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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


As of 10 p.m. Sunday night, the Chicago Teachers Union has gone on strike. Here is a webpage for why they are striking, complete with the one-page explanation and the 46-page one. Here’s PCCC’s summary. Here’s a local teacher explaining why he is on strike.

As Bill Barclay at Dissent Magazine noted, there was a special bill passed last year that required 75 percent of teachers to vote — with absentees counted as no votes! — to strike. Stand For Children CEO Jonah Edelman said at the Aspen Ideas Festival that “the unions cannot strike in Chicago” because that requirement, only required of teachers, was so restrictive. Turns out that this strike got 90 percent of teachers (and 98 percent if you exclude the absentees).

I reached out to two Chicago journalists and writers – Yana Kunichoff and Micah Uetricht – who are covering the situation locally to get their on-the-ground perspectives. A lightly edited transcript of the interview with each follows. I hope to have more coverage of this very important event in the days to follow.

Mike Konczal: Please introduce yourself.

Yana Kunichoff: My name is Yana Kunichoff. I’m a journalist for Truthout, which is a progressive online news magazine. I’ve written for a lot of independent media, where my focus has been immigration, investigative issues, and social justice activism. I’ve been living in Chicago for four years now.

Why is a strike happening?

YK: There are several layers to why this strike is happening. The shallowest, headline news one is because the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were not able to agree to a contract. A deeper reason is because this is one of the first times that an education public sector union has resisted and pushed back against the privatization and changes that have been happening in the education sector.

Looking back at bills passed last year and before, they all narrowed what the teachers’ union is allowed to strike over. On paper, the biggest questions are on merit pay and seniority rights. But there are all these other points. Rahm Emanuel said in his press conference after the strike was declared that the two points under debate “are not financial.” The two big issues under debate, from Emanuel’s point of view, are teacher evaluation and principals having the full ability to hire and fire teachers.

What’s it like for Democrats in Chicago?

YK: I don’t know how much I can speak to the battle in the Democratic Party. There’s an interesting contradiction that exists in Chicago. If you are a liberal in Chicago you support Obama, but at the same time there’s a possibility you support the union. I know people supporting the campaign that support the teachers’ union, even though someone associated with the administration is trying to smash it.

How is the Chicago community as a whole reacting?

YK: Chicago is a pretty divided city, with neighborhoods divided by class. I spent today riding my bike around Latino, working-class neighborhoods — Pilsen, Little Village, and North and South Lawndale. These are areas that aren’t doing well in this economy.

I’m seeing a lot of cars honking their horns, and police running their siren while they go by a school picket. The people that have to deal with the daily reality of school cutbacks, or mental health clinic shutdowns, or how’ll they get home in winter with less public transit, the people who deal with austerity budgets, are in support of the teachers’ strike.

Chicago is becoming increasingly gentrified, though, with more people who don’t rely so much on public services. I’m not sure what they think of the strikes yet.

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?

YK: The charter system is something that started in Chicago but has since been brought national. These kinds of policies that work against teachers aren’t going to stay contained to one city. This trend will continue into other cities and states, especially where unions are weak. So this is where the fight is happening. When you are here on the ground, it feels like a strong line of opposition. Opposition to policies that aren’t just national but international – think of places like Greece and the more general fights against austerity happening across Europe here.

The national coverage will watch the specific contract terms, though they’ll miss that 10 years from now, the specific, narrow terms will matter less than whether or not a union in an American city will have been successful in pushing back in this way. This is a fight over public resources, public jobs, and the idea of a public that isn’t discussed by national media as if it exists. Will there be public schools as we understand them in 10 years?


  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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