Teachers Striking Back in Chicago

There are lessons for the wider union movement here. … At a time when strikes are rare and union membership is shrinking the CTU’s boldness stands out – Published on AlterNet/LABOR, by Lee Sustar, September 10, 2013 (… an excerpt of the book Striking Back in Chicago: How Teachers Took on City Hall and Pushed Back Education Reform, ISBN: 9781608463350, Published: November, 2013. Type: Paperback, Publisher: Haymarket Books, Price: $16.00).

… For nine days, teachers congregated at busy intersections, protested companies that reap tax benefits while school budgets are cut and marched through African American neighborhoods hardest hit by school closures. It was impossible to go anywhere in the city without encountering a picket line. Teachers couldn’t walk down the block without honks of support from passing cars, greetings from passersby, or enter a corner store without getting offers of free water, coffee and food. 

Opinion polls showing support for the CTU reflected the feeling in the street—the sense that teachers weren’t fighting just for themselves or even public education. The CTU’s stand, four years after the financial crash, won the hearts of the hundreds of thousands of people who could identify with a struggle that wasn’t only about pay and working conditions and quality public schools, but also dignity and respect for working people … //

… The CTU’s approach to its contract campaign was very different than the labor movement’s typical “mobilization model,” in which union members are periodically called upon to protest during contract negotiations but rarely encouraged to organize on their own. Instead, the CTU solicited contract demands at some 600 schools, sifting them upward through the House of Delegates and a bargaining team of 54 that brought together union members from every job category and had representation from all union caucuses. Union officers and staffers consulted retired veterans of the CTU strikes of the 1970s and 1980s. Several read, or reread, the socialist labor classic Teamster Rebellion, an account of the 1934 Minneapolis truck drivers’ organizing drive that led to a general strike.

At the same time, the CTU drew upon Chicago’s long history of struggle against racial injustice in the city’s schools. The mass Black student boycotts and protests of the 1960s civil rights movements were the reference point for the union’s work in African American and Latino communities that had been resisting the closure of neighborhood schools, a fight that CORE members had joined years prior to forming their caucus. Months before the strike, the union issued an exhaustively researched 46-page report, The Schools Chicago’s Children Deserve, which detailed the “apartheid-like system” in CPS and called for full financing for public education and an enriched curriculum. The CTU made it clear to parents and community members that it was fighting not just for its own members, but to defend and improve public education. It was the sort of social movement unionism rarely seen in Chicago since the 1930s and 1940s, when militants and socialists in the Steelworkers and Packinghouse Workers unions made anti-racism and support for civil rights central to their organizing … //

… There are lessons for the wider union movement here. The CTU offers an example of a kind of leadership seldom seen in organized labor, where potential union officers are usually bred for docility by self-perpetuating bureaucracies. At a time when strikes are rare, union membership is shrinking and concessions to employers are commonplace, the CTU’s boldness stands out. Here was a union prepared to risk everything to win a victory rather than passively accept a decline into irrelevance.

The strike didn’t halt corporate education reform in Chicago, where neighborhood school closures proceed and charter school proliferation continues. Even so, the CTU’s resistance has helped to strengthen the growing national movement to save our schools. It’s an example of what working people can achieve when they’re united and take collective action.

Ed Sadlowski can say that he saw it coming. “You’re going to win,” he told teachers at the rally a year earlier. “You’re going to win big, too. The real question at hand, though, is when you win, what do you do with it? Well it’s a natural question, and it’s a natural answer. Pass it on, sisters and brothers, pass it on.”
(full long text).

Links:

Whatever Happened to Scientifically Based Research in Education Policy? No Child Left Behind calls for scientifically based research. But what if that research calls for repealing No Child Left Behind? on AlterNet/EDUCATION, by Paul Thomas, September 12, 2013;

The NSA’s Next Move: Silencing University Professors? A Johns Hopkins computer science professor blogs on the NSA and is asked to take it down. I fear for academic freedom, on AlterNet/CIVIL LIBERTIES, by Jay Rosen, September 10, 2013;

Texas company uses image of kidnapped woman to advertise truck decals: The owner of the company “did not expect” people to get angry over the image of a bound woman, on Salon, by KATIE MCDONOUGH, Sept 9, 2013 – A Texas signage company is currently advertising just how realistic its tailgate decals are with an image of a woman who has been bound, gagged and held captive in the back of a truck …;

Richard Dawkins defends mild pedophilia, says it does not cause lasting harm: The biologist and author described the sexual abuse that occurred among his former classmates as mild touching up, on SALON, by KATIE MCDONOUGH, Sept 10, 2013;

(see also: Welcome to our new blog: politics for the 99%).

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