Windy City Fights Back: Live blogging the Chicago Teachers Strike

by the Editorial Committee

September 13, 2012

On Monday in Chicago, a new generation of working class activists will hit the picket lines in the city’s first teacher strike in a quarter century. In contrast to the 1980s (when the CTU struck three times) this will be the first strike that most current teachers have ever participated in. It will be a strike with broad support from the city’s working class neighborhoods and from the ranks of its labor organizations.

When the CTU strikes next week it will be a rebuttal, 26,000 strong, to the anti-union think tanks and billionaire front groups who said that there would never be another teacher strike in Chicago. The Chicago teachers strike will be a historic showdown between one of strongest public sector unions in the United States today in the city where the modern era of union-busting “education reform” was hatched.

We’ll be posting live updates and reporting from the strike next week, hopefully soon after the picket lines begin at the crack of dawn on Monday. Over the week, check back here for photos, news from the picket line, interviews with union members and activists, and more.

We need your participation to make this happen. If you’re in Chicago, send in material to with some context (who, what, where, when) and how you’d like to be named. We aim to cover activities around the city.

–The Solidarity Web Editorial Committee

Thursday, September 13

Reports and photos submitted by Mitchell

Today’s rally started at Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Chicago. Chicago teachers and supporters focused on the $5.2 million Hyatt received in tax increment financing (TIF) funds, while CPS’s proposed budget cuts $3.4 million from seven schools surrounding the new hotel project in Hyde Park. Penny Pritzer, who is on the Hyatt board of directors and served as National Finance Chair for Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign, is also on the board of Chicago Public Schools. UNITE HERE has had numerous issues with the treatment of housekeepers at Hyatt hotels, and has called for a global boycott.

Thousands were in attendance with unflagging enthusiasm. Red ponchos were being passed out in case of rain. We marched from Hyatt Regency down past the boutiques that line Michigan Avenue, or the Magnificent Mile, all the way to Grant Park. Speakers included a housekeeper and UNITE HERE member, who talked about the strike they participated in last year, a SEIU Local 73 worker, a Action Now member, a former CPS student and current college student from the Southside who personally called out to thank his teachers that helped him out, and a Brighton Park neighborhood council member who spoke of the lack of air conditioning, nurses, and counselors in Kelly High School.

Matt Farmer, a Chicago lawyer, writer, and member of the Local School Council at Philip Rogers Elementary School, gave an impassioned speech on the racist actions of CPS in maintaining education apartheid, the struggles of working-class students in communities of color with standardized testing, and how unfair it is to uniformly evaluate teachers across the city of Chicago without attention to the varied challenges faced from classroom to classroom.

Wednesday, September 12

Reports and photos submitted by Isaac, Mike, and Sarah Jane

After two days of enormous marches which formed a river of red amid the towering skyscrapers of Chicago’s Loop district, CTU organized neighborhood-focused actions for the end of the strike’s first week. Wednesday morning, youth leaders from communities across the city gathered at Wells High School in the West Town neighborhood in solidarity with their teachers and to denounce standardized testing.

To dramatize the emphasis on testing at the expense of more personalized education, the CPS students carried a chain made from thousands of the ubiquitous “number two” pencil, used to bubble in scantron forms, during their rally and press conference. Many of the student activists present were members of Voices of Youth In Chicago Education (VOYCE), which organizes in CPS high schools and is participates in the CTU’s “Community Board,” through which the teachers union has collaborated with neighborhood groups in their fight for public education.

One of VOYCE’s major campaigns has been against reign of terror created by excessive discipline and the presence of armed police officers in schools. In Chicago, an average of 324 students are punished with out-of-school suspension and 29 students are actually arrested by the police every day.

Later that day, rallies of thousands were centered at Marshall Metropolitan High School in Garfield Park on the west side, Dyett High at the tip of South Side Washington Park, and Kelly High School in southwestern Brighton Park. Dyett was the site of a joint demonstration planned by the CTU and Occupy Chicago last spring to protest the lack of arts programs in many CPS schools, as well as the rampant closure of neighborhood schools through the “turnaround” provision of Obama’s Race to the Top program.

At Marshall, [unconfirmed] rumors circulated in the crowd about a possible resignation of Jean-Claude Brizard, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Brizard is the central figure in Rahm’s changing of the guard at CPS. He was hired on the reputation of his management of the Rochester school system where a staggering 95% of his teachers gave him a vote of “no confidence.”

There was also a rally at Helen C. Pierce Elementary School, where one of our reporters attended 1st through 7th grade. There were teachers from not only Peirce but also from Hayt, Swift, and Uplift Community. They were a musical bunch and looked like they were having plenty of fun, with lots of marching, chanting, and singing. One of the teachers announced at one point that he’d been on the phone with someone involved in negotiations and they told him things were more positive today between CTU and the board–but whenever the lawyers would come and write down what they had been talking about, the two sides would go a step or two backwards. The struggle continues…

As usual, The Real News provides great updates and analysis on the progress of the strike:

Oh yeah, and there’s a new Rebel Diaz track inspired by the CTU struggle–“Rahm’s a fake pretender with a corporate agenda / neoliberal offender, of course you offend us!”

