What the Market Basket Grocery Strike Can Teach Educators

marketbasket strkers strike
Market Basket strikers – Credit BBC

In just three weeks, employees of Market Basket,  a regional chain of grocery stores based in Massachusetts, pulled off an upset in the world of labor relations: They successfully drove that company’s board of directors to re-hire their loved CEO who had been fired by other distant family members in a boardroom squabble over control of the company.

This successful strike organized by managers, supervisors and workers has much to teach educators about how the power of numbers can offset the power of the rich.

Managers to part-time workers all strike

In these three reports from NPR, The Boston Globe, and the BBC, what we learn about this extraordinary story of labor success has one very large red thread that runs through it.

The newest workers all the way up to the most seasoned supervisors and managers all took part in the action.

The unity and solidarity of the engaged management and the workers created a force that no board of wealthy people could deal with for long. Not only that, the customers were so much in support of the strike, they temporarily stopped shopping there. It didn’t really matter, the shelves were mostly bare anyway.

The fact of the managers and supervisors being involved meant that the company could not do what they usually do which is make the managers work overtime and supervise temps as to what to do. In this case, when the company tried to hire supervisors, no one from top to bottom knew what they were doing.

Educators Learn About Solidarity, Too

This last year my home state of Oklahoma saw an amazing transformation in the politics of education that has similarities to the Market Basket strike.

The so-called “reform” agenda of corporate investor-owned charters is an agenda developed to accuse and discredit public school educators with harsh but inaccurate scrutiny while insisting on complete freedom from accountability of corporate charters that also receive tax dollars.

IMG_0192These forces for “reform” are the ones who paid large sums to get Republican charter school “reform” advocate Janet Barresi elected to the position of State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

She was openly contemptuous in criticizing both administrators and teachers accusing them of incompetence. Reflecting the nation-wide trend of a very small group of the rich controlling large swaths of public life, educators and parents found themselves all in the same boat.

Those groups joined to oppose “reform” agenda measures being pushed through the legislature by corporate charter school interests coached by ALEC and associated organizations.

Education Rally Capitol politics
At the Education Rally at the Oklahoma State Capitol this year

One of the largest — if not the largest — rallies of any kind in Oklahoma history happened at the Capitol in response to a state superintendent and contemptuous right-wing legislature. And the organizing leadership of many public school superintendents and principals was a critical factor in that rally being as successful as it was.

After that, the legislature became much more responsive to demands from their constituent educators. One bill that almost matched an ALEC model word-for-word would have allowed corporate charters to take over education without accountability. It would have allowed corporate charters to go even into the remotest of rural areas that had no need for them. It was defeated.

A part of that “standards” effort involved a law making it mandatory to hold back most 3rd grade students who did not pass a one-time test administered on one day out of the school year. As educators and parents continued to make the case for the cruelty of that law, the supt. and governor held out for keeping it. Parents and educators won in the end as a law was passed eliminating the mandatory aspect and allowing teachers, parents, administrators and specialists to determine a plan for retention or not for those who did not pass the test.

The legislature then passed an override of the supposedly popular Republican Governor Mary Fallin’s veto of that bill. That happened even after heavy lobbying to protect the veto by the governor, her staff, Supt. Barresi and her staff and many other lobbyists for corporate charters.

Having a common nation-wide set of standards is critical to the financial success of corporate investor-owned charters. Once those corporations are able to scale the same curriculum and management across the whole U.S., then profitability will follow. So the Common Core has been a large component of the corporate school take-over carried out behind a  smokescreen of “rigor” and “standards”, of course “for the kids”. Actually it was for investors.

The power of unified administrators, teachers, and parents had an impact on that agenda as well. Eventually the legislature passed a bill repealing Oklahoma’s use of the Common Core, and the governor signed it.

Professional educators — teachers with administrators — helped to defeat Supt. Barresi in the Republican primary this Summer even before she had a shot at the general election. And this was after she contributed personally to the millions that were spent on her campaign.

That defeat has contributed to an unexpected weakness for Gov. Fallin in this year’s governors race against Democrat Joe Dorman who is now within one percentage point in the latest polls.

Managers and workers together create a powerful force

What we learn from the Market Basket employees in Massachusetts and educators in Oklahoma is this: When managers, supervisors, workers and clients all see that they have more in common with each other than with any wealthy minority in the boardroom, big things can happen that benefit a much larger circle of people.

In Massachusetts the workers and customers benefited. In Oklahoma, schools, parents, children, administrators, teachers, and communities benefited.

It’s a labor lesson that we can learn across a broader spectrum once again if we will.