I was walking my bike out of the CTA Blue Line stop nearest to the CTU Strike HQ at around 11:15 am Saturday morning when I encountered two Chicago cops standing at the entrance. They noticed my red shirt with the “Stand with the Chicago Teachers Union” emblazoned across the front.
One said, “You must be a teacher.” I replied, “Yeah, I’m headed for the Strike Headquarters to volunteer my services. He answered,”Good luck,” while his partner smiled. I thanked them both and was on my way. It was the first time a Chicago cop had ever wished me well during the entire 36 years I have lived here.
The CTU Strike HQ is in the Teamster Local 705 buildingThe CTU Strike banner had gone up late Friday afternoon September 7. The CTU had chosen the Teamsters Local 705 building as their Strike HQ because of the easy parking and its quieter, less crowded West Side location. The choice also symbolized the need for organized labor to stick together in solidarity. The Chicago Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union are still far apart even though negotiations have been going on for months. Sunday midnight is the strike deadline.
I was at Strike HQ Friday night as a volunteer for the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign (CTSC). The CTSC is an outgrowth of Occupy Chicago and works closely with the CTU to organize community and labor support.
Seeing the banner go up Friday night was a solemn moment for me, because this struggle is really over the soul of our nation. Will we live in a society where people care for one another? Or in an Orwellian corporate nightmare that will make 1984 look like Mr Rogers neighborhood?
As the banner was being raised, workers from a Progress Printing, a South Side union shop, were delivering thousands of picket signs for distribution over the weekend. A small number of CTU members and CTSC volunteers spent much of Friday evening preparing the picket signs and trying to set up the office as best we could.
We had a few easily solved glitches like a shortage of sticks to staple the signs upon. A trip to Home Depot solved that problem. A shortage of a some critical office supplies was overcome by a quick ride over to Staples.
The Friday night mood at the Strike HQ was one of quiet confidence as people discussed the weeks of organizing and public protests around the teachers’ struggle. Working class people around Chicagoland have expressed heart-felt solidarity, with many of the workers saying, “We should be doing what the teachers are doing.” The teachers are not only defending public education, but defending working class pride and respect as well.
Saturday at Strike HQ
When I arrived at the Strike HQ around 11:30 am on Saturday morning, there was already a line of cars parked around the corner of the Teamster Local 705 building. The union delegates and picket captains were there to get their quota of signs, strike bulletins and final instructions.
The line of delegates and picket captains stretched down the sidewalk where CTU staffers, members and CTSC volunteers stood behind tables issuing strike materials and answering questions. The media was there in force and motorists passing by were blowing horns in solidarity and stopping to wave and offer verbal encouragement.
A morning press conference featured CTU Vice-President Jesse Sharkey who expressed “disappointment” at the way negotiations were going but pledged to meet with Board representatives 24 hours a day if necessary.
A number of parent and community groups also spoke to the media with Parents for Teachers leader Erica Clark saying,” [Teachers] want smaller classes. Parents here will tell you—35, 40 kids in a class! That’s just unacceptable. But you don’t hear the president of the board, you don’t hear Mr. Brizard talking about how they’re going to use this contract to bring smaller classes to the schools.”
At a CTU Press Conference
Inside the crowded office were more CTU staffers and volunteers stapling signs to sticks, punching holes in other signs to allow twine for hanging around the neck and counting out bundles of signs for distribution to those waiting outside. CTU staffers huddled with activist members to discuss issues and give out advice. There has not been a strike since 1987 and many teachers have no experience at what that means.
Amisha Patel and CTU staffer Jackson Potter stapling signs
Setting up office equipment at Strike HQ
CTU staffer Brandon Johnson confers
It may sound chaotic, but it wasn’t, thanks to the watchful eyes of Norine Gutekanst, CTU organizing coordinator. She seemed to be everywhere at once, constantly conferring, suggesting, talking on her cell phone and offering encouragement. By late afternoon things had quieted down and volunteers began to leave. I left around 4:30 pm but will be back on Sunday at around noon.
Norine Gutekanst with her laptop
While media coverage has focused on pay issues, that’s only part of the story
It’s early Sunday morning now and if an agreement is not reached by Sunday midnight, thousands of teachers, para-professionals and other support staff will go on strike.
CTU members care deeply about their students and are fed up with the poor physical conditions of the schools, the cutbacks in art, music, science, PE etc., the closing of entire schools accompanied by mass firing of teachers, the ballooning class sizes, the lack of student support services, the abuse of standardized testing and the accompanying ‘teach to the test” dumbing down of the curriculum. They are also determined to stop the corporate privatization of the schools.
CTU Labor Day Rally
Like Wisconsin was last winter, Chicago is now Ground Zero for defense of public services in the face of massive corporate assault. Chicago has had a tough summer of tragic street violence as the wealthiest corporations continue to prey upon the city’s working class, enforcing widespread poverty and unemployment. But the struggle of the teachers has given the city’s working class people hope, hope that we can improve educational opportunities while improving daily life through labor struggle and solidarity.
Whatever happens after Sunday midnight, whether there is a short strike, a long strike or no strike at all, Chicago’s teachers have imparted important lessons that have inspired and educated. They have every reason to take pride in themselves, in their contribution to Chicago’s young people, and in the city that they love.
A luta continua.
Bob “Bobbosphere” Simpson taught in DC & Chicago public and parochial high schools for nearly 25 years. This post first appeared on his Daily Kos diary, please go there and recommend it.