Labor

Second City Strike: Chicago Teachers Take to the Streets for a Day of Action

The CTU's day-long action was a protest against budget cuts and a demand for revenue solutions.

Thousands hit the streets of Chicago on Friday to support the Chicago Teachers Union in a day-long action to protest budget cuts and demand revenue solutions to solve the fiscally beleagured Chicago Public Schools.

Teachers and their supporters - made up of a broad based coaltion of activists, unions and community groups - began pickets, teach-ins and rallies in the early morning at dozens of locations throughout the city. The union and its allies has been demanding increased funding and resources for schools and social services funded by progressive revenue solutions like a graduated state income tax, a tax on financial transactions made on the stock market and the closure of loopholes which allow corporations to avoid taxation. In addition, some groups called for an end to youth incarceration which has caused a “school to prison pipeline,” as well as divestment in the Chicago Police Department. Groups also slammed Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner for austerity budget which they say prefer the wealthy over average citizens.

“It’s not just us, it’s not just our pensions,” said CTU President Karen Lewis speaking to hundreds of supporters at a morning rally at Chicago State University, which faces closure due to the state budget impasse, now in its 10th month. “We have a responsibility to educate the children and young adults of the City of Chicago. We would be remiss in our responsibility if we allow someone who has held the budget hostage for their own personal agenda.”

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The CTU has been at odds with both Emanuel and Rauner over its contract since it expired in June. But a good portion of the groups involved with Friday’s “day of action” have arguably been at odds with the pair for much longer over a wide ranger of issues. Since the union’s historic strike in 2012, Emanuel presided over the largest closure of public schools in history, and he has faced harsh criticism for using money garnered from Tax Increment Financing to fund projects by big business and some of his campaign donors, rather than struggling neighborhoods, particularly neighborhoods of color on the city’s South and West Sides. In addition, his handling of the Laquan McDonald case - where a young African American man was shot 16 times by a white police officer - caused national outrage.

Meanwhile critics say first term Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has been holding the state hostage by blocking a budget until lawmakers pass a package of “reforms” that weaken labor. Since the impasse began, many state social service agencies have had to either make deep budget cuts of their own or close their doors altogether.

“He wants his way, he doesn’t want to fund public services,” said AFSCME Local 2528 Vice President Elijah Edwards outside of an office for the state’s Department of Human Services. Demonstrators had gathered there during a sunny break in what was mostly an overcast and rainy day to call out the governor for what they called an austerity agenda. “He wants to privatize public services because he believes they should be the tools of profits for his friends like Ken Griffin.” Griffin is the state’s wealthiest man, with an estimated net worth of $7 billion, and one of Rauner’s largest campaign donors. “They want to take away the human out of human services,” said Edwards.

Racial justice was also an integral part of the day’s agenda, with rallies and marches taking place outside of Cook County Jail and a juvenile detention center. At the front of the main march which took place in the late afternoon, demonstrators held banners that read “community control elected school and police boards now, and “fund black futures.” “Black Lives Matter is not a slogan; it is a demand,” said Page May, a member of the group Assata’s Daughers, which helped defeat Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in primary elections last month told the crowd at the mass convergence of demonstrators that took place just prior to the march. "I'm angry there will be more young black people buried and turned into hashtags.”

While the sentiment in the streets was overwhelmingly positive, with drivers of cars frequently honking their horns and some raising their fists in solidarity with marchers, the CTU took some hits. Mayor Emanuel, who was the target of frequent chants of “he’s got to go” by protesters throughout the day, told the Chicago Tribune “I don't think the kids should pay a price for a political message.” The Chicago Public Schools took the first steps in legal action against the CTU for the day, filing a complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board for unspecified damages and a pre-emptive injunction that would hinder future strikes.

A spokesperson for the union called the complaint “bogus.” The Supreme Court 60 years ago authorized unfair labor practice strikes under the National Labor Relations Action, and we believe teachers have those rights,” said Stephanie Gadlin. “This was a one-day job action. Their charges were filed after the fact and they seek to enjoin us from doing something we have no intention of doing again.”

Perhaps one of the most poignant moments describing the day, which for some lasted into the early evening when a smaller group of protesters took over part of Lake Shore Drive, came when a small child was handed a bullhorn at a student led rally downtown. “If you want the children to go get money and save Chicago, we have to fight back,” she said.

Aaron Cynic is a zine writer, internet radio host, blogger, musician, and project organizer from Chicago.