Hungering for impact: A 'fast' way to attract attention to Philadelphia schools

The tent for members of the hunger strike sits on Broad Street in Philadelphia, on June 26, 2013. The hunger strike is being put on by Philadelphia School System employees after the passing of the Doomsday budget. ( Andrew Renneisen / Staff Photographer )

Union members are fasting in protest of the layoffs of 1,202 noontime aides from the Philadelphia School District. It makes an interesting story, and that may be the point, said a Drexel University political science  professor who teaches about propaganda and politics. 

"The goal is to have the issues come out," said William Rosenberg, the Drexel professor. The strike "gets picked up in the media.

"Just the fact that they are having [the hunger strike] is inconsequential," he said. "The fact that this is going to attract attention" is what matters.

That's particularly important, considering the timing. In a typical school strike, he said, the union, Unite Here Local 634, would be at its most powerful in the days shortly before the start of school or heading into graduation season. But here, the other side of the bargaining table, so to speak, is the legislature in Harrisburg, which now controls important purse strings. The timing of their budget process doesn't coincide with the time that the workers have the most clout.

"In some ways, if it was September, and there was a strike – it would have a bigger impact," he said. But, "it’s 92 degrees and school’s not in session."

Rosenberg made another key point: "I think [the workers] are fighting a battle that is larger than the particular issue, in the environment of the growth of charter schools. It's an environment in which public education is under more and more pressure, and resource dollars are declining. There is going to be less money to pay for service and support in the public school system. As those dollars flow away from public education, the number of workers is going to decline, because there are fewer kids there."

"Workers are a little bit on the chopping block."