Friday, September 21, 2012

Inspiring a new teacher union movement – Thank you Chicago teachers

The seven-day Chicago teacher strike was historic. 

It showed the nation that despite months of bullying by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and others, educators will not remain silent. It also signaled that a new teacher union movement is in the making.

In the spring of 2011, tens of thousands of Wisconsin teachers surprised the nation with weeks of massive protests at the state capital. A year and a half later, the Chicago teachers built on this momentum when they raised picket signs and struck in favor of their students, their profession, and public education.

In both struggles, teachers and their allies defended public education. They stood against pro-corporate, pro-privatization educational “reform” agendas. A key feature of those agendas is to scapegoat teachers and vilify their unions.

As the teacher union president in Milwaukee just 90 miles north, I was proud to go to Chicago last Saturday with two busloads of teachers and supporters to stand with Chicago teachers. We received a warm welcome and a chorus of thank-yous. The feeling of gratitude is mutual.

Thank you, CTU, for standing up to corporate education reformers who are attempting to privatize the public schools of our large cities.

Thank you for demanding that children not suffer from an apartheid-like educational system. Whether in Wisconsin or Chicago – Little Rock or Los Angeles – students deserve the same resources as their affluent counter parts. Our students deserve an education that is rich in the arts, strong in physical education and rigorous in study. They do not deserve a dumbed-down, data drenched, test driven curriculum.

And thank you, Chicago teachers, for providing an example of an activist, democratic union that works closely with parents and community, fights for equal, quality public education, and is part of the larger movement for social justice.

I believe that the Chicago teacher strike of 2012 will be looked back on as a turning point in a new kind of teacher unionism, something that rank and file union activists have been advocating for years. Some people describe this new unionism as an “organizing” model, rather than a service/business model. Others have called it “social justice unionism” or “social movement unionism.” Regardless, the Chicago teachers demonstrated its main features:

  • Unapologetically defending wages and working conditions of public school educators
  • Standing up for students, the teaching profession, and an equal and humane education that educates the whole child
  • Defending public education – the only educational institutions in our communities that has the capacity, commitment, and legal obligation to serve all children
  • Forging alliances with parents and community organizations to work for better schools and for social justice in the entire community.
  • Building a democratic union structure that encourages members to be organizers and active participants in their union.

Teachers from Chicago stood with the teachers of Wisconsin in the spring of 2011. Wisconsin teachers stood with the Chicago teachers this fall. 

It's time to use the energy and lessons from Wisconsin and Chicago to transform the national narrative on education, strengthen our union organizing work, and broaden the fight for quality education for all.

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Bob Peterson's short solidarity speech that he gave at the Chicago solidarity rally on September 15 can be downloaded for listening or for reading.

1 comment:

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