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‘The Revolution Will Not Be Standardized’: Day Two of the Chicago Teachers Strike

'Strike schools,' picket lines, and support from other unions were part of the second day of the historic work stoppage.
 
 
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The following article first appeared at Working In These Times , the labor blog of In These Times magazine. For more news and analysis like this, sign up to receive In These Times ' weekly updates .

The section of Ashland Avenue running through the Pilsen neighborhood on Chicago’s near southwest side is always noisy. A strip of restaurants, bakeries, hardware stores and other small businesses in the heart of the Mexican immigrant neighborhood is sandwiched between heavily industrial areas and two major highways, so traffic is heavy and loud.

But on September 11, the noise level on Ashland Avenue just east of the Cooper Academy bilingual elementary school became a true cacophony. Horns blared nonstop: from city buses, postal vans, FedEx and UPS trucks, sleek sedans and beat-up pickups loaded with construction equipment or recyclable junk. On the median and the sidewalks—in front of two beauty salons, a locksmith and taquerias—people clad in red T-shirts cheered, yelled, beat drums and strummed guitars.

This was day two of the  Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike, and teachers, parents and community members were out in force. They marched in front of the school, decorated with tile mosaics of Latino resistance fighters from the Aztec days to the Mexican Revolution to modern-day labor leaders like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. They chanted in English and Spanish and carried homemade bilingual picket signs.

In the rancorous lead-up to the strike, both the union and the city administration have tried to paint the other party as insensitive to the needs of children and families and claim that the public is on their side. The turnout at Cooper—like those at other schools around the city Monday and Tuesday—suggests heavy local support for striking teachers. Many parents joined the picket line, often with children in tow in strollers or cavorting on bikes.

Cooper is one of the about 140 schools where the Board of Education is spending up to $25 million to provide a safe space and food for students, though under labor law nothing classified as teaching can occur. Seemingly few parents wanted to cross the picket line to bring their kids to the alternative programming being held at the school. Students from at least six different schools were eligible for the programming at Cooper, but a union organizer said fewer than 20 students went through the school’s doors on Monday and Tuesday combined. Citywide, results were similar.

“Parents are getting the message that it’s not a good idea to bring their students here without us,” said a teacher helping to lead the picket. 

Parents and Teachers

Colleen Herman, the Cooper school librarian and a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) parent, noted that while the city administration has tried to divide teachers and parents, many CPS teachers are in fact also parents themselves.

“We’re required to live within the city limits, and most of us don’t have the money to send our kids to Catholic schools,” she said, noting that her daughter’s class at a public school on the north side has 33 kids in it. Herman and some of her neighbors have organized a “strike school” with a different parent each day organizing activities for the group. While teachers almost unanimously say they are sorry students are missing class, some point out that the strike also provides a first-hand civics lesson.

Herman explained to her young daughter that two sides are trying to come to an agreement in the best interest of students. She said her daughter burst into tears worried that the teachers were feuding with the principal.

 
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