No on Cat Brooks: OEA's Contract Struggle vs. Brooks' Education Platform

By Matt S.

East Bay DSA's priorities resolution affirms that our chapter will fight for the social provisioning of housing, healthcare, and education through mass, universal programs. With respect to education, it also affirms that teachers' organized labor is essential to winning and maintaining a well-resourced and thriving public school system, and resolves that we will "support the efforts of educators and school workers to organize for their own working conditions and the learning conditions of students." At the heart of this resolution is the insight that the power of labor—teachers unions specifically—is central to our demand for high-quality, fully-funded public education.

With this in mind, I believe our chapter should vote "no" on the endorsement of Cat Brooks for Mayor, as her questionnaire and campaign materials indicate an inattention to the current class struggles unfolding around the Oakland Education Association, a local 2,700-member strong teachers union. Brooks' platform makes no mention of the OEA or its demands for a fair contract, instead proposing the development of "a training and retention program" to redress the problem of high teacher turnover. She elaborates on this proposal in her questionnaire, pointing to the think tank "Education is a Vital Sign" as the key to solving OUSD's problems—but these statements from Brooks lean heavily on a retention program as a panacea, while making no mention of the real and immediate demands that OEA has been advancing since reaching a bargaining impasse with the Oakland Unified School District in May.

The OEA is nearly a month into its second school year without a contract. As they enter mediation with the District, the teachers are standing strong in their demands: smaller class sizes and caseloads, well-resourced community schools, fair pay, and better hours. These are the factors that are driving the high turnover within OUSD, and OEA President Keith Brown made it clear in recent press conference that improved materials conditions for teachers are the key to retaining them, noting that "the uncompetitive salaries in Oakland are fueling a teacher retention crisis that destabilizes our schools." In wake of this year's historic teacher strikes, socialists all over the East Bay should be excited to see a surge in militancy from our teachers union. In the past few weeks, OEA educators have been showing their solidarity with the #RedforEd movement, calling out Oakland charter schools for siphoning public funding into private hands, and shouting out their counterparts in LA as UTLA overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike, declaring: "The red wave is coming to California!" I believe strongly that the best way to improve public education in Oakland is to back our teachers in their demands and to encourage their militancy as a union. As we have seen in recent months, a militant labor movement is the strongest possible force for winning real gains in public education.

In contrast to this rising tide of union militancy in our own backyard, Brooks' proposed solutions for OUSD are misguided and ignore the class character of the fight for public education, looking to "experts" for answers rather than education workers themselves. Her platform and questionnaire center on the idea that the right training or incentives program will convince educators to stay in the district: "Our education policy team, led by Maureen Benson has developed 'Education as a Vital Sign' which would provide a model that focuses on teacher recruitment and retention." This platform, though, lacks an analysis of how teachers' material conditions at work undergird the success of public education as a whole, and how organized labor is key to winning the public schools Oakland deserves. It imagines that the solution to OUSD's problems will come primarily from a consultant-led think tank whose stated mission is to bring "prestige and honor to the teaching profession" by pioneering "innovative practices in teacher training and remuneration." The teachers of Oakland don't need innovation; they need a fair contract, and they're fighting for it already.

To her credit, Brooks does call for higher teacher salaries and more funding for OUSD, but her platform evidences a misunderstanding of how that will come about, gesturing vaguely to her intent to "partner with the unions." In DSA, we ought to be supporting candidates who are full-throated and unequivocal in their support of militant, rank-and-file unionism as a path to winning the reforms we need. Brooks' education platform misses the mark, as it turns to consultants and policy experts for solutions—rather than the 2,700-member OEA—and ignores their ongoing, fifteen-month-long contract struggle wholesale.

Alongside Brooks' established track record as a charter school booster (she sat on the board of GO Public Schools from 2011-14, as reported by Endorsements Subcommittee), her education platform gives me great pause. I cannot in good conscience vote to endorse a candidate whose analysis of and track record on public education falls so far from what we've put forth in our chapter priorities. This is one critical reason why I’ll be voting "no" on endorsing Cat Brooks for Mayor.