Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Teachers’ Strikes -Conditions for Success

 Teachers’ Strikes -Conditions for Success


At the center of the recent teacher insurgency is one particular form of direct action—the strike. The strike occupies a distinctive place in the popular consciousness of teachers and working people more generally, primarily because of its extraordinary visibility, leverage, and power as a tactic but also because of the mythology and romance that is often associated with it. Despite their success in establishing public-sector unionism and collective bargaining (including teacher unionism) in the 1960s, teacher strikes became increasingly ineffective by the mid-1970s and 1980s and had dwindled to a mere handful by the start of the twenty-first century. The success of the teacher insurgency in reestablishing the strike as a powerful tactic is a welcome development, but to maintain and build on that success, we need to be acutely aware of the approaches that best situate teacher strikes to win.


Far too much of what passes for thinking about strikes in the United States— including teacher strikes—rests on a “field of dreams” theory: Call it, and they will come. We must go beyond such romantic notions, which are recipes for disaster, and consider the different conditions and approaches that have led teacher strikes to victory and defeat, to find a way forward that will continue the success of the strikes of the teacher insurgency.

Complete chapter at 



Leo Casey is Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute, a think talk affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. Over the course of a forty-year career, he has been a rank and file public school teacher, the leader of the union at his school and a Vice President of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers.

This text was adapted from Leo Casey’s book The Teacher Insurgency: A Strategic and Organizing Perspectiveout now from Harvard Education Press. 


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