I am invigorated by witnessing the Chicago Teachers Union strike on the opening day of the Labor Notes Trouble Makers conference.
Chicago Teachers Union leader Monique Redeaux Smith was cheered by the 2,000 Labor Notes delegates in reporting the success of the day of stoppages. The struggle continues with more action on the contract and for schools.
During the strike actions, I attended a rally at the airport supporting the vigorous $15 per hour struggle by airport workers.
Other strikes and solidarity actions by many Chicago workers is impressive.
i am able the next day to talk to Chicago Teachers Union leader Debbie Pope.
“How to Jump-Start Your Union: Lessons from the Chicago Teachers” Tells how activists transformed their union and gave members hope. Readers will learn how to run for office, work with their communities, build a stewards network, train new leaders, run a contract campaign, and strike.
By Alexandra Bradbury, Mark Brenner, Jenny Brown, Jane Slaughter, and Samantha Winslow. 232 pages.
“How to Jump-Start Your Union” should be a beacon to all rank-and-file members on how to bring democracy to their locals”. Karen Lewis had faith in the membership and empowered every frontline worker. A great read with lessons for Australian unionists.
Karen Lewis CTU at Chicago club http://www.ctunet.com/blog/ctu-president-karen-lewis-at-city-club-of-chicago
From Jerome Small in Chicago: This video is more than an hour but there are plenty of gems in here, and it gives you a feel. Mainly focusing on the protest outside Roosevelt High School — similar scenes were playing out at schools right across Chicago. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0sX9V8wSVo&nohtml5=False
Here I post articles
1. Despite School District’s Legal Threats, Chicago Teachers Stage One-Day Political Strike
BY REBECCA BURNS AND DAVID MOBERG SATURDAY, APR 2, 2016
Even at 6:30 a.m., there was no lack of enthusiasm from teachers who were on strike at the Maria Saucedo Elementary School in Little Village yesterday morning. “We are here because we love our students and because we are out here setting an example, we are raising a whole new generation of activists,” special education teacher Sarah Chambers yelled from a bullhorn.
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) officially walked out for the day over what they say is an unfair labor practice (ULP) amid contract negotiations with Chicago Public Schools (CPS): the unilateral decision by the district to stop giving steps and lanes pay increases (the former based on length of time served in the district, the latter the result of new credentials like master’s degrees), in violation of their previous contract, which expired in June 2015 but still covers teachers.
It was thus a legal strike, the union argues—contrary to the views of CPS leadership.
But whatever the legal justification, the action was a rare move by a union in the United States (though more common in other countries)—a political strike aimed at the right-wing billionaire Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner over his refusal to raise needed revenue (or even reach agreement on a budget).
“This strike is targeted primary to Bruce Rauner,” explained union president Karen Lewis, decked out in CTU red as she visited South Side schools in the morning. “He’s the one holding the budget hostage.”
The schools and other public services need long-term, sustainable funding, not a flimsy “quick fix,” Lewis said. That means new revenue, which the union wants to come primarily from Chicago’s and Illinois’s wealthiest citizens.
Standing in front of a school where she previously taught, King College Preparatory School, Lewis greeted a former colleague who had earlier in her career demonstrated the importance of special education. Now the school faced cuts in special ed. King School also has a fairly good library, but no librarian.
The one-day strike, which culminated in a mass march of several thousand (estimates went as high as 15,000) teachers and supporters through a cold rain at rush hour in downtown Chicago, was also an occasion to express solidarity between CTU and other unions and community groups, not only for more funding for public needs, but a different balance of spending: more on education and aid for young people, less on policing and incarceration.
At a forum at Chicago State University, a largely black public school on Chicago’s South Side, Black Youth Project 100 joined with CTU in leading a discussion about the implications of the threats to the school as a result of its receiving no funds from the state as a result of the budget impasse. With layoffs of half the staff imminent and the school facing potential closure, BYP100 leaders, such as co-chair Damon Williams, said Rauner’s policies have been devastating for the university.
