In one of the most important actions in defense of public education and public-sector unionism in recent years, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went out on strike on September 10, 2012. The PSC Executive Council adopted a resolution in support of the CTU on September 7, 2012, and the excerpts below offer a clear description of what is at stake. Coverage in the August Clarion explained the background to the walkout.
[Note: Chicago public school teachers returned to work September 19 after union delegates voted overwhelmingly in support of a new contract that provides a 16% pay raise over four years, limits the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations and blocked efforts to impose a merit pay system. The contract will be voted on by the full membership in early October. For more info, see the CTU website.
• The Chicago Teachers Union (AFT Local 1, the nation’s first teachers’ union) is locked in a protracted contract battle that has important consequences for educators everywhere.
• Chicago teachers have rallied, marched, won the support of parents, and mobilized for a contract that includes fair compensation, meaningful job security for qualified teachers, smaller class sizes and a rich curriculum that includes art, music, physical education and foreign language.
• A CTU report, The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve, eloquently argues in favor of proven reforms that would improve the education of the city’s 400,000 students, including offering pre-kindergarten for all, guaranteeing vital support services (counselors, nurses, social workers and school psychologists), having a fully staffed library in every school, ensuring quality school facilities, ending school board practices that have increased racial segregation, and reducing class size (currently one of the highest in the state).
• A majority of CTU members, 92%, participated in a vote to authorize a strike, and 98% of those voting, voted yes.
• The CTU is facing opposition from an array of “reform organizations” created and financed by wealthy hedge fund managers and businessmen in alliance with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Together these constituencies are trying to impose a regimen of evaluating teachers based on students’ standardized test scores, imposing a “merit” pay scheme for teachers while eliminating traditional salary increases for seniority and additional education, and mandating a longer school year and school day without a proportional increase in salary.
• The opponents of the CTU have used the deep pockets of wealthy supporters to launch a torrent of ads attempting to discredit the union and promote charter schools.
• The CTU has established a “CTU Solidarity Fund” to raise money to respond to the negative ads of their opponents and circulate its own report, The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
• A victory for Chicago teachers would greatly encourage teachers everywhere who are resisting attempts to blame educators for low student achievement rather than point the finger at inadequate school funding and widespread poverty, and standing up to forces who would eviscerate hard-won tenure and seniority protections and salary levels, as well as weaken teacher unions.
• A victory for the Chicago Teachers Union would be a victory for public-sector employees nationally, as we struggle to resist the imposition of austerity conditions. [It would be] a victory for CUNY faculty and staff, as we face a regime of testing and standardization. [It would be] a victory for all who oppose the privatization of public resources and the plundering of public assets.