The power of struggle

October 13th, 2012

The teachers’ strike was the polar opposite of what passes for politics in the U.S. – Published on Socialist Worker, October 11, 2012.

The CHICAGO Teachers Union CTU put the power of struggle back on the table after their nine-day strike won against politicians and education officials who tried to vilify them.

Rank-and-file union members were united, determined and active in standing up to the offensive against teachers and public education that has swept through cities around the country, leaving behind privatization and hamstrung unions. Instead, the Chicago teachers fought back, and they convinced a strong majority of Chicagoans to support them … //

… WHAT LESSONS should labor and other activists take away from the teachers’ strike?

  • First of all, that union members were engaged at every step in the struggle. Preparations for the strike began more than two years before when the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators won a sweeping victory in local elections and took over the top positions of the union. The new CTU leaders began systematically building strong leaders in every school in every part of the city.
  • That grassroots strength showed itself last spring when CTU members stunned Emanuel with a 90 percent strike authorization vote. In fact, among teachers who cast ballots, an incredible 98 percent supported authorizing a walkout. As a strike appeared increasingly inevitable, union members were active with informational pickets at schools and events around the city to raise awareness of the issues.
  • During the strike itself, virtually every union member was involved every day–starting with morning pickets at schools around the city and continuing at mass rallies and marches later in the day. When the city finally backed off its all-or-nothing agenda and CTU leaders reached a tentative agreement, the union’s 800-strong House of Delegates decided to continue the strike into a second week so every teacher could discuss and debate the contract.Every development, before and during the strike, reflected the union’s commitment to democracy and grassroots empowerment. The lesson for all was: Why can’t every union operate this way? Why not the government, too?
  • The organization and mobilization of the whole union was a critical factor in winning public support. The teachers didn’t have big advertising dollars. They didn’t have lobbyists. They certainly didn’t have the support of political officials, their wealthy backers or the media.
  • What teachers did have–and what proved to be the deciding factor in this fight–was solidarity.
  • The unity of the teachers won over many parents of Chicago Public schools students, even though the strike posed difficulties in their personal life. The CTU also devoted significant resources, from long before the walkout, to reaching out to community organizations and other potential allies.
  • Last winter, the CTU was part of the fight–ultimately unsuccessful–to stop the city from closing or “turning around” 17 schools, all of them on the poorer and disproportionately Black and Latino West and South Sides. And during the strike, the union continually focused attention on the broader issues of education justice–even though state laws barred it from making these the focus of the strike.
  • As a result, the teachers were seen by many parents and community activists as allies in the struggle against what the CTU called in one report “apartheid in Chicago schools.”
  • As a result of all this, the teachers had strong majority public support for a strike. This is no small matter. The scapegoating campaign against public-sector workers, and teachers in particular, was supposed to have turned public opinion permanently against any militant action by teachers’ unions.
  • Rahm Emanuel’s arrogance during negotiations during the walkout no doubt stemmed from his certainty that public support would be with him if the teachers dared to strike. He and other political leaders believed that the scapegoating campaign against public-sector workers, and teachers in particular, had convinced most people that the teachers were selfish, and the union cared only about its members.
  • But Rahm was wrong. From the beginning, a majority of Chicagoans said they trusted the teachers far more than the city about schools. Two out of three parents of Chicago school kids supported the CTU in their action–an unprecedented sentiment in a citywide teachers’ strike. Among Blacks and Latinos, support for the union was even stronger.
  • Ultimately, the CTU succeeded in resurrecting the best traditions of the labor movement: That a strike by a group of workers is part of the struggle for working-class people in general–because an injury to one is an injury to all, and a victory for one is a victory for all.
  • By striking, Chicago teachers provided an up-until-now missing voice in the debate over the future of public education and the austerity drive in U.S. cities and states. As historian Mark Naison said of the Chicago struggle, “Nowhere else has a teachers’ union said, ‘Enough is enough.’ This is ground zero of resistance to corporate education reform.”
  • Beyond the debate about school deform, the teachers began to shift the national discussion about the recession and who should pay for it. The CTU strike threw into question the accepted logic of rulers around the world–that there is no other option than austerity for workers, while the banks and big business continue to profit.
  • “The strike transformed the teachers from powerless to powerful” is how former Republican education official-turned-school deform critic Diane Ravitch–someone who knows a lot about transformation–described it.
  • John, a teacher at a South Side school in Chicago, put it another way:
  • I’ve been a delegate for 11 years, but I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve had some success in getting people involved, maybe to do some lobbying or advocacy, but the level of unity and participation in this is incredible. Sure, there are some things in the contract that I wish were better, but we can go back to work stronger and better prepared to organize and fight again.

THE TEACHERS’ strike was the polar opposite of Election 2012 and what passes for “politics” in the U.S.: … //

  • … We’re taught that the important decision in society are made by the experts–the government officials, their advisers, their corporate think-tanks. The job of ordinary people is to vote for the person they believe will best represent them–and it ends there.
  • The Chicago teachers’ strike–like many labor battles before it throughout U.S. history–provided a different vision of what “politics” should be: Not a phony debate among elite candidates or an expensive attack ad, but ordinary people discussing, organizing and mobilizing at the grassroots so they can become a force powerful enough to turn their beliefs and demands into reality.
  • This is real politics for socialists–the politics of class struggle–and it’s where social change comes from.
  • We also know that our side faces many challenges in the struggle to come. It’s time to apply the lessons of the Chicago teachers’ strike to those fights–in our unions, our workplaces, our schools and our neighborhoods.

(full long text).


Chicago Teachers Union CTU’s own website, and CTU on en.wikipedia;

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Video: Watch PBS Frontline’s The Choice 2012‘ and chat with contributors, 114.17 min, on Washington Post, by Natalie Jennings, Oct. 10, 2012: The Choice 2012, a documentary on the personal lives of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, debuted on PBS Frontline Tuesday night (also in spanish) …

diabète – santé – économie … et moi et moi et moi.

diabète – santé – économie … et moi et moi et moi.

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