The Chicago Teachers Union has agreed to suspend its seven-day strike and return to work. Classes will resume for more than 350,000 students on Wednesday. This does not mean they have agreed to the contract submitted by the Chicago Public Schools, only that they will complete the strike action, while reserving the right to walk out again if the final resolution doesn’t meet with their satisfaction.
The decision was made by the 700-odd members of the House of Delegates, a proxy for the 26,000-member teachers union.
The voice vote was taken after some 800 delegates convened at a union meeting hall near Chinatown to discuss and debate a tentative contract. Union leaders had already signed off on the agreement with Chicago Public Schools.
“We said we couldn’t solve all the problems. . .and it was time to suspend the strike,” CTU President Karen Lewis said at a news conference after the vote.
“The issue is, we cannot get a perfect contract. There’s no such thing as a contract that will make all of us” happy, Lewis said.
But “do we stay on strike forever until every little thing we want can be gotten?” she said.
“I’m so thrilled that people are going back, all of our members are glad to be back with their kids. It’s a hard decision to make to go out, and for some people it’s hard to make the decision to go back in,” Lewis said.
You can detect a hint of defensiveness in Lewis’ tone there, and we don’t have all the details yet to figure out whether the teachers ultimately received a good deal. More importantly, we don’t know whether this will actually stem the drift of right-wing education policy, and stop the privatization of the education system in Chicago and throughout the nation. That will have to play out over the next several years.
What I do know is that’s exactly where the policy was headed before Chicago’s public school teachers stood up. And if there’s any chance for a reversal of policy, it will be because of those teachers. The contract may lead to a continued proliferation of charter schools displacing “failing” public schools in Chicago. It allows high-stakes testing to become part of the evaluation process – though not as much as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked school board wanted – and that may advance as the years go on. Teachers may see their job security at risk and may opt for a defensive style of educating their students that involves teaching to the test and little else. But that was the current trajectory anyway. And the strike offered a moment to actually have a conversation about the effectiveness of the methods pushed by the likes of Emanuel and the private-sector interests who plan to make money off the education system.
The CTU put up their hands and said no. And they held out for a while – they may have been pressured back to work by the potential of an injunction forcing them back on the job anyway. But more important, they can continue to say no by leading this conversation on how to best manage our schools. They gave voice to a long-silent coalition of academics, activists, teachers, parents and students who don’t see the privatization of education as the premier path. And that offers a modicum of hope.