Rauner argues that the tax cuts already implemented and those he hopes to enact are needed to make businesses competitive in the state. But Williams, the member of BYP 100, argues that if the tax revenues were maintained and expanded, the state could keep open and expand colleges that could make businesses more competitive by providing an educated work force that also could reduce black youth unemployment and imprisonment.
Another university that primarily serves working-class students of color, Northeastern Illinois University, was the site of a protest on the Norhwest Side of the city, with a New Orleans-style “jazz funeral” march to mourn the “death” of higher education. One protestor carried a large pole with a skeleton in a cap and gown at the top, bearing a sign that read “stop killing public education.” Protesters say Gov. Rauner has nearly eliminated MAP grants, which allow low-income students to attend college.
Speakers included socialist Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, and AFT President Randi Weingarten, who exclaimed that they were all “fighting for the basic principle of the American Dream.” that principle being evoked several times by different speakers. Richard Grossman, a Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at NEIU and a member of AFT Local 4100, echoed the point, saying that public education and higher public education serve as “entry points for many African Americans, Latinos, and minorities.” Attacking it, he says, as Rauner has done, would only take away opportunities from those seeking to make a better live for themselves and their families.
About 100 people also gathered outside the Illinois Youth Center Chicago on the city’s West Side. They led a march—sponsored by Racial justice groups including Project NIA, Assata’s Daughters, Black Lives Matter-Chicago, the Chicago Freedom School and others—from the youth prison to Henry Suder Elementary. One of the protesters present was Julian Thompson, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago whose research centers on incarceration.
Thompson, who has a daughter in CPS, described the school system as “not suitable for children to grow and develop in ways that are meaningful.” He lamented the punitive disciplinary practices that all too often lead to prison and noted the militarization of his old CPS high school, which now has metal detectors and police guards both of which contribute to an environment where students face difficulties when they try to go to the bathroom.
Large, organized groups of students joined the day’s actions. After marching alongside picketing teachers in the morning, more than 50 students gathered downtown at noon to hold their own action: a speakout about the impact of budget cuts on their schools.
Students talked about losing art classes, school counselors and favorite teachers before marching to City Hall, where they attempted to deliver “pink slips” to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The mayor himself never showed up, but students later began chanting, “Where’s Rahm? Right here!” as they passed a giant inflatable rat set up near CPS headquarters.
Faced with teachers’ strikes, city officials often echo a common refrain: “I don’t think kids should pay a price for a political message,” Mayor Emanuel said Friday morning.
Cameron Miller, a senior at Wendell Phillips High School, doesn’t buy that the strike hurts students. “Any kid who shows up to today’s protests is going to learn a lot,” he insists.
To prove his point, Miller came up with a canny way to make participation in today’s actions “count” for students: He talked his school administrators into signing off on service-learning hours for those attending the youth-led marchFriday afternoon. Since the Chicago Students Union (CSU), a registered non-profit, was involved in the action, it meets CPS’ guidelines. More importantly, “there’s definitely an educational basis for this,” he says seriously. “Civic education.”
CSU was born out of the fight to halt Chicago’s 2013 mass school closings. Unlike the teacher’s union, the group has no formal status under labor law, but that doesn’t stop it from representing students’ interests through collective action. In recent years, students fighting school closings and high-stakes testing have also formed unions in cities like Philadelphia, Newark and Providence.
Miller is relatively new to CSU; he says his first time protesting was last fall, when the city released graphic video showing the fatal police shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald. From there, he connected with other students organizing against police brutality and the underfunding of African-American and Latino schools. The effects of this are plain at his high school, located in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood.
“I have a drama class with 48 kids in it,” he says. “We literally have people standing against the wall because there’s no place for them to sit.”
At DePaul University, Colin Macombs said he has a stake in the day’s protest because he is a future teacher.
“They’re trying to blame teachers for problems in schools but really it’s a budget problem. We’re fighting to stop the cuts,” Macombs said.
Members of the Fight For 15, many of whom work at McDonald’s, prominently participated in rallies at the schools. They calculate that 51 percent of fast food workers receive some form of public assistance, which costs $368 million a year. Raise pay at McD’s and other fast food workers and the state would have that $368 million for education, the group says.
