Teachers Strike Could Be the Best Lesson for Chicago Kids This Year

This time last year, I met several Chicago teachers at a union meeting in Florida. It was disheartening to learn that they felt Mayor Rahm Emanuel had no intention of negotiating with them. Since the early days of his campaign he had made it clear that he had a plan to reform Chicago’s schools and the teachers and their union could take it or leave it.

He proceeded to lengthen the school day without teacher input on how the time should be used or how the teachers should be compensated. He cancelled an agreed upon pay raise. Classroom size, teacher evaluations, public school closings and charter school openings-- these are all important issues for which teachers have first hand experience and knowledge to contribute.  Their voices were not welcome. 

The Chicago Teachers Strike, now in its fifth day, is not about money. It's about respect and teachers having a voice in determining what is best for children, teachers, and parents.

People don’t become teachers to get rich. And they don’t go on strike thoughtlessly. Ninety percent of the Chicago Teachers Union members voted to authorize the strike.  Clad in red t-shirts, 25,500 teachers are picketing in front of the schools.  Each day they are on the picket line there are no pay checks; they have no strike fund.

Our educational system is in serious trouble and teachers agree that reform is needed. Randy Weingarten, president of the national American Federation of Teachers, reported that the union had reached reform agreements with ten other school systems in the last month, New York and Rhode Island among them. An independent fact finding report offered ground for compromise in Chicago.

Fifty years ago, in 1962, New York teachers went on strike.  Eleanor Roosevelt described collective bargaining as a system “based on the reasonable give-and-take of human beings with equal power but who have an interest to come to decisions that will allow them to serve the national interest and the interest of the public s a whole.’’ Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at the Mayor, his CEO and the School Board, as well as the teachers and their union.

Mrs. Roosevelthoped that strikes would become unnecessary as workers gained more power with management, but until another system was developed she saw “no method of complaint and adjustment that could take the place of collective bargaining with the ultimate possibility of a strike.”

Today unions have far less power than they did fifty years ago.  A new system for resolving differences has not been developed.  The strike remains the last resort for workers to stand up to a management that seems intent on further diminishing their fundamental human rights at work.

Now, instead of reading about democracy in a text book, 350,000 children are seeing democracy at work. Their teachers are taking action and standing up for their right to have a democratic voice in their workplace.

The strike is a hardship for teachers, parents, children, and communities. This has always been true and it is today’s labor history in the making. Take the kids to the picket line; talk to the teachers; go to the rallies.  This is a teachable moment where children can learn a valuable lesson about democracy.



AlterNet / By Brigid O'Farrell

Posted at September 14, 2012, 10:37am

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