actual number of teachers who had crossed the picket lines made up only 15 percent of the teachers[33] while students held the line at about 80-90 percent.[34] While union scab numbers and district scab rates differed greatly, the community and the teachers were not going to be broken by faulty scab rates or high paying jobs. As one parent told a reporter for the Oakland Tribune, "It doesn't matter the length of the strike, if we see what the workers want is fair we won't cross the line, no matter the inconvenience."[35]

Footnotes 20 - 35

20. Slater, Dashka, "Nervous Oakland Teachers are Back on the Line Again," East Bay Express, February 23, 1996, No. 28.

21. Cadambi, Malini, "Oakland Teachers Strike To Win," Z Magazine, April, 1996, p.19.

22. Lee-Fulcher, Janet, as quoted by Michael Bazeley, "Teachers walk, then they'll talk," Oakland Tribune, February 16, 1996.

23. Sanders, Gerald, as quoted by Dashka Slater, "Nervous Oakland Teachers are Back on the Line Again," East Bay Express, February 23, 1996, No. 28.

24. Bazeley, Michael, "Attendance anarchy amid school strike," Oakland Tribune, February 28, 1996.

25. Ibid.

26. As reported by Peter Mentor, "Strike also effects players and coaches," Montclarion, March 15, 1996.

27. Ibid.

28. Cadambi, Malini, as written in an unpublished article for Z Magazine, March, 1996.

29. Gordon, Deborah, "Striking Oakland Teachers Are Angry at Colleagues That Cross the Line," East Bay Express, December 8, No. 19, 1995.

30. Moore, Willa (scab), as quoted by Angel Hill, "Picket line divides teachers from friends," Oakland Tribune, March 15, 1996.

31. Cadambi, Malini, "Oakland Teachers Strike to Win," Z Magazine, April, 1996.

32. As reported by Mike Fitelson, "New proposal leaves hope for accord," Montclarion, March 15, 1996.

33. As reported by Michael Bazeley, "Teachers walk, then they'll talk," Oakland Tribune, February 16, 1996.

34. As reported by Elaine Goodman, "Parents call for city intervention in the strike," Montclarion, March 1, 1996.

35. Lee, Rosa, as quoted by Sarah Weld, "Parents facing tough choices," Oakland Tribune, February 15, 1996.