Two entrenched, mutually hostile factions. A dispute that causes enormous collateral damage, with no end in sight. An intense media spotlight.
The partial federal government shutdown entered its 24th day Monday. The teachers’ strike at L.A. Unified, meanwhile, entered its first. It’s impossible to miss the parallels.
One key difference, though, is that the two sides in the strike have something to talk about. The dispute boils down to how much the district can and will spend on improved working conditions, including smaller class sizes and more teachers’ aides.
Granted, they’re far apart on the issue, with the union accusing the district of not negotiating seriously and Supt. Austin Beutner saying the union’s demands would render the district insolvent in even less time than it’s already projected to be. But the district has upped its offer and the union has dropped some of its demands, so you can see how the two sides could ultimately come to an agreement.
In Washington, President Trump has made the shutdown a binary issue: At the end of the day, he’s got to have his border wall. Yes, the administration is asking for hundreds of millions of dollars tied to other border-security needs, such as more border agents and more judges for immigration cases. But one seemingly nonnegotiable demand is that Congress pony up billions for a taller, more expansive wall, in steel or concrete, along the border with Mexico.
For their part, Democrats have made it abundantly clear they will never ever, ever get together with Trump on the wall. They make a variety of arguments against it — it’s ineffective, it sends a terrible message to the rest of the world, it won’t deter families from seeking asylum here, etc. — but they may simply want to prevent Trump from #WINNING on an issue in which he has invested so much political capital.
And therein lies the problem. The shutdown is dragging on mainly because there’s nothing to negotiate — there’s no middle ground. Well, that’s not quite true; if the issue were “border security,” as Trump sometimes describes it, the two sides could certainly go back and forth about the best way to achieve it and how much to devote to it. But as Trump made very clear last week when he cut short a meeting with top congressional Democrats, the hang-up is Trump’s “big, beautiful” wall.
Either we build it or we don’t. Either Trump wins or he loses.
Like the federal impasse, the one in Los Angeles has a personal edge. Beutner himself has become a subtext in the strike — the union leadership (and, evidently, many teachers) don’t trust him because they see him as an agent of well-heeled, pro-charter-school reformers.
Nevertheless, the teachers’ strike can and undoubtedly will end with a deal both sides will claim as a victory. Union leaders will say they squeezed blood from the stone, preserving the future of public schools in the district. Beutner will say he saved the district from a deal that would have meant financial ruin.