Monday, September 17, 2012

Chicago Teachers Strike: A View From the Inside

I am reproducing emails from myself and another retired Oakland teacher and education activist, Bob Mandel, on the subject of the Chicago teachers' strike. Bob's email contains an illuminating and provocative email from a friend of his who is active in the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the strike. I've included my reply to Bob's email (and his friend's commentary) at the end of this posting.

Jack Gerson


Email 1
Bob to Jack (and others)
Monday, Sept. 17, 6:25pm PST

This was sent to me yesterday by a friend in Chicago. At his request, all names of people and schools have been deleted.

For sure, this should go to that person's colleagues at...but also to other delegates for their info and use in other schools. Maybe copies to tonight's meeting?

The best result from the many great aspects of this past year's efforts would be for such people to find each other outside of CTU official channels, thus opening a new door to the potential shown so far. Self organization of such people is vital, literally. It makes possible a way forward that the leaders cannot shut when they want peace and quiet to reign while closings continue and conditions don't improve.

After I send this to CORE, I will probably forward a copy to each CTU member of 
my school's faculty and staff at  School.  Like so many other schools out 
there, we have been doing everything-plus-beyond-beyond possible on the front 
lines of this strike, the continuation of a natural thing for all of us as we 
work daily in CPS.  We have done all that we can (and more) that has been asked 
of us by CTU leadership for this one week and prior and in so doing have drawn 
in many parents and students and neighbors.  

The CTU members at my school who have gotten back to me (quite a few) have told 
me not to vote for a contract that I have not been able to read and digest on 
such short notice; in fact, on principle a few have told me to just vote NO 
already.  They will NOT appreciate going back into the school just to read the 
fine print and need to start the process all over again by voting NO when it 
gets to them, but they will.  They are willing to keep going right now, and 
there will be resentment if the House of Delegates (HoD) votes in favor of 
something that goes to the membership with far less than what expectations 
have promised from our massive rallies and turnouts across the city.

I am speaking for myself, but I think I can state a theme for the schools on the 
southeast side on the whole, judging by a Friday area rally organized by ...: 
"ONE DAY LONGER!  ONE DAY STRONGER!"  I predict that the southeast side 
schools will NOT vote for a weak or too-compromised contract and will be 
extremely disappointed if one is presented after all of this or somehow such a 
proposal actually passes for a working contract.  (<-- this is an 

To CORE and CTU leadership:

NOTE: I am writing this as a CTU member and delegate with zero information from 
a HoD meeting that was supposed to be about updates to contract negotiations (of 
which there was little to none) with an agenda listing Q & A that had no A in 
the actual meeting.  

It's like this.  There are issues across the city that we have made catch fire 
via our CTU signs and chants and rallies.  If we only get something for 
ourselves in this contract now, that will be shameful.  The following must be 
declared by CTU to be NON-NEGOTIABLES before any contract is ratified (or even 
presented to the HoD): class size, wrap-around services, standardized tests, and 
school closures.  (And we need to add small parts of the longer school day in 
CONTRACT LANGUAGE ON THESE ISSUES over which we have rallied others out there 
(students, parents, community members, and strangers at gas stations in Indiana 
for crying out loud) to fight for with us.  

Please, don't tell me these are not legal items for contract negotiation.  WE 
CAN DO THIS.  We know we won't "get everything."  But we should hold strong for 
MORE than stopping this strike this weekend would probably get us.  Ten years 
from now, will one or two more weeks (or more) have mattered in this fight, if 
you are someone who is thinking that we can't face it anymore right now?  "Short 
term pain for long term gain."  Deferred gratification.  That stuff we try to 
instill in our students on a daily basis.  If this results in only "more money 
for the employees" then we will be seen as the hoodwinking snake oil peddlers of 
all time.  I can hear it already: "They were only in it for themselves from the 
start."  "Look how they only got something for themselves but nothing else for 
anyone else after all that."  "What about 'Children First' for the CTU?"

If the contract proposal (that is, IF the Board puts into writing this 
last-minute, "miracle framework" no one will tell us anything about until the 
last minutes of a made-up make-believe unrealistic 24/7 media run deadline (much 
as the City Council must be run I imagine) does not include ANYTHING FOR OUR 
STUDENTS AND THEIR FAMILIES but it has "satisfactory" pay increases, then I 
suggest we try this:  We change our minds and very publicly ask for at least a 
200% pay increase for each teacher, PSRP, and clinician.  WHY?  Because although 
we don't really want two or three salaries for each of those of us remaining in 
this system, if the Board won't hire more teachers/clinicians/PRSPs, then the 
rest of us need to be just plain paid for working those NEEDED positions as 
well.  (If this is supposed to be a movement, similarly exploited, overworked 
labor across America should hear that message from CTU right now.)

1) CLASS SIZE: IF we do not have any official lowering of class size numbers in 
that contract, we have shamefully reneged on our very public declaration that 
has become a hopeful promise to our students, and I can't walk back in with any 
"dignity" on that one.  At Taylor we set up a space with craft materials on our 
picket line to keep all the kids occupied, and on their own they made their own 
signs by copying some of the CTU signs the neighbors had up near the school.  
What do I tell them about their protest signs for smaller class sizes if I go 
back in with no Board concession on this?  Lots of kids from across the city 
marched in our rallies wearing similar signs.  

