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As Chicago teachers strike, solidarity rally planned in Grand Rapids this Thursday

September 10, 2012

The battles lines have been drawn in Chicago, with the teachers union going on strike against the punitive measures being imposed on the public education system by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel.

One writer on the strike reports:

Some 26,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU)–educators as well as aides, clerical personnel and clinical professionals–are walking the picket lines in their first strike in 25 years. The CTU has been without a contract since June. At the end of the last school year, 98 percent of teachers who cast a ballot authorized the union to call a strike if the city didn’t come up with a fair contract.

Final confirmation of the strike came at a dramatic live press conference for the 10 p.m. local television news, where CTU President Karen Lewis announced that negotiations had failed to bridge the gap between the city and the teachers’ union. “We have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike,” she said. “No CTU members will be inside of our schools Monday.”

Although state laws prohibit the union from striking over issues other than pay, benefits and certain workplace procedures, Lewis made it clear that the CTU is also fighting for fully funded public education with smaller class sizes, decent facilities and improved educational options. 

Lewis spoke of the CTU’s alliances with parents and community groups to demand improvements in schools–for example, the installation of air conditioning in schools that begin classes in mid-August. She pointed out that CPS has only 350 social workers for about 400,000 children. The fight for improved social services in the schools, she said, is “critical to all of us.”

Thus, while the specific issues of the Chicago teachers’ strike are limited by law, everyone knows that this fight is about, as one local news anchor put it, how the schools are run. “We ask all of you to join us in this education fight for justice,” Lewis said at the press conference, flanked by rank-and-file union members on the bargaining team.

Asked why the union was resisting implementation of a new evaluation system, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey pointed out that the city’s punitive proposal could put as many as one-third of Chicago teachers on track for termination. By tying teacher evaluations to student test scores, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) would only put more pressure on children who already have the burden of high-stakes tests that “distort” their education, Sharkey said.

In Grand Rapids, activists have organized a Solidarity Rally for the Chicago Teachers Union. The facebook invite states:

This is a rally in support of the Chicago Teacher’s Union for a fair contract and to defend public education. On August 29th,the Chicago Teacher’s Union filed it’s ten-day strike notice. If contract negotiations are not settled, they are planning to strike Monday, September 10th. Let us gather to show our solidarity with teachers and to discuss amongst each other the significance of this struggle.

Solidarity with Chicago Teachers

Thursday, September 13

3:00 – 5:00 PM

Monument Park – corner of Division & Fulton in downtown Grand Rapids

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