Young white man with facial hair, glasses and a hat posing with his arm around a black woman in a solidarity T-shirt

On Wednesday at 7 p.m. inside the Two Dollar Radio Headquarters, Columbus Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), hosted Eric Blanc to discuss his book, Red State Revolt, about why there was an upsurge of teachers striking last year in supposedly right-wing majority states. DSA invited Regina Fuentes, member of the teachers’ union, Columbus Education Association, to present on their Columbus Students Deserve movement.

Columbus Students Deserve campaign demands reduced class sizes, increased staffing, commitment to art, music and physical education, ending corporate handouts, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and compensating educators like professionals. The Columbus Board of Education plans to hire alternative staff if the teachers do strike. The teacher’s union voted to strike for ten days if the bargaining for a new union contract does not go their way.

Blanc used to be a high-school teacher in San Francisco Bay Area. He has reported on teachers striking in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Los Angeles for multiple publications. He explained how working class educators learned the power of striking as a weapon to fight austerity, privatization, and tax breaks to the corporations.

“We have the possibility to win back a mass workers movement in the United States,” said Blanc. “The strike is back on the table.”

Regina Fuentes, a Columbus City Schools teacher for 20 years, explained how underfunded public education is in the city. She has taught in multiple schools over the city and describes devastating teaching conditions in each and every one of the schools. She’s seen mice, roaches, and mold on the dilapidated buildings’ walls. She’s taught in rooms with over 100 degrees temperatures in summer, rooms with broken heating systems in winter, and with technology as old as her teaching career.

“You’ll hear us talking about our students as our kids. We go in and we build relationships,” said Fuentes. “We don’t want to put our students in these horrible situations where their needs are not being met.”

Blanc explained four major political lessons from documenting the national strike wave. First lesson was that teachers raised broad demands to fight racism, sexism, and xenophobia to push back against the narrative of greedy and lazy teachers. Second lesson was that strikes had to change the law by breaking them. Third, strikes had to challenge the idea of monetary scarcity and fourth, that both the Democratic and Republican Parties had contributed to austerity.

“People are really fighting back by the millions,” said Blanc as he’d already seen multiple state-wide teachers’ strikes being successful.

The Board is hiring alternative staff to break up strikes and reduce the bargaining power of the working class educators. Strikebreakers are called scabs because they break the picket line and betray their fellow workers. If one person accepts bad working conditions then the exploitation of the whole class continues. Fuentes discourages people from being scabs. She explains how there are 50,000 students and about 5,000 teachers.

“Columbus can’t afford to have us be on strike,” said Fuentes. “We already can’t get subs to come in and cover us every day.”

Blanc explains that strong community support is needed to ensure the success of strikes. Fuentes also urges anyone concerned about the state of public education to support the teacher’s union, spread the word about their campaign, and show up to their events.

“Strong picket lines work. You think twice about crossing a strong picket line,” said Blanc.

On July 29 at 4 p.m. at the Firefighters’ Union Hall, the Columbus Education Association will picket Columbus City Council to demand an end to tax cuts for corporations and better funding for schools. Following the footsteps of the strikers in other states, the union is asking people to wear their red shirt for education. Defunding public education is a tactic of the elite class to make learning inaccessible to the working class. Corporations know how to manipulate government power to keep wealth to themselves and prevent workers from radicalizing against them. Supporting Columbus teachers and getting them a victory is how communities can gain faith in their own power as a collective.