One of the most accurate picket sign slogans making the rounds in Chicago is “History Class in Session.” On day five of the Chicago Teachers Union strike, it appears that the Chicago Board of Education has made major concessions, and almost everyone here believes that the teachers will go back to work with a significantly better contract than the one they currently have. Although some media outlets have reported that there is a tentative agreement, the magazine and organizing project Labor Notes tweeted that bargaining will continue through the weekend, with the hope that a contract will be ready to present to CTU’s House of Delegates by Sunday night. (Any contract deal would have to be approved by a majority of the membership.) The CTU, for its part, has not made any public announcements, and on its Facebook page late afternoon "If you didn’t hear it from the CTU, it isn’t true."
The mobilization here has rivaled that of Wisconsin during the height of the fight against Scott Walker’s attack on collective bargaining. On Monday, thousands of teachers and allies rallied in the center of Chicago. Rallies of thousands have occurred every day afterwards, including yesterday, when the teachers set up an electrifying picket line outside the Hyatt in downtown Chicago. They were protesting both against Penny Pritzker, the billionaire Hyatt heiress who has been a key driver of education “reform” in Chicago, and in solidarity with the hotel worker’s union UNITE HERE, which is currently organizing a global boycott of Hyatt hotels due to poor working conditions. A rally that’s likely to be the largest yet is planned for tomorrow, with busloads of teachers from Wisconsin expected to come in solidarity.
The battle for the soul of public education is cast by education “reformers” as well-intentioned parents and children fighting against evil teachers unions, and by teachers and their community allies (which right now includes 56 percent of the city of Chicago, including 66 percent of public school parents, as a CTU-commissioned poll found) as a fight for the 99 percent against the 1 percent. It is clear that teachers, led by the CTU, are now winning this battle. Fallout is already being felt across the nation. The Boston School Department is coming under fire from education “reformers” for hastily resolving a contract that has been negotiated for two years, and which last negotiated in mid-August. The scuttlebut there is that the mayor and the school board desperately wanted to avoid a repeat of Chicago in Beantown. Although it is illegal for teachers in Massachusetts to strike, the union could have engaged in an illegal strike action, or there could have been other kinds of rank-and-file activity.
After the first day of the Chicago strike, the school board presented a revised contract proposal. The sticking points remain the layoff provisions as they relate to performance, but it appears that CPS has agreed to an appeals process for teacher evaluations, which will likely lead to considerably fewer layoffs.
One major tentative win in negotiations is that any attempt by Rahm Emanuel to take away teachers’ raises with the argument that the city doesn’t have enough money, as he did during the 2010–11 school year, will now be contractually impossible. Another major tentative agreement, sources say, is that the union and the board have agreed to a deal to reverse the dramatic under-representation of black and Latino teachers in the public schools. Under the tentative deal, CPS will have a contractually obligated commitment to making sure that the racial composition of teachers at CPS reflects the student population. This considerable victory, if implemented, could set the standard to reverse the significantly declining percentage of black teachers in education nationally.