Tuesday, September 11

2:36pm, News clippings: Some custodians may join strike, CPS finds money for administrative raises, 47% of voters support strike

As a second afternoon demonstration in the Chicago Loop begins, here are a few recommended links that have been sent in:

  • Some Chicago Public Schools custodians may strike: Service Employees International Union Local 1 today informed companies that employ about 1,800 of its members as custodial workers in city schools that those workers might go out on strike with teachers in 48 hours, according to Jerry Morrison, executive director of the union’s state council…
  • Poll: 47% of Chicago registered voters support teachers in strike: …47 percent support the strike, 39 percent oppose it and 14 percent didn’t know. The poll has a margin of error of 3.8 percent. Only 6 percent of those surveyed rated Emanuel’s handling of the strike as “excellent.” Another 13 percent said he was doing a “good” job. The ratings were fairly consistent across racial and ethnic lines and areas of the city…
  • No pay hike for CPS teachers, but executives are getting raises?: The vote on whether to boost executive Chicago Public School salaries comes only a week after the same board members, in their first official action, found the deficit-ridden system did not have enough money to pay for 4 percent raises to teachers…

Stay tuned for updates and photos from the march later this afternoon.

2:03pm, Picketing in Little Village, visits to aldermanic offices.

Mitchell, who lives in Little Village/Lawndale, reported on morning pickets in the neighborhood. Teachers from several schools in the Little Village area were sent to Spry Community School on Marshall Boulevard, one of the 144 “holding” schools, to reinforce the picket line at the elementary school. Boosted by teachers from the surrounding schools, the crowd was three times as large as on Monday morning and had greater involvement from parents.

CTU members, parents, and community activists across the city have targeted aldermen who signed a letter to Karen Lewis opposing the CTU membership’s strike vote (Joe Moore, who was treated to a “mic check” by Occupy Rogers Park, was another one of the 33 aldermen who signed).

At 10:30, parents and their children traveled from Little Village to Alderman George Cardenas’ office in nearby McKinley Park to read a letter they drafted asking him to support quality education for their children and the teachers. When pickers arrived, the parents were let in the door and read their letter. Cardenas, who must have expected the protest, was nowhere to be found and his assistants couldn’t even guarantee a meeting with the parents. Chants included, “padres unidos” and “una sola voz” and el maestros unidos, jama sera vencidos.”

1:03pm, Albany Park marches in support of teachers and public education

Peter sent in this report from a community support march through Albany Park on the northwest side: “Following on the heels of another vibrant day of picketing at Roosevelt High School (which was staffed by non-CTU CPS employees from 8:30am to 12:30am, but had hardly any students attend) a group of about 60 community supporters led by the Albany Park Neighborhood Council (APNC) led a short, but spirited march down from Hibbard elementary down Kimball Avenue, chanting “Everywhere we go people want to know who we are, so we tell them. We are the people, fighting for our teachers.”

CPS students hold sign reading “Teachers want to bring music to our lives”; crowds lined both sides of Kimball

Clad mostly in the green t-shirts of the APNC and comprised largely of young Latino students from the neighborhood, the crowd marched to the Kimball el stop at the end of the Brown Line, on the corner Kimball and Lawrence–a central intersection in the neighborhood. Here we formed a disciplined line in front of the station on Lawrence and continued to shout loud and clear that we are in support of the teachers in Chicago who are out on strike for a second day in order to stop the corporate education “reform” agenda that has so devastated the city’s poorest and most exploited neighborhoods, students and families.

12:15pm, a peek inside HQ

Diane sent in a couple of photos giving a look inside preparations taking place at Strike Headquarters. HQ is managed by a rotating staff of volunteers from the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign and the CTU; during the day the large upstairs hall is buzzing with people distributing yard signs and t-shirts to supporters and creating banners – right now, they’re working on one for this afternoon’s rally against the TIF program which siphons money from public services to development contractors. It reads “Invest in students, neighborhoods, and schools!”

At the other end of the hall a table is set up with pizza from Primo’s, most of which has been phone orders from supporters outside of Chicago. To help, either call yourself or help spread the following information:

    You can show your solidarity with striking Chicago teachers by donating to pay for their lunch. For however long the strike lasts, striking Chicago Teachers Union activists and supporters will meet at their strike headquarters after morning picket lines and before a mass picket downtown in the afternoon.

    The Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign has made arrangements with Primo’s pizza, a locally owned and teacher-friendly restaurant near the strike HQ, to deliver pizza, pasta, and salads. You can help defer the up to $1,000 a day cost by calling Primo’s and asking them to take a donation with your credit card. At the conclusion of the strike, any unused funds will go toward the ongoing campaign to defend public education and fight for an elected school board in Chicago. (Consider pooling donations with others and making just one phone call.)

    Call Gus or Daisy at Primo’s Pizza at (312) 243-1052. Primo’s is at 816 W Van Buren Street, Chicago. Open 11 am to 9 pm Monday through Friday, but try not to call during lunch rush 11:45 to 1:15.

