The Strike that Began the Purple Wave

Jackson Potter

On Sept. 10, 2012, I joined 1000’s of my fellow public college lecturers in Chicago and walked off the job. 

After going through 30 years of company training “reform” that demonized lecturers and led to large privatization of public faculties throughout america, lecturers in all places had been able to combat again.

For many people in Chicago, forward of the 2012 strike, political developments had proven a vary of prospects for what that preventing again may appear to be. 

In Chicago, resistance to the assaults on lecturers required us to defeat one of the highly effective Democratic politicians within the nation (then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel), endure the biggest closing of Black faculties in U.S. historical past, and roar again from the brink of an effort to dismantle public training as we all know it. However right this moment, ten years after the historic 2012 strike, we’ve seen the tutorial justice motion mature and develop into stronger by way of a decade of battle. 

The 2012 Chicago Academics Union (CTU) strike is commonly referenced as inspiration for an strategy to contract negotiations known as Bargaining for the Widespread Good (BCG), the place unions make calls for that will profit not simply members however the bigger communities that they interact with. For instance, that 12 months, lecturers known as for an finish to privatization and austerity insurance policies affecting working individuals, regardless of being legally restricted on what points they may discount over. And through contract negotiations in 2015, the CTU made proposals to pay $15 an hour to all college district staff, even these exterior their very own membership.

Stephen Lerner, a senior fellow on the BCG Community and an architect of SEIU’s Justice for Janitors marketing campaign, has pointed to the CTU’s 2019 demand for reasonably priced housing for all of Chicago’s 20,000 homeless college students as emblematic of how the labor motion must name for what was beforehand thought-about exterior the area of conventional fashions of collective bargaining. 

In accordance with labor historian Joseph McCartin and former President of the Massachusetts Academics Affiliation, Merrie Najimy, the brand new strategy to bargaining has been adopted by trainer union locals who “understood that there was no approach to confront the dynamics of austerity — and particularly its devastating impacts on our most susceptible communities — until employees and people communities joined collectively round a shared evaluation to advance frequent objectives.”

As a results of the success by trainer unions in advancing social justice of their bargaining, unions exterior of training have additionally begun to embrace the technique. In 2020, round 4,000 Minnesota janitors from SEIU Native 26 led a strike that targeted largely on environmental justice calls for. As reported in The Forge, “The calls for included the creation of an Proprietor and Group Inexperienced Desk; closure of the HERC incinerator, a main supply of each greenhouse gasses and air air pollution that harms close by communities of colour; and adoption of the union’s proposed Inexperienced Cleansing Coaching Program.”

A big a part of the advance of social justice unionism during the last 10 years has been the usage of inside organizing instruments to cohere member sentiment round non-traditional calls for. For instance, within the years main as much as their 2019 strike, organizers with United Academics Los Angeles (UTLA) held 1000’s of conversations — in particular person, on the cellphone, at rallies, in teams, and one on one — with members, allies and oldsters.

By means of a coordinated contract marketing campaign throughout its 40,000-plus membership, the union constructed broad consensus round calls for that will have an effect exterior the lecture rooms, in addition to inside. And, on many fronts, UTLA noticed main victories.

No fewer than 20 trainer strikes previously ten years have injected hope and momentum into the labor motion’s panorama, and nearly all of them have adopted a social justice framework.

In most of those efforts, lecturers have gained as a result of they’ve run sturdy contract campaigns targeted on what organizer and writer Jane McAlevey has known as “construction checks” — clear-eyed assessments of what it would take to win. Organizers engaged members to participate in escalating actions that superior a clear set of public good calls for. 

In lots of respects, our 2012 CTU strike was a defensive one. We fought off a full scale privatization of the district and an effort to vastly diminish victories gained by over 70 years of bargaining historical past. Within the intervening years, our union has gone on a further 9 strikes.

The final huge strike that the CTU waged was in 2019, and in lots of respects it was the most transformational. We gained a nurse and social employee in each college for the primary time within the historical past of the union. We additionally noticed extra social justice wins that established first-time contract provisions: providers and staffing for homeless college students, the primary “triggers” to restrict class sizes in 25 years, the primary moratorium on new constitution faculties, in addition to advances in bilingual training and the creation of “sanctuary faculties” to guard undocumented college students from ICE.

The following “construction check” going through Chicago lecturers can be to problem an unpopular incumbent in Mayor Lori Lightfoot in subsequent 12 months’s municipal elections. Empowering the working class and nurturing vibrant public faculties will largely rely upon having a progressive metropolis authorities in Chicago.

If 2012 was a combat for the soul of public training, 2023 and past can be a combat to find out whether or not or not union energy — domestically and nationally — can actually translate into political energy. 

This weblog initially appeared at In These Instances on September 12, 2022. Republished with permission.

In regards to the Creator: Jackson Potter contributed to In These Instances and is Vice President of the Chicago Academics Union.

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