On Tuesday, March 8, Minneapolis education workers, including teachers and education support professionals (ESP), went on strike for living wages, smaller class sizes, and hiring of BIPOC teachers. What does this have to do with the police? More than it would seem at first glance.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Superintendent Ed Graff have repeatedly cited lack of funds to deny the teachers’ union’s demands. The imperative to be “fiscally responsible” is always bourgeois politicians’ response whenever workers make demands on them.
Last December, Mayor Frey and the city council agreed to a $1.6 billion budget, of which a whopping $191 million will go to the police, restoring the department’s funding to nearly the level it was before George Floyd was killed in 2020.
The Black Lives Matter movement was reignited in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin brutally killed George Floyd and spread throughout the country and abroad. “Justice for George Floyd” was one of the core demands of the movement, as well as for the state to “defund the police.” In Minneapolis, this movement was especially strong, with hundreds of thousands taking the street every day and even burning a police station. City officials paid lip service to “defunding” police budgets, and the Minneapolis City Council voted in December 2020 to transfer around $8 million of police funds to non-police departments for crime prevention initiatives.
Two years later, Minneapolis City Council members are considering a contract agreement that would give police officers raises and $7,000 payments. Officers would receive a 1 percent raise and longevity pay for 2020, a 1.5 percent raise for 2021, and a 2.5 percent increase for 2022 which would be paid retroactively. Cadets’ wages could start at as high as $21.46 per hour, while officers coming from other departments could receive between $31.45 and $40.74 per hour. The annual average salary for a police officer in Minnesota is already $71,182/year. All over the country, politicians and legislatures have walked back all of the tepid reforms won in the Black Lives Matter movement — police budgets have ballooned all over the country, and Democrats and Republicans alike are united in a “tough on crime” approach.
In Minneapolis, the raises and high wages for cops come in stark contrast to the low wages for teachers and lack of funds for schools. Educational support workers are making as little as $24,000 annually. Such a wide gap between the police budget’s resources and the resources put into education reveals, in broad daylight, the state’s priority. It’s not to provide decent living wages and working conditions for education workers — it’s to provide even more money to the police, the same department that held its knee for seven minutes and forty seconds on Floyd’s neck.
Education workers in Minneapolis are showing the way forward. In addition to their demands, which are a part of the struggle for Black lives, these education workers are re-opening the discussion of bloated police budgets, under-funded schools, and poorly paid education workers. Now that Trump is out of office, the Democrats have no interest in even paying lip service to these demands. The Minneapolis City Council is following the line of President Biden, who unabashedly stated in his State of the Union address: “The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them.” According to the Washington Post, in 2021 the police shot and killed at least 1,055 people. Clearly, funding the police is not reducing the amount of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people being unjustly murdered. The police and the whole rotten system they uphold must be abolished.
School Superintendent Ed Graff has stated that the teachers’ proposals would cost roughly $166 million annually beyond what’s currently budgeted. However Minnesota’s state government does have enough funds to redirect more money into the education budget and grant education workers’ demands — it currently has a $9.25 billion budget surplus. The government knows that granting these demands will most likely embolden education workers to fight for more, perhaps expanding militancy even in other regions of the country.
That is why, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) must show solidarity towards this strike by calling for pickets, demonstrations, and marches in every union school in the country, organizing a national day of action, or at the very least, publishing an official statement of support for the Minneapolis strike. Workers all around must show active solidarity with this strike by donating to the strike fund, taking pictures in solidarity, urging unions to make statements in solidarity, and, when possible, walking the picket lines with Minneapolis educators. Solidarity with the Minnesota education workers on strike!