A Teacher’s View of the Chicago Teachers Strike
The Progressive - October 18, 2019
"A little history lesson here: in 1995, the city of Chicago worked with state Republican lawmakers to push through a legislation package that created a separate school code and educational labor relations code for cities “having a population in excess of 500,000.” There is only one city that meets this criteria in the entire state of Illinois: Chicago. The result has been separate and unequal codes for the largest district in the state, which also happens to contain the majority of the black and brown students in the state."
For my students at Telpochcalli Elementary School on Chicago’s Southwest Side, the most devastatingly difficult lesson is not mathematics or science, social studies, literacy or any other subject printed on a class schedule. It is the lesson that they are not important enough to warrant the basic human rights afforded to other students. It is the lesson that a child a mere ten miles away has access to all of the tools and support they need to thrive—support which our students and their families can hardly dream of.
It is also a lesson that we must kindle and grow our own fires of justice and equity if we are to survive.
On Wednesday, October 16, Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU workers walked out of schools for the last time until we win our demands from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the City of Chicago Unified School District. As our union Vice President Stacy Davis-Gates has said in the days leading up to the strike, “We are not asking for anything that every student outside of Chicago does not already have.”
Our destination is equity and we will challenge anyone who places themselves in our way.
I see this fight for equity and justice being carried out by my students. I have followed that fight out of my classroom into a greater justice and labor movement. It led me to work with other educators and student activists to form and grow the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) and Chicago Youth Initiating Change (CYIC).
A few short years later we took control of the Chicago Teachers Union and helped lead a critical historic strike in 2012. That strike acted as a catalyst to rekindle workers’ use of the strike as a tool for justice and greater social change all across the country and in other countries across the world.
In 2019, as in 2012, we have issues with compensation, teacher evaluation (which has forced veteran black teachers from the system), and other bargainable issues. These include hiring more counselors and nurses, implementing hard class size limits, and housing assistance for teachers and students. All are addressed in the demands put forth by Chicago Teachers Union.
Lightfoot was elected on a platform that pledged to meet nearly all of our demands. When she was elected, many Chicagoans cautiously hoped that she would keep her campaign promises. Instead, she has elected to play hardball at the negotiations: not attending any bargaining sessions so far while her team did not commit to any enforceable promises around class size and staffing.