Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Case for Striking

Things are very bad in the Chicago Public Schools right now. And we need to do something about it.

I support the idea of my union going on strike May 1st in solidarity with workers and immigrants around the world. 

But I want to go further. I want to make the case for the Chicago Teachers Union to go on an open-ended strike this school year with one, clear goal: Force the bosses to fund our schools. Yes, this is a much scarier proposal, but also far more powerful.

For the second year in row, after years of cuts, closures, consolidations, and chaos, Chicago Public School employees are facing the lost pay and lost time of yet more furlough days. Last year, it was three days of lost pay. This year, we are looking down the barrel of a total of 17 days slashed from our paychecks. At this point, our contract, and our negotiated pay scales, are not even worth the paper they're printed on. And we all knew that this was ALWAYS the plan. We knew it, our leadership knew it, Rahm certainly did, too.

And now our union leadership has asked us to consider a one-day strike on May 1st. It was an ask that was all over the news before we even had a moment to consider, perhaps unavoidably. But as a delegate, I will say that I appreciate the conversation. To be asked, not told, despite what the media misreports. And I want us, as a union, to really have this conversation. Not limited to one idea, but willing to consider all the possibilities.

While I support striking to participate in May Day actions-I think at the very least we must do that-I do not believe that a demonstrative action goes far enough. We need bigger change.

I believe we need to withhold our labor until the situation changes in CPS. The Chicago Board of Ed has already shown they will take our pay. Either way, we are going to lose a bundle. Money most of us cannot afford to lose. But I say we do it on our own terms. They cannot leave schools closed for both furloughs and strike days. They can't close the schools for six weeks. So if we're losing pay anyway, let's take our unpaid days when we want to. CPS has set it up that we lose very little in a longer strike. The fear of lost pay and instructional days is already happening. And goodness knows that our working conditions are beyond terrible. There's not much to lose at this point. But there is much to gain.

I say we strike starting on May 1st and continue until there is movement on our dire budget situation. Instead of losing the money at the end of the year, closing out our classrooms and leaving our buildings defeated and demoralized on June 1st, we could mobilize to a massive call to action. 

By striking in May, we could disrupt The Testing, the data that is used to label, fail, harm, and fire us. Without that data, no VAM scores in our evaluations. Without that data, no school ratings system used to destroy community schools. We could use the time to send thousands to Springfield, to camp out, Wisconsin-style, until our twisted governor is forced to fund our state. We could pester and disrupt Chicago politicians until they have no choice but to use city resources to plug any holes in the CPS budget, to enact taxes on the wealthy and the corporations for sustainable revenue sources, to go after the banks which cheated CPS children out of hundreds of millions of dollars, to release all TIF surpluses back to the schools.

These budgets cuts and furloughs will keep coming year after year unless we do something about it. These are blatant violations of our new contract, proving that the Board never had any intention of following through on raises or salary schedules, a clear breach in the contract. We have every right to strike.

But there's more. Our ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) brothers and sisters are also poised to strike. Can you imagine the disruption to our city and state if the buses and trains shut down along with the schools? AFSME state workers are ALSO in the position to go on strike. I want to build a vision here. Imagine all of us on strike at once. Imagine it! This is not just wishful thinking, there is a possibility that this vision could come true. But it would take serious effort and bravery.

The CTU has been a leader in the labor movement. We fought when no one else was fighting. Our fight has been an inspiration. And we could lead something big. Given the current political climate under Trump...who knows, who knows what our strike could lead to. 

Maybe nothing. Maybe we would lose. Maybe we would win zero change and get some hefty fines thrown at our union. But is that worse than just sitting back and taking hit after hit after hit? To watch our colleagues quietly quit, succumb to mental illness from the stress, to hang our heads low and keep trying to weather this storm which only grows stronger year to year? 

And I know we are demoralized. I am demoralized. There are days I can barely get out of bed. I have been throwing my resume around this system desperately searching for some relief. It doesn't exist. 

Doing nothing means things will keep getting worse. Your mortgage will not get paid. Your pension will not be funded. Your future as a teacher or school worker will end in despair. And you will watch the students you love suffer through more and more attacks.

I don't want that. I am willing to take the risk now. We were ready to strike last October. We can be ready again.

I say, "STRIKE!"

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