The Chicago Teachers Union is engaging in a one day strike today. For a look at what is at stake both in the windy city and nationally, Jacobin interviewed Chicago teacher and CTU activist Sarah Chambers. I met Sarah in 2013 and can tell you she is the real deal as a trade unionist. Here is some of what she had to say:
What is at stake with the contract?
They stopped paying our steps and lanes, which provide for pay increases based on time in the schools and degrees earned. Legally, they have to continue paying them, because we’re still under our old contract, which provides for steps and lanes pay increases. So they’re breaking the contract, which is why we’re going on an unfair labor practice strike.
On the risks of going on strike:
The consequences of not striking are far worse than striking. If you want to see the consequences of not striking, look at cities like Detroit, where they have skyrocketing class sizes and don’t have proper cleaning services. Look at New Orleans, which has no public schools left. These are the consequences of not fighting the privatization and austerity agenda in public education.
On the national implications for labor:
This is not the kind of thing unions do very often. What do you think the rest of labor should learn from what the CTU has done in Chicago?
Labor needs to learn that they can’t be collaborationists. They have to fight back against the bosses, but also against the politicians that are hurting the workers. The only way to do that is to show militant force and withhold our labor.
A lot of unions have stopped using strikes as weapons. But striking is the most powerful weapon we have. I think our strike in 2012 started to re-energize labor; I hope that continues.
We can’t just be service model-style unions — we have to actually energize every single union, every single workplace, so our members, the rank and file, are the ones leading these actions.
The corporate media, the mayor of Chicago and the school board are saying this is an illegal strike. I don't think the CTU is phased at all by this. They are asking other unions to join in.
In addition, being militant has not hurt the Caucus of Rank and File Educators politically. Sarah's caucus led by Karen Lewis is running unopposed in this year's CTU election.
We just submitted our petitions for election this week, because the elections are coming up at the end of this school year. And no one is running against us.
People support CORE. They like our message, they like having an active union that takes risks and has the membership take the lead.
MORE in New York uses CORE in Chicago as a model.
You have the support of the ICEUFT blog Sarah. We're with you today.
I don't think the situation in NYC schools is as desperate as the plight of public schools in Chicago but it could easily deteriorate to that level if we don't mobilize to stand up for ourselves soon.
UPDATE: MESSAGE FROM KAREN LEWIS and link to coverage in Substance.
What a day.
While we’ve been on the picket lines and protesting Gov. Rauner and Mayor Emanuel, the support we’ve received online has meant so much to all of us. I want to say thank you.
Your message of support—and similar messages from thousands of people across the country—gave our members and allies a real boost. Best of all, the thousands of messages, tweets and shares on Facebook helped show that we will not stand by while politicians push policies that favor the wealthiest at the expense of people like you and me.
We need to keep this momentum going. Will you send the petition to five of your friends so that our statement will be even louder?
Mayor Emanuel and Gov. Rauner have engaged in policies that target communities of color, immigrant communities and poor communities. They’ve closed schools, cut essential services and turned a blind eye to systemic problems in our justice system.
Our strike today sent a message that we’re not going to take it. Our students and our communities deserve fully funded schools and services.
Thank you for standing with us. Today we made a difference, and you were a part of that by showing your solidarity.
Karen GJ Lewis, NBCT
President, CTU Local 1