Monday, November 4, 2019

Assessing The Chicago Teacher Strike - A View from the Inside - Part 1

Using the strike weapon is why we won those items, and I want all members to understand the true power of withholding our labor. This strike mattered....now is a time for celebrating what we DID win. I want our members to feel the power of collective action. That those 11 days on the pickets and in the streets got us wins we were told were unwinnable. How we forced items like class sizes and staffing into this contract. Not at the levels we need, but it is now there forever more.... We used more democracy than probably any other union, though often imperfect and rushed. I’ll take a small piece of the credit for that, too, as I believe that I, alongside my other fighter friends, helped push for more transparency and rank & file input. Not claiming we did it alone, by any means, but advocating from below is a powerful force to push us towards justice....
Chicago teacher, member of bargaining team and Ex Bd. 
with my teaching income pretty much stagnant for 13 years while expenses keep growing, I figure I probably should be focusing on savings rather than on education reform.... Another CTU  teacher and original member of CORE
This is part of a series of commentary and reposts from fans and critics of
the CTU strike. It is not always easy to compare what happens in the CTU with the UFT - apples and oranges in many ways. But in a series of posts I'm working on about the recent strike and some of the issues that have boiled to the surface with attacks coming at the CTU from the left and of course the right. Remember, the mayor is considered a liberal "progressive" by the press and the right wing. But that puts her in the Joel Klein/Bloomberg territory and she showed it during the strike.

One of the differences between the UFT(Unity Caucus) and the CTU (CORE Caucus) is the willingness to take on the financial world and liberal elites while here the UFT is part of that world.

I was lucky in that I met many of the future leaders of the CTU over 10 years ago at a meeting in Los Angeles and over the years have learned which people can be trusted to give honest assessments instead of spin.

Here is an eloquent report on FB from a member of the bargaining team and an Ex Bd member of the CTU who was somewhat critical over the last contract in 2016.  I met her a few times when we were in Chicago and what passion as a teacher and activist. A hero to many. Following that is one of her pals, another wonderful guy I met, who respects with her but is voting NO. She does one of the best explanations of the power of a strike. My former MORE colleagues should take a page from her book when they push the idea here.

Over the years she has always been open about the problems inside the CTU and CORE, but if there were never problems we would be in a perfect world. She doesn't judge people as evidenced by this comment:
I will not tolerate folks belittling or “calling out” those who have made a rational appraisal of the wins/losses and decided that we must win more. I also respect members who are expressing gratitude for what we did win. This was an immensely difficult fight. Both sides can be right at the same time. This is a complicated and nuanced decision.
And important to me was that she respected the views of the late George Schmidt who was an internal critic of the leadership and was made to pay for it.

The key is to face disagreements and not bury them and this is something acolytes of the CTU and CORE on the left all too often do. Raise them up as a social justice union to some ideal standard in comparison to the so-called business unionism like they claim the UFT is -- see my recent post where I define some of the differences in the bargaining process where even some fans of our Unity Caucus agree that the UFT would have taken the originally offered 16% and run without even the thought of a strike: Bargaining for the Common Good: The UFT and the Chicago Teachers Union - A Sharp Contrast

From a CTU teacher, member of the bargaining team and ex bd:
After some time to reflect and process, I am left with a feeling of pride for the work we did as a united group of 35,000 workers standing up for justice.

We engaged in an open-ended strike with an unknown outcome, demanding BIG demands. This was not 2012, where the act of striking itself was the main objective. This was not a one day 2016 deal either. We spent over a year collecting proposals from our rank and file, processing them, and developing a list of truly transformational demands. We threw out the playbook of engaging in a 5-7 day demonstrative strike action and did a real, uncertain, terrifying strike against power and money. We went on the offensive to force those powerful and monied interests in this city to invest in our schools. After decades of disinvestment and sabotage.

Now, there were moments internally that were hard and nasty. This was a hard and nasty fight against a hard and nasty ruling class in this city. I won’t ignore those abuses. 

But now is a time for celebrating what we DID win. I want our members to feel the power of collective action. That those 11 days on the pickets and in the streets got us wins we were told were unwinnable. How we forced items like class sizes and staffing into this contract. Not at the levels we need, but it is now there forever more. This won’t be immediate, but we will have a nurse and social worker in every school. That’s not nothing. We won serious raises for our PSRPs, as well as our SECAs and bus aides, some of the lowest paid workers in our district. We won money for sports programs. We won guaranteed nap time and enforceable 10:1 staffing ratios for our Pre-K students. We fixed some of the main drivers of the sub crisis, including allowing banking of 200+ more sick days. We have paved the way for the fight on Student Based Budgeting and the School Quality Rating Policy, though I wish we’d gotten more. It looks like the 4.5 law, which restricts our bargaining rights, will finally be repealed. Using the strike weapon is why we won those items, and I want all members to understand the true power of withholding our labor. This strike mattered.

We did not win everything we needed. I am disappointed in the weak case manager allocations, the large class size caps (especially for middle school), and the fact that we were not able to win the kind of time/workload relief our members desperately need. I do believe we should have waged a more comprehensive and coordinated campaign on the morning prep time issue. Members in our elementary schools have been especially disrespected for too long. I believe those of us who fought for collaborative prep time were right to advocate for it. And I will keep fighting for equity for our 18,000 majority female elementary teachers and staff, time to fulfill the legal collaboration requirements of our IEPs, safety for our students, and respect for the complex work we do educating young children after this contract is ratified.

We pushed the boundaries of what is possible through a strike. We struck, side by side with our sister union SEIU 73, for the first time in our union’s history. And I will take some small piece of the credit for that victory of solidarity. I helped push that early on, and I believe it made our fight stronger. Though I was certainly not the only one that helped make this happen. So many others helped make that red & purple solidarity a thing!

We used more democracy than probably any other union, though often imperfect and rushed. I’ll take a small piece of the credit for that, too, as I believe that I, alongside my other fighter friends, helped push for more transparency and rank & file input. Not claiming we did it alone, by any means, but advocating from below is a powerful force to push us towards justice.

We didn’t drop most of our demands, even though there was certainly pressure to do so. 

I respect members who are a hard “no” on this TA. Five years is a long time to not have all that we need for better schools. And I will not tolerate folks belittling or “calling out” those who have made a rational appraisal of the wins/losses and decided that we must win more. I also respect members who are expressing gratitude for what we did win. This was an immensely difficult fight. Both sides can be right at the same time. This is a complicated and nuanced decision.

Regardless, the end of a contract fight is not the end of the overall fight. The attacks on public education are not over. The austerity project against public services has not ended. The ruling class will try to come for us. We fight on, somewhat broken and beaten up, because we must. Because our students deserve it. Because we are one of the only united forces that can stand up to the rich and their pillaging of our society’s wealth. We are truly the vanguard in the fight for justice.

Striking is a fundamentally transformative action. Seeing the creativity and the passion that our members demonstrated out there on the streets as well as the often crunchy, but I believe genuine, work inside the bargaining team, tells me we are nowhere near ready to give up.
I believe in us, our power as workers, and in continuing the push for collective struggle. Solidarity.
Below is a reply from another CORE member:
I appreciate this sentiment and I really appreciate all the work you put into this. I am a hard no, but I will not belittle those who are willing to accept this deal and I am very thankful for the work the BBT did. I’d love to make the sort of only the beginning bows we made in 2012, but I remember 2016 too well and with my teaching income pretty much stagnant for 13 years while expenses keep growing, I figure I probably should be focusing on savings rather than on education reform.
 

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