Also, raising the pay of fast food workers would not only help young people pay for expenses of college or other training. It would help the many adults with children who work in low-wage industries. With wages at $15 an hour or more, family income would increase, providing more stability to students, and more time for adults to spend with their children, argues Stevenson Moore, 46, a McDonald’s worker since he was 16 and now responsible for the care of seven children.
Lewis embraced the community support, but still sees labor union solidarity and engagement on public issues as crucial for improving life in Chicago. “We’ve had a dormant labor movement for many years,” Lewis said, “and it will not get better until the labor movement gets moving again.”
The CTU and its supporters in Chicago’s labor movement may be again put to the test in the near future: After insisting that the teachers’ action was illegal in the run-up to the strike, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool announced last night that the district would sue the union for the cost of the strike and would pursue an injunction to prevent the union from ever pursuing such an action again.
“Lawbreaking cannot go unchecked, there has to be accountability for blatantly breaking the law,” Claypool said, according to DNAinfo Chicago.
CTU leadership made clear its position on Friday’s legality ahead of the strike.
“We are going to strike over things that judges might consider illegal, but we consider moral and right,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told a labor-friendly audience a week earlier. “There might be judges that disagree with us…” He shrugged. “But we disagree with them.”
Eli Massey, Jennifer Ball, Ben Rosenfield, Caroline Beck and Micah Uetricht contributed reporting to this article.
REBECCA BURNS AND DAVID MOBERG
Rebecca Burns is an associate editor at In These Times. David Moberg is a senior editor at In These Times.
Nurses support @CTULocal1 teachers & #FightForFifteen #ShutDownChi
2. It’s Not Only About a Salary: Why Chicago’s Teachers Walked Off the Job
Educators have been denied raises, but they’re protesting cuts to student services too.
APR 1, 2016 Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications.
With public education budgets being slashed coast to coast, tales of teachers having to pay for classroom supplies from their own pocket or hit up parents for everything from art supplies to funds for field trips are all too common. But in Chicago, anger over what public school teachers say is a lack of adequate funding for basic student services and resources boiled over on Friday into a one-day strike.
Nearly 400,000 students were forced to stay home as educators and their allies from Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter picketed outside schools and shut down streets in downtown Chicago. The city’s educators, led by the Chicago Teachers Union, have gripes over the way Chicago Public Schools, which is facing a $1.1 billion operating deficit, has denied them raises. However, they’re also outraged over the way the district has shuttered schools, laid off staff, increased class sizes, and cut resources for the neediest kids.
RELATED: The Recession Is Over, So Why Are School Districts Still Slashing Budgets?
Dozens of Shuttered Libraries in Majority-Black Schools
According to a post on the Chicago Teachers Union blog in December, only about one-third of high schools have a librarian, and heavily segregated schools on the South and West sides of the city “have been hit especially hard” by cuts. As the post details, only two schools with a student population greater than 90 percent black have a librarian on staff, down from 19 schools in 2012. “Across the 46 high schools with a majority African American student population, just 15 percent have librarians, and across the 28 high schools with an African American student population above 90 percent, just 7 percent do,” the post reads.
RELATED: Meet the Chicago Mom Who Starved Herself for Better Schools: The receive Troublemakers awards at Labor Notes.
Few Full-Time Nurses
Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Saucedo Elementary on the city’s West Side—who is also a member of the Chicago Teachers Union executive board—told Jacobin about the dire situation on her campus, one that is common across the district. “We only have one nurse right now for a couple days a week to serve 1,200 students. If a student is sick—maybe they vomited, maybe they have lice—they’re sent back to the classroom, because there’s no nurse there,” Chambers said.
There Are More Officers on Campus than Counselors
A report released in March by education website The 74 revealed that for every 1,000 students, there are four security officers for every two school counselors. Most schools in Chicago only have one counselor to work with students, Chambers said. The lack of counselors has been seen in other cities, a factor which lessens the ability of low-income kids of color to be prepared for college admissions.
Meanwhile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel condemned the strike during an appearance at a Chicago Park District facility that had provided activities for the city’s children. “I believe kids should be in school, learning. While I believe there is a legitimate point to be made, it should be not taken out at the expense of our children and their education,” Emanuel said.
