What does it mean to withhold our labor?

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What does it mean to withhold our labor?

If we don't stand strong now, our students will suffer the consequences.

by Gloria Martinez

UTLA Elementary Vice President


As I make school visits across the city, I am encouraged by conversations with members about what it means to withhold our labor in the event of a strike. Oftentimes these moments come when a member who was on strike in ’89 shares the importance of solidarity. Some of these conversations grow naturally, as we discuss class size and the learning conditions of our students. Sometimes the realization of our power to withhold our labor happens while we discuss the direct effects of privatization— with a staff fighting to retain a teacher or two by norm day or a co-located school where the home school staff and students are made to feel like they are the intruders.

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Teachers everywhere always do more for the sake of our students. We take the extra children to avoid combo classes, we write endless Donors Choose projects, we eat in less than ten minutes so we can give small group instruction during lunchtime to those struggling with sight words or who need extra practice with the latest geometry lesson. It is natural that as the conversation of a strike becomes more of a reality, concern would grow. 

We work in a district that short-changes our students so, being the professionals that we are, we are used to giving more and more. A strike would be no different except this time, in addition to giving to our students, we would be giving to our colleagues and our- selves. I think back to the Oklahoma teacher who held a sign that read, “When we stand up for ourselves, we stand up for our students.” This is the attitude we must embody.

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It is time for us to invest in our students by standing up for ourselves. It is also time for those elected to public office to recognize the urgent need to invest in the schools and communities they were elected to represent. It is time to invest in this district and pressure top officials to shift priorities and ensure that LAUSD not only exists but thrives. Unfortunately, flexing our collective power and withholding the most precious resource we have, our labor, may be the only way to make this happen. 

What does it mean to withhold our labor? It means the afterschool program you run will be on hiatus. It means services you provide will be late. The debate team and the drill team will not be able to compete. This is hard to wrap our brains around because we consistently and unselfishly do so much for our students. 

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Ultimately we know that if we don’t stand strong now, it will be the very students we are trying to protect who will suffer the greatest consequences. If we leave it up to the district, they will ask more and more, and we will continue to give and give, because that is what we do. We have always made up for the district’s shortcomings, but we need this practice to end. And the time for that is now. 

Know that your labor is powerful. Know that your profession needs you. But also know that you have the backing of your UTLA sisters and brothers.