Chicago teachers are beginning to stir again following the threat of huge cuts to school budgets across the city.
Since July last year the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has been attempting to negotiate a new contract for teachers. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and in particular, the City Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, have been trying to use these negotiations to impose cuts to pensions and pay, as well as threatening 2000 teacher redundancies. Now, using slick PR and media stunts, the mayor has announced a disingenuous plan to expand nursery provision by 1,000 places, when the reality is that he plans to cut main school budgets by $120 million.
These cuts come on top of years of retrenchment since the strikes of 2012. But the cuts of the last five years have been masked by teachers working longer hours for less pay, effectively running all extra curricular sport and cultural provision for students in their own time. The stakes high here and strike action seems likely. For now the strikes have been postponed whilst more talks continue. However, the CTU has been busy building an impressive coalition to resist the cuts, forging links with the community and students as in 2012.
A recent poll showed that more than four times as many people in Chicago support the teachers as the Mayor, despite his extensive publicity and media campaign. Earlier this month more than 3,000 CTU members, parents, students and other supporters marched in freezing conditions in support of a fair contract for teachers and in opposition to education cuts. During the protest, 16 union activists staged a sit-in at the Bank of America and were arrested. They used the arrests as an opportunity to expose corrupt practices in the city’s public finances and to demand serious negotiations with the Union over the contract. “Rahm has money for the banks but not for our students,” said teacher Sarah Chambers, one of the arrestees. “When it’s reached a point where teachers are occupying banks to make their voices heard, it shows that we need an elected school board.”
A dispute like this can go one way or the other given the stakes involved. The CTU, so far, appear to have played this well, using protests and other levers to force the hand of the authorities. Sooner or later some serious industrial action is likely to be necessary if the people of Chicago are to protect their teachers and the education service.