Thursday, February 7, 2013

Analysis of the CTU strike/how CORE changed the union Plus MORE

Kristine Mayle, one of the officers of the CTU, sent this link to Ethan Young's piece. This piece relates to the work MORE is trying to do.

I am most interested on the CORE organizing efforts within the union so I reprinted a section below. One of the key things they did was educate themselves. They first got together to read Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine" to understand exactly what was going on and then transmitting that knowledge to other Chicago teachers. You don't get well over 90% of the members to support a strike in these times without this crucial understanding of the threat of neo-liberalism. Ask any Chicago activist teacher and they will know exactly what you are talking about. Ask any Unity Caucus member what neo-liberalism is and they will say "Only one year to get rid of Bloomberg." Duh! The UFT not only misinforms the rank and file but their own core Unity activists. (By the way, I hear Mulgrew is now using my "ed deform" expression all the time. I should have copyrighted.)

But I will point out a couple if inaccuracies. To say "decades-old" UPC (Unity style caucus) is missing the point that in 2001 an insurgent caucus led by Debbie Lynch defeated the UPC but Debbie then lost to them in a runoff in 2004 where she missed winning on the first round by a percentage point --- meaning that the UPC was a severely weakened caucus even though they won overwhelmingly in 2007. There were enough internal tensions inside the UPC to cause them to split and that opened the way for CORE which formed not long after this UPC 2007 win where they trounced Debbie's Caucus. It was clear there was a need for a new voice.

Same with MORE in a sense. It was clear after the 2010 elections that ICE and TJC were just not going to be viable. There was pressure from a newer CORE-like generation of activists from groups like GEM (which some people take to be an ICE retread but in fact it was not, attracting people like Julie Cavanagh and others who would never have been involved with ICE. Also the NYCORE union wing wanted to get more involved, as did Teachers Unite. There was resistance from many in ICE and though I can't speak for TJC, there was clearly resistance to the idea of MORE too.

So even though I jumped on board the MORE idea given that I pretty much knew ICE was not going anywhere as far back as 2007, which was why I jumped on GEM in 2009 which was not a union oriented group but more active in opposing charters and defending public ed but clearly saw that without a union component --- and don't think the UFT hacks weren't sniping at GEM too -- and then played a role in bringing all the groups together to explore common actions and that morphed into MORE.
Back to CORE.
Ethan Young states: Within two years of rapid growth, CORE defeat- ed the old guard UPC with 60 percent of the vote....

That has to be put in context. In the first round in 2010 they came in 2nd to the UPC by a hair -- each getting around 33% -- a remarkable achievement for a new 2-year old caucus -- and something that if MORE accomplished would be a game-changer in the UFT. There were 5 caucuses running, including Debbie Lynch's which got about 15% and the UPC splitoffs. They all tossed their support to CORE for round 2 and that is where the 60% came from. Do not take lightly the fact that UPC still got 40%. With CORE being up for election this May they still need 50% to win without a runoff. Hopefully, CORE has built on its 33% but have they built enough to capture over 50%? That should be a fascinating election to watch.

Here in NYC we have the 23 year old New Action which has seen its support drop to a quarter of the support they used to have over the decade since making the dirty deal with Unity in 2003. I still believe if they had continued to be a real opposition they would be in a position to have kept winning the high schools where they used to get over 3000 votes. In 2010 they got 750 HS votes while ICE/TJC received 1350 (and Unity 2600). And in fact if they had actually organized instead of being happy to have their 6 Exec Bd seats they could have turned into MORE. But they made the wrong bet. Yet the leaders seem very happy and cozy with their little jobs and their gift 8 Exec bd seats. They would rather have a quarter of the support they had than actually put up a fight against Unity. In fact if MORE and New Action had pooled candidates for the high schools Unity couldn't win. But that wouldn't happen as long as NA supports Mulgrew.

Instead, MORE needs to get the same 3000+ votes New Action used to get. If MORE can educate teachers, especially in high schools, that a vote for New Action is a vote for Unity they could win these 7 EB seat away from the NA/Unity combo. If it were up to me I would put out a fact sheet on NA but it is not up to me. There are people in MORE who think that one day NA will turn on Unity once again and join the fray. I have no such hopes. But would love it if I was wrong.
Read this! A really nice analysis of the CTU strike and how CORE changed the union.