CTU activists attended Labor Notes. “Wow, what a shot in the arm! Thanks to thousands of you (and a well-timed teachers strike), the 2016 Labor Notes Conference was the biggest and best yet. In 125+ meetings, films, and workshops, you shared success stories and inspiration, sharpened your skills, practiced the Secrets of a Successful Organizer, and talked strategy with workers from across the country and around the world. Check out the hashtag #labornotes on social media for photos and reports from many packed sessions.
As we celebrate the Troublemakers Conference, we’re excited to announce our newest book. Secrets of a Successful Organizer debuted at the conference, where it sold like hotcakes. Already some local unions are ordering copies in bulk for their
I have just read this and a good introduction and could really be adapted to the Australian IR environment. “Secrets of a Successful Organiser” from Labor Notes is a step-by-step guide to building power on the job. http://labornotes.org/secrets We’ve distilled the the insights and know-how of generations of rank-and-file organizers into 47 secrets you can use—illustrated with real-life stories from hundreds of workers who fought back on the job and won.You’ll learn how to identify the key issues in your workplace, build campaigns to tackle them, anticipate management’s tricks and traps, and inspire your co-workers to stand together despite their fears.
The book is packed with practical tips and exercises to help you analyze your own workplace. Check out the matching series of free, downloadable handouts you can use in trainings or pass around to co-workers.
3. Signs on the picket lines parodied Governor Rauner and Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel as ruthless villains representing the 1%. Both have both committed themselves to cutting education and attacking union rights as a part of a pro-business agenda. But teachers and the many thousands out to support them did not buy that the state is “broke.” Instead, they argued that the state and city budgets were “broke on purpose” and demanded full funding. One slogan captured the sentiment: “We need teachers. We need books. We need the money that the bankers took.”
Refunding toxic swaps; a financial transaction tax; progressive taxation of the rich; redirecting millions from corporate subsidies – the question of the day was not whether there is revenue available to fully fund schools and services, but how could a fight be waged to wrest it from billionaires like Ken Griffin who fund both Rahm and Rauner.
The corporate Chicago press attacked the CTU strike as a “tantrum” and CPS sued the union on April 1 claiming the strike was illegal, but denunciations did nothing to stem the day’s ecstatic mood. Citywide actions converged in a massive rally of up to 15,000 downtown at rush hour. Speakers denounced the greed of the 1% and called for full funding of education and services, but many did not hear them as the crowd had grown far too large. Marching through the rain, teachers and their supporters shut down major streets in a show of working class unity.
The CTU’s April 1 strike was a true achievement. Although the situation in the union’s contract negotiations with the city is currently quite murky, Rahm may be forced to make concessions [for more details see the accompanying piece below]. But as the CTU has made very clear, they are not just fighting for a decent contract for their members, but for quality education and quality life for all of their students. Of course these are not contradictory goals, as teacher activists have emphasized in the slogan “Our teaching conditions are students’ learning conditions.” But in the current circumstances, a new contract for teachers, like in 2012, will not mean an end to assaults on public education.
Critically, the teachers’ strike action was explicitly geared towards building solidarity and confidence to prepare CTU members and working class communities for future struggles. Many teachers expressed huge appreciation for the deep community support.
What is happening in Chicago has many lessons for the rebuilding of a fighting labor movement across the country.
There is huge potential coming out of April 1 to build a sustained fight back against vicious corporate politics in Illinois. Any gains won by the teachers will be a product of mass solidarity, and it’s crucial that those gains be used to lay the groundwork for continued mass struggle against Rahm and Rauner. The duo’s alliance against working people exposes the two major parties as pro-corporate collaborators.
The CTU has played a highly effective role in galvanizing working class anger at the establishment in the city and can play an historical role in turning that anger towards mounting a political challenge to corporate domination. Given the totally corrupt Chicago Democratic Party, this will require building a new political party of the 99% out of mass struggle.
The following article appears in the new issue of Socialist Alternative. It was written before the strike but gives useful background to the above report.
This is just one step in the on-going battle in Chicago and more will be posted.