So, IF CPS keeps these class sizes over 20-25, we need to demand the pay that 
would have gone to the other teachers research tells us the students should 
humanely have - so pay us for THAT since you are asking me to be an extra 
teacher on top of being the teacher.  We will not be labeled "greedy teachers," 
we will be admired as "those smart teachers" getting for their students what 
they can get as they can get it under the dictates of that stupid 1995 law in 
Illinois setting up mayoral control of CPS.  And we will be pointing some of 
this RED anger deservedly toward Springfield.  We say: Hey, everybody! Here's a 
loophole for the 99% finally.  We can only bargain or strike over pay, okay, 
then compensate us for being two-teachers-in-one with the class sizes we can't 
bargain about in Chicago.  

2) WRAP-AROUND SERVICES: SAME CONCEPT.  IF we do not have any official 
contractual language lowering case loads or increasing the numbers of clinicians 
in our schools (sorry, your kid can only have a meltdown from what happens on 
the streets on Tuesdays and Wednesdays because that's when the social worker is 
here), then we have further shamefully reneged on our very public declaration 
that has become a hopeful promise to the families we claim we want to serve so 
well.  So... IF CPS keeps the status quo on that, then we need to stay on strike 
with a demand that the pay which should be going for new clinicians now go to 
the remaining teachers and clinicians - so pay us for THAT since you are asking 
me to be a nurse, social worker, and psychologist (and every other clinician) on 
top of telling me to be the teacher or having one clinician do the work of 10.  
Thus, as a CPS teacher or clinician, I can legitimately demand and continue to 
strike over the expense of at least three or four salaries now.

The public would GET THIS.  And the 24/7 news-cycle mentality would keep the 
talking points of CTU's latest demands going for at least another week of public 
attention span interest on talk radio and the like. 

3) STANDARDIZED TESTS: IF we do not stand strong against any standardized tests 
connected to pay and evaluation (as well as the insane proliferation level 
toward everything), then we have NOT CREATED A MOVEMENT which we have been told 
has been passed the Civil Rights' torch, because FOR THAT to be the case - 
bullying, wrongheaded, research-rejected, immoral pieces of crap LAW/LEGISLATION 
(PERA/NCLB/RttT) should not matter to us!!  A MOVEMENT should wake up 
SPRINGFIELD and WASHINGTON D.C. as well as a pipsqueak mayor (they can't seem to 
shut up) in Chicago.  

Rosa Parks, and before her all the unnamed others, and the MOVEMENT that 
followed did not say, "Okay, thank you, we'll settle for the second seat from 
the back or even the middle of the bus."  Someone in Chicago is TIRED?  Have 
they been blasted with a fire hose or attacked by police dogs?  In 2012 OUR CPF 
and CPD are cheering us on, for crying out loud!  

Sidebar: As I was marshalling, one female cop confessed that she was worried 
about their contract negotiations, and they were watching us.  I told her, then 
maybe after we got our own contract, we could go before and after work from our 
schools to our neighborhood police stations in CTU RED and chant "CTU! CPD!" and 
support her.  (Cops can't legally strike.)  We both got a total kick out of that 
picture.  (I am anti-brutality but not anti-cop; think about how much of what 
they have to deal with at the ends in the street is because of how all our hands 
in the schools are so tied and unfunded at the beginnings in the schools?) 

But, hey, let's just otherwise change the chant WE STARTED across the city.  
Take: OUR STUDENTS - ARE MORE - THAN JUST A TEST SCORE!  And just replace it 
with: OUR STUDENTS' - TEST SCORES - are just going to be, oh, let me see, I 
don't know, something like 25% of our evaluations, but look, this is a really 
good thing because the law mandates it and the board put it higher.  (Yeah!  GO! 
forward with THAT chant and watch a movement continue.) 

4) RECALL/School Closures:  What good is recall if they close so many schools 
there are no neighborhood public school positions to apply for or we compete 
like starving dogs for a bone over the few left?  What's the plan for that?  
(Another discussion... hopefully NOT with Randi.)
5) LSD (Longer School Day): In the elementary schools we need to keep what we 
had.  The LSD broke what was working with that small but solid block of prep 
time in the AM so that our parents are able to meet with teachers when they 
arrive with the children.  This keeps the atmosphere of an elementary school 
very connected to the students' homes.  I thought that was what was wanted.  
This is impossible now.

We also need a solid block of prep time in the AM so that we can meet with one 
another as a PreK thru 8th grade faculty as needs be for whole group or for 
individual meetings and consultations.  This keeps us together as a whole.  I 
thought that was what was wanted.  This is impossible now.

CLUE: It is NOT HIGH SCHOOL in the elementary schools!  (The high schools, I 
hear, do not like that 14 extra minutes than the elementary schools - that 
differentiates us, meaning it SPLITS US APART.)

