Teachers and the International Workers’ Day

While the workers around the world mobilize to commemorate the International Workers’ Day, in the United States labor and labor agendas are barely remembered. Even on the issue of labor rights our country is divided. Although some sectors of our society have voiced their solidarity for the teachers’ strikes that have erupted in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado and Arizona, others have criticized the initiative even though their children, nephews or grandchildren are directly interconnected to a public education system that has been transformed into a race to the bottom in terms of salaries and benefits. The educators of future generations of Americans are the institutional backbone of American society, yet they are socially, culturally and economically undervalued. Many sectors of our society do not recognize how important it is to value and empower teachers across the nation that work for a public system that has been incrementally disenfranchised since the 1980s; teachers that have to balance one or two additional jobs in order to make ends meet, in the wealthiest country in the world. While globally, workers and civil society take the streets in solidarity to remind civil society, policy makers, and private stakeholders about the importance of dignity and social/economic justice at the workplace, in the United States the reaction is passive thanks to media and propaganda systems that are complacent with the current status quo.

Teachers, from my point of view, should be highly valued like they are in other societies. American policy makers at the local, state, and federal levels should be intellectually capable of understanding that the future of the nation rests in the hands of younger generations that will be responsible for the social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental sustainability of the superpower of the world. Future generations of educated elites that bypass the public school system will not be able, on their own, to maintain the relevance of the United States within the international system. The masses, those that depend on the public school system, are the force behind the future sustainability of our nation and yet their educators and mentors are systematically disenfranchises and forced to settle for wage and benefit cuts.

It is incredible that today in emerging economies around the world the voice of disenfranchised teachers resonates with the voice of American teachers demanding dignity and livable wages. Thirty years ago the possibilities of bridging labor agendas of teachers from the developing world and the superpower of the world could not be imagined, but today it is a reality. Instead of moving forward we are moving backwards.

President Donald Trump has pointed out in several occasions that our infrastructure is an “embarrassment” and that it has decayed to the point that it emulates a “Third World Country.” I would argue that it is not only infrastructure that has decayed but also our public education system. It is clear that we cannot sustain a twenty first century global economy with decaying infrastructure, but it should also be clear in the minds of American citizens, policy makers, and private stakeholders that it is impossible to sustain our capitalist system with a decadent public school system.

If we value our comforts and privileges as Americans then we should be willing to value the importance of educators and pay them wages that reflect our commitment to the human development of future generations that will preserve our liberties and freedoms. If we want to sustain our position of economic and political power within the international system then we must not only invest in infrastructure and security, but also in education.

Teachers that are guaranteed dignity and livable wages will set the standard for new generations of Americans that will intellectually understand that education is valuable, and that supporting a world of sustainable wages and labor standards within a capitalist society is not a threat but a long-term benefit for the market. This cultural transformation will end the race to the bottom currently promoted by the forces of globalization. We cannot be the leaders of a global economy that, through our multinational corporations, promote the current culture of labor disenfranchisement whose only objectives are cheap labor, deregulation, and privatization. Capitalism may be altered and tweaked in order to provide social justice.

LA Johnson, NPR

The salaries that governments pay their teachers reflect the social value that education has in each society. The fact that American teachers are forced to strike in order to have their voices heard speaks to the current reality of our education system and the value that our society and policy makers place on education. We are not a developing nation where the privilege of education is tailored toward elites that can afford private education, yet we are not very far from that reality. In the richest country in the world teachers should not be protesting for livable wages.

The average teacher in the United States earns $44,000, a livable wage in rural economies like Maine but not a sustainable wage in urban America where the core of the nation’s wealth is accumulated.[1] Our country spends four percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education, similar to allocation of countries like Colombia, Chile and Indonesia; this compared to Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Belgium, Finland and Sweden that spend more thank five percent of their GDP on education.[2] Although the United States has the highest per capita income in the world and the largest economy in the planet, it ranks below many advanced industrialized economies in terms of teacher’s wages. Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Australia, and the Netherlands outperform the United States.[3] Starting salaries for teachers in Luxembourg start at $80,000, and in Switzerland and Germany they start at $60,000.[4]

The question is why is our society not willing to pay these livable wages to American teachers? To me the answer is clear, as a society we no longer value this profession or the impact it has on nation building. This has to change if we want to remain relevant in the twenty first century. We have to raise the standard and set an example for the rest of the world to follow, and break away from the race to the bottom that we currently promote around the world. Today May 1, the international workers’ day, let’s reflect on the current situation of our teachers here in Maine and across the country, and let’s begin to support initiatives that will make our education system sustainable and socially just in this twenty first century. Let’s bring dignity back to the profession of teaching.

[1] Leanna Garfield. “The Best and Worst Countries to be a Teacher, Based on Salary.” Business Insider, April 23, 2018. http://www.businessinsider.com/teacher-salaries-by-country-2017-5. Accessed April 28, 2018.

[2] For more on the OECD 2017 statistics on education see; https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/eag-2017-en.pdf?expires=1525196674&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=D43FAAB70F493540ACEC3A4E46258B62

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Stefano Tijerina

About Stefano Tijerina

My name is Stefano Tijerina and this blog’s objective is to connect Maine’s social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political issues to the global system, centering on how the local impacts the global and how the global impacts the local or what is known in Global Studies as the "Glocal" effect. In our present era of globalization it is crucial for the general public to understand how the new dynamics of the international system impact our lives here in Maine and how our local decisions impact the earth. These are my personal views, and they do not express those of the University of Maine System or the University of Maine.