Thursday, March 31, 2016

Chicago Teachers Union and Allies Set to Strike Tomorrow

Striking Chicago teachers with community members
Striking Chicago teachers with community members
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and their allies plan to strike tomorrow, April 1, for one day to protest economic and civil rights issues plaguing Chicago. The CTU has been operating without a contract for nearly a year as negotiations have dragged on with no end in sight.

Allies such as Fight for $15, which seeks to raise the minimum wage, will be joining the teachers in protesting at various sites across the city. American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten plans to attend a “teach-in” at Northeastern Illinois University to highlight funding issues in higher education. Other groups will highlight civil rights issues.

CTU is a local of the American Federation of Teachers.

The strike has been declared illegal by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). But CTU members feel that since that have not been receiving their legally mandated raises, their contract is invalid.

No actions have been taken thus far to prevent the strike.

Pushed to the brink

Due to budgetary constraints, CPS has been forced to lay off thousands of teachers and make significant budgetary cuts over the last few years. Some schools operate with no regular nurse to treat ill students, programs for special needs children have been closed, and many after school programs for children have been shut down as well.

This is only the latest in a series of attacks on public sector unions across the nation. The catch here is that the union’s opponent is not a Republican in the city of Chicago, but rather Mayor Rahm Emmanuel who served as a senior aide in the Clinton Administration.

Emmanuel has been an opponent of public sector unions since first taking office in 2011. He was previously close to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R) who attempted to push anti-labor laws through the legislature. Rauner made millions in the private equity market before entering politics.

While under attack from Emmanuel, CTU elected new leaders who have reinvigorated the union at time when many union locals suffer from similar issues.

“A lot of unions have stopped using strikes as weapons. But striking is the most powerful weapon we have. I think our strike in 2012 started to re-energize labor; I hope that continues,” said Sarah Chambers, a member of CTU’s executive board. “We have to actually energize every single union, every single workplace, so our members, the rank and file, are the ones leading these actions.

The CTU has successfully built public support in its fight against Emmanuel by embracing civil rights issues, including the most recent controversy over the shooting of Laquan McDonald 17 times by a police officer. Since the issue over McDonald’s death erupted, Emmanuel’s popularity rating has plummeted.