In what is shaping up as an historic battle, 29,000 Chicago public school teachers and staff represented by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) struck the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) today. This is the first strike by CTU in 25 years, and it is the most significant attempt by an American union to confront and fight back against the assault on public education and, indeed, the overall austerity attacks against public sector unions, jobs, and essential services.
For years, public education in Chicago has been battered by a coordinated assault, orchestrated by the same corporate forces that broke the New Orleans teachers union and effectively privatized New Orleans schools (now 80% charter schools); that is laying waste to the Detroit Public Schools (now 40% charter schools, with class size in some public high schools exceeding 60 students); which three months ago closed 40 schools in Philadelphia; and on and on. Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary, was formerly CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, and in that capacity he promoted the proliferation of high stakes standardized tests, “turnaround schools” (effectively, firing a school’s teachers and scattering the staff), cuts to electives and programs, and gross outsourcing of services to high-priced consultants and other private contractors. This program is not just the pet project of billionaires like Eli Broad, Bill Gates, and the Walton (Wal-Mart) family – although for sure they push it heavily. But it is more than that: it is part of the overall attempt to take back from the working class gains it won through bitter struggle over the past 150 years, to commodify or recommodify everything in the public sector that can be commodified. They have been trying to solve their crisis off the backs of working people and unemployed people.
The Chicago teachers’ strike is a massive show of defiance and opposition to these attacks. By late afternoon today, more than 50,000 Chicagoans had converged on CPS headquarters in a monumental show of teacher/community solidarity. Most wore “CTU Red”. To counter the lies and distortions put out by Chicago Mayor (and former Obama White House chief of staff) Rahm Emmanuel and broadcast by the mass media, CTU put out a statement titled Why We Strike.
Here is their statement in full:
Mayor Emanuel Continues to Insult Public School Educators; This is not a “Strike of Choice.”
Why The Chicago Teachers And School Personnel Have Called A Strike:
Teachers already accepted a much longer day—and now are not being treated with respect. We are on strike for a fair contract that includes the following:
· Pay Fairness.
The parties are not far apart on overall compensation, CTU seeks a fairer distribution of pay and to preserve the schedule for career advancement established 45 years ago in the Union’s first labor contract.
· Protect our benefits.
Maintain our existing benefits and sick days without increasing the contribution rate.
· Fair Evaluation Procedure.
After the initial phase-in period, CPS’s proposed evaluation procedures could result in 6,000 teachers, or nearly a third of all CPS teachers, facing discharge within one or two years. It places too much emphasis on standardized test scores, which diminishes children’s education and punishes teachers unfairly.
· Teacher Training.
CPS is imposing a new curriculum at all schools and a strict, stringent evaluation system. Teachers have asked for more training, but CPS proposes no increase, or in some cases decreased, teacher training.
· Timetable for air conditioning.
Teachers insist that CPS agree to a reasonable timetable to install air conditioning in student classrooms. In July and August, students sit in sweltering 98-degree heat, and many classrooms also need air conditioning.
Other issues of importance:
CPS-sponsored legislation bars teachers from striking over certain issues, but we nonetheless expect to include the following in our next labor contract:
· Fair recall procedure for laid off teachers.
This summer, CTU agreed to the Mayor’s longer school day, and the agreement included a fair recall procedure for laid off teachers. The new labor contract must include a fair recall procedure.
· Fair compensation for a longer school year.
If teachers are expected to work a longer school year, they should be fairly compensated for the extra work. Neutral Fact Finder Edwin Benn ruled that teachers should be paid for their extra work.
The union is not on strike over matters governed exclusively by IELRA Section 4.5 and 12(b).
The Chicago Teachers Union represents 30,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in the Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the more than 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third largest teachers local in the United States and the largest local union in Illinois. For more information please visit CTU’s website at www.ctunet.com .
Everyone, everywhere: organize solidarity meetings, rallies and marches. Send messages of support. Send the message to Rahm Emmanuel, Barack Obama, and the rest of the Democratic and Republican politicians who in one way or another promote the corporate austerity attacks: we are fighting back. CTU’s fight is our fight. We face the same conditions. They are leading the way forward.
If you live in the greater Oakland area, there will be a CTU solidarity organizing meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, 9/11) at 4:30pm at:
Oakland Education Association
272 East 12th Street (2nd floor)
Also tomorrow: an already scheduled rally to protest harsh cuts at City College San Francisco and other California community colleges is adding the second focus of solidarity with the Chicago teachers strike. That will be tomorrow (Tuesday, 9/11) at 6pm at:
CCSF Chinatown Campus
For more information, check