Assessing Chicago teachers strike

I earlier posted on the important seven day Chicago teachers’ strike. Now there has been a settlement, here are assessments of this struggle with lessons for Australia.

7 Days that Shook Chicago:
The 2012 Chicago Teachers Strike

Peter Brogan

On Tuesday, September 18, 2012 the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly to suspend their first strike in 25 years, begun on the previous Monday, September 10 at 12:01 am. Many commentators from both left alternative publications and in the corporate press have observed that in an era of austerity when seemingly no unions in the United States – and I would add Canada – are fighting back against layoffs, budget cuts, wage freezes and the like, the CTU has stood up to a city government that was seeking massive concessions.

Many of these concessions, from merit pay and teacher evaluations based on standardized tests, have been central to the dismantling of public education that has been advanced by political and economic elites like the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Walton Foundation under the guise of “education reform.” As CTU president Karen Lewis noted on more than one occasion, this strike was part of a wider battle over the soul of public education. I would add that it has also been a testing ground for an alternative strategy, movement oriented strategy for the North American labour movement.

While the members of the union still need to vote on whether or not to ratify the tentative agreement negotiated over the weekend, which was examined and discussed by members on the picket lines Monday and Tuesday, it is likely to be ratified within the next two weeks.

So, now that the strike is over, what did it mean for both the city of Chicago and for the U.S. labour movement?
A Resounding Victory

First, because education and the attack on teachers and their unions has been at the forefront of class struggle in the United States and around the world any analysis of the CTU strike needs to begin with an acknowledgement of it as a resounding victory for working people, for unions and for the fight to defend and perhaps more importantly transform public education.

This strike pushed the boundaries of contract unionism and took a moment in which the teachers union in Chicago was battling concessions and a mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who was intent on further eroding the power of the union and advancing a billionaire backed “education reform” agenda even further and turned it into a movement to fight for an improved education system and more broadly to fight for a city that puts people ahead of profit.

It has been a long time since people have seen a union, in the public or the private sector, use the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of labour, the strike, to fight back. Read the whole article here

Chicago Teachers Union

From Labor Notes

Earlier from Labor Notes
Kids are more than test scores

How Chicago Teachers Reached the Boiling Point

Howard Ryan September 12, 2012
Teachers at Chicago’s Peck Elementary say they struck to improve learning conditions. Despite high-level vilification in the media, parents are backing the action.

At a time when public school teachers are vilified by higher-ups and in the media, what moved Chicago teachers to launch their first strike in 25 years?

They are finding overwhelming support where it counts, from parents and the community. A poll released yesterday said 47 percent of Chicago voters support the strike, and 39 percent oppose it.

But how did the teachers work up the will to walk out?

Teachers walking picket lines for the third day tell their side of the story.
Read here


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