Chicago Teachers’ Strike Day 7: Choosing soberly over the road to empowerment


Chicago Teachers’ Strike Day 7: Choosing soberly over the road to empowerment

Posted by kasama on September 17, 2012

Rita Stephanie — an inspiring teacher, and a dedicated revolutionary organizer– has been giving Kasama day by day reports — on the actions and mood among the teachers. Now the authorities are trying to press through a compromise agreement, and have manufactured outrage that the teachers chose not to immediately grab the deal and rush back to work. Instead they want to study it, consult with each others, think it over, and weigh their options — all while the Democratic City Hall of Rahm Emmanual threatens to criminalize their strike itself.

by Rita Stephanie

Here we go: Week two.

I was anxious to get to the picket at 7:30 this morning. I know that many of my fellow teachers will be disappointed that we are not back in school today. Many of us are both teachers and parents.

Last night when the news became clear that we were going to be out on strike until at least Wednesday I witnessed first-hand the disappointment and frustration of my own child—a CPS student.

“I support the strike, but why can’t you go back while they finish the contract so that we can get back to school.”

No baby, we’ve got to stay strong!

So, I was anxious to find out the mood of my fellow teachers. Despite wanting to get back into class the teachers one after another talked about how important it is that we read the proposals and come to a decision. We talked about how our power lies in our collectivity. One 18-year teacher talked about this being the most unified she has ever seen teachers and she for one didn’t ever want to go back to “everyone is on their own”.

Private discussion — hidden from a hostile media

The discussions today were serious.

There was no chanting and very little walking. We stood in small groups and talked in whispers about the language of the contact. We kept our conversations quiet and private.

We know that reporters have been trying to eavesdrop on the deliberations. One was lurking around our school this morning trying to talk to parents.

The media has not been our friend and we all agree that we will not talk to reporters right now. They have only distorted our words, selectively editing union statements and taking words out of context. My teachers now feel “schooled” in the ways the mainstream press lies and distorts the truth.

Now real talk about issues and national context

We talked about big issues. The discussion wasn’t about us as individuals. They discussed how this contract compares to other big school district and union contacts.

This is the first big strike of public employees since State Legislatures across the country began passing anti-public union legislation—like in Wisconsin. I was proud of my fellow teachers as we discussed this from the perspective of: If we take this are we winning concessions for labor in general or are we conceding and capitulating?

The teachers were also being strategic. We talked about shifting public opinion. The teachers talked about what would happen if parents, students and others impacted by the strike get frustrated and stop supporting our strike.

Commercials are continuously running each evening against the teachers. The media is reporting that we got a great contract, but we are stalling and delaying by choice.

Dare to struggle, dare to win

We want to make sure that we win. We know from the support that we have received for the last week that our supporters want us to be smart and make sure not to blow it -— they want a win too!

The proposed contract language looks like we have won some important victories in salary and healthcare benefits.

  • Teachers will get raises (including experience raises called steps) and will continue to get salary increases for getting advanced degrees and furthering their own education (called lane changes).
  • The merit pay and career ladder proposal that would have pitted teachers against each other is off the table.
  • Health care premiums and co-pays are frozen at the current levels.
  • Teachers will be given more money for classroom supplies.
  • The language that allowed the mayor to take away the raise in our last contract because of “fiscal emergency” has been removed.

The Board pushed to have all language about class size limits be taken out of the contract.

We were able to keep the current language limiting class size and the need for aides in the contract. Language is being added that requires CPS to provide textbooks for classrooms on the 1st day of school. The current language is that books are provided when available, which has often meant students didn’t have books for several weeks.

There are other items in the proposed contract seem to represent compromises between the Union and the Board. These are in areas like evaluations, teacher recall, and layoffs.

One thing I will talk about is the question of job security. This was a big topic. As teachers at an under-enrolled, 99% African American, 99% high poverty school we know that we are at risk of being closed or turned into a charter school. We talked about the changing economy in the United States.

One teacher made the valid point that no one has job security—have you noticed all the factories closures, the companies that have downsized and all of the people that have been put out of work?

We acknowledged that no contract is going to guarantee teachers (or anyone else) job security. What we did talk about was how our movement and the strike was what kept the board from walking all over us. Getting a “win” in this struggle around our contract will make us stronger and better able to face the next big challenges coming–school closures, “the elephant in the room.” We have created a new organization and support between teachers and parents to improve our schools for the students.

The mood of the teachers at my school was sober but empowered.

Everyone was headed home to read and study the contract language. We will be back at school tomorrow. The union House of Delegates will meet tomorrow evening to vote on continuation or suspension of the strike.

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