Chicago Teachers' Strike

By Lynn Koh
Sep 12, 2012

I don't have time to write a lot about the Chicago Teachers' Strike.  It is hugely significant; one friend said it's the most important strike since the Teamsters' strike of 1997.

First, because it is in the best tradition of the labor movement -- a struggle led by a militant rank-and-file. This was not organized overnight, but reflects work done within the CTU by union reformers over the past decade. A group of teachers decided to become active in the union as the city launched one attack after another on the public school system. They sought to transform their union into a fighting organization, and deeply involve its members in the union's democratic process.  

Second, it is also a strike by public sector workers over the quality of service rather than wages and benefits (although I think the CTU leadership cannot say so publicly). This kind of struggle is exactly what the public sector needs under neoliberalism, in which both workers and services are under attack.

Third, it is an instance of a union struggling for a social vision opposed to both the Republican and centrist Democrat visions of corporatized education. I think that the significance of Chicago being Obama's hometown is often overstated in the left commentary on the strike, but what is important is the willingness of the union to take on one of the most important players in the Democratic party, and a symbol of centrism -- Rahm Emmanuel.

Luckily, there are several good resources out there for understanding the strike.

Labor Notes is my go-to website.  They have had a relationship with the militant members of the Chicago Teachers' Union for years, and have two good articles up, one basic backgrounder, and another taking a look at some of the issues more in-depth

In These Times' labor blog is another great place -- they have a bunch of articles up by great writers, including this one on the strike's impact on partisan politics.

This article, written before the strike, gives a snapshot of the public education system in Chicago with a focus on race and some of the struggles leading up to the strike.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Lynn Koh is a long-time activist in the anti-war movement, and is a labor organizer in the Bay Area.

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