What’s at Stake in Chicago’s Two Public Education Strikes
Jacobin - October 15, 2019
"The Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 are poised to strike in Chicago. This is no ordinary educators' strike: the two unions are fighting together for an end to poverty wages in schools; forcing the district to hire more social workers, nurses, and librarians; and winning housing relief for both teachers and homeless students."
Solving Chicago’s affordable housing crisis? What’s that got to do with a labor contract for educators?”
That’s the question the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board asked last week as the city’s teachers and school support staff inched closer to an October 17 strike date, with little progress made in negotiations for a new contract.
A standoff at the bargaining table over the Chicago Teachers Union’s (CTU) package of housing demands dominated the city’s news cycle last week. The union is asking Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to provide housing assistance for new teachers, hire staff members to help students and families in danger of losing housing, and take other steps to advocate for more affordable housing overall in the city.
In response, recently elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot accused the union of holding up contract negotiations, and the Sun-Times chided teachers to take a “reality check.”
It’s true that CPS has no legal obligation to bargain with the union over affordable housing policy. But it’s hardly unrelated — an estimated 17,000 students in the city are homeless, as CTU vice president Stacy Davis Gates stated on Chicago Tonight.
Housing advocates agree. “The mayor’s view reflects a very narrow understanding of the professional responsibilities of public school educators,” says Marnie Brady, assistant professor at Marymount Manhattan College and research committee co-chair of the national Homes For All campaign. “The living conditions of their students are indeed the working conditions of their classrooms.”
By raising an issue that affects not only teachers, but the communities they live and work in, CTU is deploying a strategy known as “bargaining for the common good.” That approach was key to the union’s victory in its landmark 2012 walkout, but a potential strike of 35,000 school and parks workers this week is shaping up to be an even more dramatic test.
Bargaining for the Common Good
During their eight-day strike in 2012, Chicago teachers rallied under the slogan “fighting for the schools our students deserve.” By highlighting issues such as class sizes, standardized testing, predatory Wall Street deals, and a pattern of racist disinvestment in the city, teachers helped secure wide support from the city’s parents while wringing concessions from then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The CTU also helped galvanize a new wave of teacher militancy that’s seen unions in Red States use unauthorized strikes to address abysmal state funding for education and protest tax breaks for the rich and the fossil-fuel industry.
Teachers in cities like Los Angeles, meanwhile, have won contracts that include more nurses and additional resources for students, as well as special provisions requiring the district to provide immigration support for students and curtail school policies that the union said amounted to racial profiling. ...
Read full report at Jacobin