People have been asking if the teachers who were on strike for seven school days in
Chicago won. It is a difficult question to
answer. On the one hand, in their tentative agreement teachers gained a decent salary increase; they fought
off merit pay while keeping their salary steps and differentials; hundreds of
laid off teachers will be rehired; and they won an appeals procedure for
adverse ratings as well as an anti-administrative bullying provision. These are solid gains that more than likely would not have happened without a fight.
On the other hand, the fundamentals of privatization/school deform were not changed. School closings can continue so teachers remain as scapegoats. The Chicago Teacher’s
Union agreed to cut the time their Absent Teacher
Reserves are given to find a new job in a different school from ten months to
five after they are excessed because of school closings/downsizing. Since their mayor plans on closing many schools and opening up more charter schools, many teachers could lose their jobs. CTU did get the administration to agree that
half of the new hires will come from the pool of laid off
teachers who were rated highly. In
addition, the new tentative contract allows for 30% of teacher ratings to be
based on student scores on standardized tests.
This is the minimum allowed by Illinois
state law but rating teachers based on student test scores is junk science and
the strike could not stop it. There is also no solid provision in this contract
to limit class sizes.
Whether the gains in the tentative agreement outweigh the losses is still an open question. Teachers will vote on it. What is not debatable is that the CTU organized magnificently. They had many successful huge rallies that included teachers, parents and other friends. Teacher morale was reported as being quite upbeat throughout and the public (particularly parents) were on the side of the teachers during the strike despite a media barrage against the union.
As we move ahead, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), a dissident caucus that now runs the CTU, has much more work to do to enforce the contract and attempt to stop school closings. They were seeking a moratorium on school closings. They did not get that in the contract or any side agreement but they are keeping their struggle to save schools alive in the courts and in the public arena. If their continuing mobilization makes the non-elected Chicago Board of Education think twice about closing schools, then maybe they have turned the tide in our favor.
As for impact on New York, I do not see any kind of job action like they had in
Chicago taking place in NYC
simply because we have the Taylor Law in
which prohibits strikes of public employees (people are fined two days pay for
every day on strike). More significantly,
our UFT leadership would never risk automatic dues check-off, which would be
forfeited if we were to go on strike. New York State
This does not mean we will not be influenced by what went on in
Chicago. A new activist organization called the
Movement of Rank and File Educators has started in New York.
MORE is combining the forces of several groups within the UFT (including ICE) along with
new activists. The group has close ties
with the CORE people from Chicago.
We can hope that MORE can energize the teachers here as CORE has done in Chicago.
On the down side for
New York, since the mayor of Chicago
was able to reduce the time from ten months to five that teachers are given to
find a new job after being placed in excess, expect the mayor of New York to push again
for a similar provision here. New York’s mayor went to
the State Legislature on this issue last year but the Assembly turned him
down. Chicago may give him the impetus to push to
fire more of us and start more charter schools.
At this point, I would give CORE/CTU an A for standing up to a bullying mayor and organizing a strike that received huge parental support, but am I marking on a generous curve since the policy of closing schools, scapegoating/firing teachers and starting non unionized charter schools looks like it is as strong as ever? Only time will tell if the strike was a speed bump on the road to privatization/union busting or if this was a real turning point in labor/education history.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the CTU Solidarity Fund. At
Jamaica, we passed the hat around to raise some cash for Chicago from our depleted phasing out school. I recommend everyone do the same in their schools.