When newly elected President Ronald Reagan fired more than 11,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981, he was also firing the first shots in a new offensive against workers in the United States. The new logic of neoliberalism, with its insatiable appetite for low wages and powerless workers, ha…


Here's a section of the intro to the piece:
....All is not doom and gloom. In the midst of this onslaught, the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) has struck back with one of labor’s biggest victories in recent decades. The CTU strike of September 2012 brought together 26,000 workers to successfully fight a proposal by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to lengthen the school day by two hours with no pay raise, plus other measures intended to weaken the job secu-rity and voice of the city’s teachers. In the context of the so-called educational “reform” movement—a subterfuge by conservative and neoliberal forces intended to weaken the institution of public education—the CTU’s victory could prove crucial. In the larger war against public unions—the last major bastion of U.S. labor and only political player capable of challenging corporate dominance in the game of campaign finance—the labor movement has finally struck back.
In the following study, writer and activist Ethan Young dissects the CTU’s victory and draws lessons for the labor movement, and indeed the U.S. Left, on how to fight back and how to look forward.

Here is the section I am interested in sharing:
CTU elections in 2010 turned out the decades-old leadership group, United Progressive Caucus (UPC). The winners came from the relatively new Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), with backing from an older dissident caucus, ProActive Chicago Teachers (PACT).

A handful of teachers formed CORE in 2008, at a moment of crisis for the CTU and of ongoing emergency in the school system. The leader- ship of UPC was split over a $2 million budget deficit. The union had lost more than 18% of its membership to firings resulting from then-mayor Richard M. Daley’s sweeping privatization plan. Daley put low-rated schools in “turnaround,” firing all staff and replacing them with selected newcomers.

The CORE founders first acquainted themselves with the neoliberal campaign as a whole, study- ing critical studies and analyses like Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. They then targeted the demand for job security and the impact of standardized testing. As they took on new members, they set up committees with an eye toward expansion and public debate on Daley and Duncan’s plans for public education:

⇒ The Communication committee presented research findings on the system’s failures on its website and newsletter and prepared special material for CTU delegates’ meeting.
⇒ Outreach organized meetings with teachers around the city to discuss the issue of class size. CPS critics have long argued that aver- age classrooms are overstuffed and nearly useless for teaching purposes.
⇒ A committee focusing on the union’s House of Delegates planned interventions in the meetings of CTU school reps.
⇒ Advocacy planned special educational and agitational events.

CORE worked hard to share skills and informa- tion with new members, to help them get to the roots of the system’s failure in Daley’s policies. At the same time, they outlined key workforce issues: paid and pensionable family leave; use of scripted “learning” and high stakes testing; contractual rights to file grievances over class size; school closings; charter proliferation; and so-called merit pay, aimed at tossing out teachers in “problem” schools. They also included quality of education issues, such as lack of school libraries and air conditioning.

Chicago’s tradition of community organizing was a boon to the caucus. From the start, CORE sought allies at the community level. In August 2008, their first public panel discussion on edu- cation issues included speakers from the well-established community groups Blocks Together, Parents United for Responsible Education, The Pilsen Alliance, South West Youth Collaborative, Access Living, Clergy Committed to Community, and Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization. This was the start of an ongoing interaction, helping ground CTU members in broader community concerns, while putting education higher among those concerns for organizers in various “working class-based” social movements.

This is far from standard procedure for a big union. Without fanfare, CORE set a course that would move CTU from traditional “business unionism” to the (still mostly speculative) model proposed by some progressives, “social move- ment unionism.” It’s a big leap from strict collec- tive bargaining to incorporating the concerns of other social movements. For many unions, it’s a leap just to acknowledge that labor is a move- ment among other movements.

Within two years of rapid growth, CORE defeat- ed the old guard UPC with 60 percent of the vote....
For more download the pdf.


  1. Hey Norm, if you moved to Chicago and got regularly involved with CTU, how quickly do you think your miserable ways would kick in resulting in your constant criticism and fixation with them. One month? Two?

  2. Norm, thanks for your corrections to my piece. I wish I could have included that level of detail. Definitely important to understanding the background to CORE's election. I'm really glad that folks find the article useful. Perseveremos

  3. Thanks for stopping by Ethan. So much good stuff in your piece. I understand that detail is not possible. I want to make sure people get that their base was about a third and that they have to build out from there which I think they have. The elections will tell. Not getting 50% would be a serious issue. Not sure how many caucuses are running.


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