From the November-December 2019 issue of News & Letters
Chicago—Standing with teachers of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) from Oct. 17 when they went on strike was inspiring! It is a shame that teachers’ demands to end their terrible working conditions, which are the learning conditions of their students, had little response from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. That led to closed schools for the duration of the strike. Lightfoot broke her Mayoral campaign promise that teachers would have no reason to strike.
IT’S NOT THE MONEY, IT’S THE CONDITIONS
Around 25 teachers, other education personnel, and sympathizers gathered in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood near Gale Elementary School and Gale Academy in the 49th Ward on Oct. 17, the first day of the strike. More than half of the cars and trucks that went by honked, showing their solidarity. Among the signs were: “On Strike for My Students,” “Mayor Lightfoot Our Strike/Your Watch,” “On Strike for a Fair Contract” and “We are doing this for our Special Education Students.” One of the chants struck at the heart of the matter, “What do we want? A fair contract! When do we want it? Now!”
At a recent 49th Ward meeting about public education, a participant said that if the CTU’s only concern was money, the strike probably wouldn’t even happen. The strike is over limiting class size, having a nurse and a librarian in every school every day and a counselor for every 250 students, more bilingual and special education teachers and staff, sanctuary schools, teacher assistants, a living wage for clerks and other largely African-American and Latinx paraprofessionals, affordable housing for teachers and staff, and a continuation of the moratorium on charter schools.
The moratorium on opening new charter schools will remain. Lightfoot announced she was ending that moratorium but was forced to change her stance. She maintains, however, that there is no money for the CTU’s demands regarding personnel. But Tax Incremental Funds (TIF) that divert a portion of funds to the Mayor’s control and usually are handed over to well-connected developers could be used. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel used TIF to avoid another strike following the one in 2012.
Outrageously, there is a state law that teachers cannot strike over personnel needs and class size. Nevertheless, the CTU makes clear its demands regarding them. The movement to repeal that law must continue.
Lightfoot said the CTU and CPS were close to a deal, but then demanded teachers show up for work while negotiations continue! Teachers were just as determined and spirited on the seventh day of the strike with a massive rally in the Loop. I’ll be back at the picket line while the strike continues.
—Network 49 Education Committee member