REAL "HOPE AND CHANGE" FOR THE DEMOCRATS:  Right now I have never seen the 
democrats with their feet more to the fire than by all of the symbolic 
not-gonna-take-it, healthy channeling of blood red anger on the streets of 
Chicago.  We cannot pull back on that.  Or do we now change that chant to: 
"We're gonna keep on taking it!  YEAH!"?  If we keep the pressure up, it can 
work to PUSH them BACK into what some of us still hope for when s/he continues 
to vote while holding his/her nose from Chicago to Springfield to everywhere 
else coast-to-coast with this freakin' cowardly-ass political party that has 
been given?  We have been pressured to the point of snapping into broken pieces 
by these guys.  Arne Duncan has been in charge of the nation's educational 
system FOR FOUR FULL YEARS with these guys, come on!?!  Don't feel sorry for any 
freakin' pressure or embarrassment we're putting on them right now.  THEY EARNED 
IT!  Make them BE what anyone left keeps wishing for every time s/he votes!  No 
more memories, make them BE what they actually USED TO be.


I am going to try to not call anything contract-wise at any point a "sell-out" 
contract.  We've all worked way too hard to use that term, even though others 
will totally use the term.  I think the fighters the union needs (and has right 
now) across the city will vote against such a contract and then vote CORE right 
out of office over the issues I addressed above and more.  

However, the words "settled for less than what we could have gotten" are not 
acceptable in any way.  If we weren't so strong out there, yeah maybe.  But we 
are strong on the membership end.  Let's make this movement push to its fullest 
POTENTIAL.  <--like we do for our students in our classrooms.  I can't go back 
in that classroom with any DIGNITY without this having been at least TRIED at 
this point in time in which we find ourselves.  Is this a MOVEMENT or not?  
Don't pretend or try to sell that "a movement" will continue and we can still 
lead it if our contract does not have at least a few BIG THINGS in it for our 
students and their families.  And extreme shame will be on us for that if that 
god forbid there is nothing for students and families but we get a pay increase 
of any kind.  That is not what the vast majority of us is out there so admirably 
and courageously fighting for right now.  Teaching and working in our schools is 
not just our paid-for job.  In 2012, the vast majority of teachers in Chicago 
have not walked out on their students for money.


Email 2
Jack to Bob (and others)
Monday, Sept. 17, 7:45pm PST

Bob and all,

Point (4) in the original email ("Recall / school closures") was not elaborated, but in my opinion it is critical.  I think we're all aware that the Chicago teachers' strike challenges the bipartisan austerity / shared sacrifice assault. Chicago teachers are right to fear, as many have been quoted, that after they settile Rahm Emanuel and the CPS administration will go ahead with their threatened closure of 120 schools, laying off hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of teachers. The only way to prevent this is to explicitly fight it -- otherwise, we know that Emanuel will close schools and lay off teachers, destroying hope raised by this struggle as whatever gains are made on paper are far outweighed by what's not covered in the contract. But to fight it requires directly calling for "no layoffs, no cuts", and that in turn means breaking free of the legalistic straitjacket to which labor has remained confined for decades. The leadership of the labor movement -- if it were really a leadership, and there really was a real labor movement -- would seize on the opportunity provided by the great organizing and mobilizing work in Chicago, and on the heroic and inspirational outpouring by Chicago teachers. It would already have called coordinated mass rallies and now, as a response to Emanuel's escalated rhetoric and threats, would be organizing mass work stoppages around the country. But this requires  breaking with legalism, breaking with the Democrats, breaking with "shared sacrifice". Instead, nada. From Weingarten and the AFT -- rah, rah, support Obama. From Van Roekel and the NEA -- rah, rah, support Obama. From AFL-CIO president Trumka -- "thanks, we're 'monitoring the situation closely', we support you, isn't collective bargaining wonderful, support Obama."

I'm far from Chicago, and therefore not in a position to criticize the tactics of the CTU leadership, a leadership that clearly has done more to mobilize its ranks to engage in struggle than any other teachers' union has in many years. I do not know specifics of what is going on right now on the ground. I do know that beyond tactics, though, there ought to be lessons stressed now: the need for a mass labor challenge to austerity -- to the cuts and layoffs; the related need for a mass challenge to the legal weapons being directed now at Chicago teachers (just as they were wielded against the Longview longshore strikers nine months ago); and the need for labor to build mass political as well as direct action alternatives to going hat in hand to Obama and the Democrats; and, it should go without saying, the need to repudiate the current labor leadership and its "team concept" approach of accepting legalisms as not only necessary but eternal, of accepting austerity as necessary, and of insisting that there's never any alternative but to rest our hopes on the Democrats.

As I say, I'm far from Chicago, and it may be that on the ground there these lessons are being drawn, summarized, and propagated. Maybe. I hope so. But from here, it doesn't seem so. And if they're not, and if the email Bob quotes at length is indeed representative, then it's certainly time to give serious consideration to the immediate steps he calls for, as well as those that I've recommended.

In solidarity,
Jack Gerson

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