Last night, the House of Delegates of the Chicago Teachers Union, having taken two days to confer with members from their building on the details of the contract presented them by Chicago Public Schools, voted to go back to work. Today (Wednesday), teachers and kids alike will return to classes.
We should make no mistake: this was a victory, but the fight is far from over. First and foremost, the days that the CTU spent on the streets of Chicago — both on picket lines and in massive rallies tens of thousands strong — as well as the solidarity they received from around the country, are unlike anything the labor movement has seen in at least fifteen years. The members of the CTU showed what can be done, what kind of support can be drummed up, when the rank-and-file take the helm and the leadership doesn’t buy into myths of “shared sacrifice.”
Says Jackson Potter, member of the Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators and staff coordinator for the union:
“We feel empowered. We feel stronger as a union. Some elements of the contract weren’t entirely what we wanted on the economic issues, but we won some important non-economic improvements in areas such as professional autonomy, language to prohibit bullying by principals, and an appeals process for teacher evaluation and disciplinary decisions.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has certainly been cowed; even mainstream anti-union rags like the Chicago Tribune have had to admit that overall this was a political defeat for him and his corporate, one percent agenda. He certainly won’t stop, though. CPS has made clear its intention to close 100 schools. The gains of the contract are certain to be chipped away at by management unless the union keeps a vigilant eye.
And of course, working people across the country and the world continue to be given the raw deal. Governments and CEOs continue to take out the persistent economic slump on their employees rather than pay for the crisis they created. But this strike has sent a message to the one percent in the United States, just as the Asturian miners in Spain, the gold-miners in South Africa, and the textile workers in Egypt have to their own rulers. That message is simple: we will not be stepped on anymore.
It has also sent a message to workers in the US that if you fight, you can win. Even before this strike, there had been stirrings of increased labor activity from janitors in Houston to ConEd workers in New York City. Now, warehouse workers for Wal-Mart in California and Illinois (right near Chicago) have gone out, and have openly expressed the inspiration they’ve received from the CTU.
Thanks to everyone who signed and passed around the Artists Stand With Chicago Teachers statement. Teachers repeatedly expressed their appreciation for this project, and to the artists who supported it. There are sure to be more struggles to come in the very near future. We have shown, once again, that artists indeed have a role to play in building a world where working people get their fair shake.