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The Chicago Teachers Union Strike Viewed From The Local Level

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The Chicago Teachers Union Strike Viewed From The Local Level


I also spoke with Michah Uetricht separately.

Mike Konczal: Please introduce yourself.

Micah Uetricht: I’m Micah Uetricht, and I’m an organizer for a group called Arise Chicago as well as a freelance writer. I’ve been covering the teachers’ strike in Chicago from the ground.

What is the core of this strike about?

MU: Last night, at the conference announcing whether or not the teachers were going to go on strike, several reporters asked CTU President Karen Lewis and Vice President Jesse Sharkey about what the core issues were. Both repeatedly emphasized that there weren’t one or two core issues but it was instead about the total package. The package included wages, compensation, and benefits, but also the vision of what school reform looks like. CTU started talking about school reform that actually makes schools work for kids.

So there are traditional things that unions go on strike for, like wages and benefits, but also the bigger picture vision of what school reform is going to look like.

What’s the energy like covering this strike from the streets in Chicago?

MU: I’ve been around a lot of strikes and labor actions, but this is totally like nothing I’ve seen before. I’m about five miles north of Chicago, and I’ve been on my bike going from actions to picket lines. Every public school I passed had crowds of 40, 50, 60 teachers. The energy is incredible. People were up at 5 in the morning to picket at their school, and then move to phone bank. It’s a big feat of organizing that CTU has pulled off.

How is the Chicago community as a whole reacting?

MU: The community support piece of the strike has also been incredible as far as I’ve seen. There’s a lot of support from parents, community members and others. There’s a group called Parents for Teachers that has been active, and a very vibrant Chicago Teacher Solidarity Campaign. Both have done an amazing job organizing before and during the strike. People beyond the usual suspects are getting involved in this fight.
The city has worked really hard to try and divide parents against teachers, painting teachers as overpaid and greedy and harming students. So I was expecting to see some hostility from people on the streets, but all morning long I saw no stories of negativity or hostility. I’m looking for signs that average Chicagoans are annoyed or angry, but I haven’t seen any yet. People I’ve talked to haven’t seen any yet either.

Most people will get their news from nationally-targeted coverage of the strike. As someone from Chicago, covering it locally, what would you like people to know?

MU: CTU is very vocal in saying that the Democratic Party in Chicago and Rahm Emanuel are not serving their interests. In Chicago the Democratic Party is the major party, and they are pushing this austerity agenda, and so a lot of the future of whether or not unions are afraid of calling out Democrats will be determined here.

This is a fight over public sector workers, and we’ve seen that a lot over the past several years. We saw it in Wisconsin under Governor Walker, for instance. In that fight, the labor movement and the left in general made some serious missteps, and suffered a pretty crushing defeat with the law and the loss of the recall.

In Chicago, I haven’t seen anyone say this explicitly, but my sense is that they learned from that fight that you have to be in the streets to win these fights. The CTU is incredibly well organized, especially down at the rank-and-file level. That shows when you are wandering around Chicago today, where 40 or 50 people are on every line and more in the streets. The recent laws that push against public sector unions have forced them to organize the entire organization, keeping their membership involved the whole way, and it is paying off today.

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  1. Jim Myers September 13, 2012

    This boils down to the Union busting that is happening all over America. What amazes me is that only 2% of the Union voters who actual voted, voted against the strike. If that doesn’t tell you there is a MAJOR problem begging for a solution, then I don’t know what does. The unions would not exist if the playing field was fair. But it is not. The education field appeared to be the weakest link in the union base, so those who despise the unions struck there first. Same as in Wisconsin and other areas across the Nation. However, it appears that the union busters picked a fight with the wrong group of people. That’d probably because the Teachers Union has not gone on strike in over a quarter of a century. For what it’s worth, the Teachers Union has my support. I just feel sorry for the students and the parents. The union busters will likely try to paint this as an assault on students, but the real assault is on the teachers.

  2. Tom September 13, 2012

    The strike was done so the the mayor can look like he is standing up to teachers union.

    1. oldtack September 14, 2012

      FACTS Tom. FACTS Where are your facts to back up your allegation?

  3. Tom September 13, 2012

    They know that every state that does goes back in the black.But after the eclections they will go right back to normal give aways until we go bankrupt.

  4. Tom September 13, 2012

    Union busting for government workers is fine.For other hard working people it is noT fine.

    1. Ed September 13, 2012

      Well, as long as the legislature permits public workers to organize, they are my union brothers; an attack on one is an attack on all!. Why? Ben Franklin said it best”We must all hang together or we shall a;ll hang seperately”.

  5. Evelyn Connaway September 13, 2012

    A previous article I read mentions people wanting to go back to the 50’s – I’m going back much farther to the beginning of our country and education. All can go and check the census records on the amount of education people received – little if any. Many of our leaders in those times got busy and through the centuries we wound up with a public school system and the right of all children to receive and education – in fact it became a law, not always carried out, but when you missed more school than you should they sent the truant officer out to check out why – plus you had to have a signed note from parent or doctor for the reason you missed school. Being born in the south in 1927 schools were wood frame buildings, no a/c – big coal stoves for heat – all outside toilets – all water was outside – no screens on windows – all windows were open unless it was raining and very cold. You carried your lunch in a syrup bucket or wrapped in a newspaper. All road the bus or walked to school. In the late 30’s in may area, the principal, teachers and parents decided to have a lunchroom – at first soups to supplement what we brought from home for lunch – plus they added milk in small bottles brought from the dairy and put in an icebox like the ones used in stores for soft drinks . Parents furnished the majority of the food sources from their farms – vegetables, butter, lard, cornmeal. The principal’s wife ran the lunchroom and older women who were widowed worked with her doing the cooking. (I always had to go to school as one of my aunt’s was one of my teachers, plus 3 of my parents friends) All kids were treated the same as our parents treated us, if
    we misbehaved – we got the paddle! It was still the same when my family moved to another state in 1941.
    Things have changed and gotten much better for all students and great for the ones who wanted to take advantage of education. Teachers have become more educated. As far as women were concerned if they wanted a career — they had 2 choices – teaching and nursing. I found that most of them put their heart and soul into teaching all their lives. The best thing parents have going for them is our schools with good teachers and they should all be treated with the same respect we give our parents. Teachers should have the same authority parents do, after all they are our parents for the day. Government being involved in our schools is good. But politics on a local level got involved and all of us know what happened next. Everything started being specialized . Teachers could at one time teach all subjects, then it changed to teachers only being able to teach certain subjects. At the end of that subject all the kids had to leave that class room and go to another class room for another subject – filling the halls with kids scurry all over to get to another room. It is waste of time and energy. To graduate from high school you have to learn all the subjects – the teachers had to do the same thing to get out of high school and the ones who chose to be a teacher went on to college to get further education in learning how to teach all the things she had learned and after she received her degree apply to the school board to teach the grade of her choice. All teachers should receive the same beginning salary with annual raises. All elementary grades are just as hard to teach as the following grades – it just takes a lot more patience to work with the very young and the most important years of their lives. Politics got involved and started messing around with salaries, teaching methods, behavior of both teachers and students. That’s when teachers decided they needed a union to back them up and it was a good thing. We have public academic education for a reason and school taxes are paid for that purpose and that purpose alone. I never liked my school taxes going to pay for athletics in school. If kids and grownups want to pay games they can do it after school and on weekends. It is a waste of money and makes a lot of bullies out of kids.


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