11:30am, Tuesday issue of On the Line, the daily strike bulletin

Thousands of copies of today’s issue of the CTU Strike Bulletin, On the Line are being distributed throughout town at picket sites and wherever CTU members and supporters are found. The front side summarizes the day’s agenda of 6:30am pickets at the 144 scab schools and a 2:30pm march through downtown to raise awareness about “entities that have been awarded millions of dollars in TIF [Tax Increment Financing] funds and tax breaks that otherwise would have gone to parks, libraries and schools”, as well as outlining the key issues of the strike and a wrap-up of Monday’s excitement. The reverse features photos from pickets and the downtown march as well as chants and contact information for CTU strike leaders, along with the strike hotline, 312.329.6209.

10:55am, Monday morning in Kenwood

Dianne reports:

Just a few blocks from the Obama home in Chicago’s south side Kenwood neighborhood, 150 teachers, parents and students rallied outside of Kenwood Academy, one of the 144 CPS “holding” schools. Many were from the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, which for years has led the community in its fight to defend public education.

In January, KOCO activists organized a sit-in in front of Rahm’s office to demand attention for their proposed “Bronzeville Global Achievers Village School Improvement Plan”, a neighborhood school which would emphasize African-American and African culture and history.

Yesterday morning only a handful of students went in the building–and then promptly left to join the picket outside as it turned into a mile-long march through Kenwood and neighboring Washington Park. Responding to Rahm Emanuel’s deeming the CTU strike a “choice” which could have been avoided, teachers chanted “Rahm, hear our voice! This strike is not a choice!”

A sound truck blasting Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” led the march to Chicago School Board president David Vitale’s house where they lined outside the fence yelling “Hey David, Fair Contract Now” before proceeding to the Obama’s Chicago home.

The soundtrack has switched to “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy — and the chants now demand that Obama “Stand for Us — Stop the Cuts!

10:30am, Up north represents!

The Blue Hill Solidarity Network from northwestern Wisconsin sent in this photo sending greeting of solidarity to Chicago teachers from a meeting held last night. The Network was found last spring in response to the assault on workers by Governor Walker. Money was raised for the teachers strike fund.

10:00am, Roosevelt High

9:40am, Occupy Rogers Park mic checks Joe Moore‏

This morning, Occupy Rogers Park, an affiliate of Occupy Chicago on the city’s north side, mic checked 49th ward alderman Joe Moore during his weekly press conference at the Morse Avenue El stop. Moore’s political career began during the anti-machine mayoralty of Harold Washington and had been well known for championing progressive reforms. However, under Rahm Emanuel he has earned a reputation as a tool of the mayor’s office: first, participating in the unanimous aldermanic support for Rahm’s service-slashing budget, supporting the fire sale privatization of parking meters, and over the summer, blocking community activists’ attempt to put a referendum for an elected school board on the November ballot because their paperwork was filed 3 minutes late.

Most recently, Moore has been a supporter of the creation of a Rogers Park charter school operated by the United Neighborhood Organization–one of Chicago’s major charter chains. The Occupy activists invited Alderman Joe to put on his walking shoes and join a CTU picket line.

Monday, September 10

6:28pm, The streets ran red

Joanna reflects on day one

As I write this, the music of chants and cheering is still coming through my office window. After a day of spirited picketing at every one of Chicago’s 630 schools, teachers and their allies have flowed into the Loop to protest at the administrative offices of the Chicago Public Schools. And they kept on coming, thousands and tens of thousands, all in red, red, red. Traveling in by public transit, they clogged the downtown streets and just took them over.

Honestly, this blogger’s eyes welled up a few times. The spirit and the message of this strike and the determined rank and file who are out there struggling is about transformation, social mission, justice – and oh, yeah, health care, job security, and evaluation procedures, too. But the word “dignity,” has reclaimed its meaning from the hollow way it has been used in today’s labor movement.

Who’s Schools? Our Schools!

Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Rahm Emanuel Has Got to Go.

The Teachers United Will Never Be Defeated

.. all still coming through my office window loud and clear and cascading around the country and the world.

No word on what if anything has happened at the “bargaining table.” But out here in the streets of Chicago, a sea of red is speaking for us all. Now off to a meeting of the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign. Day Two coming up.

5:19pm, Rebel alliance!

Isaac sends in this photo and writes: ‘After the weeks long occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison during February 2011, Star Wars references have become a mandatory presence at any meaningful labor action.’

5:10pm, “C! T! U!”

Many blocks of downturn Chicago are blocked off giving the thousands strong march room to parade up and down Lasalle, a major Loop thoroughfare that connects City Hall with the Chicago Board of Trade several blocks south. The echoed chanting, drumming, and blowing of vuvuzelas is audible throughout the central city.

A marching band has begun playing “Wheb the Saints go marching in” during breaks in the tune the crowd chants, simply “C! T! U!”

Support is widespread, near the march and throughout the city: as I left my job at a church nursery school, one of the after school teachers, wearing a red sweatshirt that matched my own, gave a quick raised fist as she chaperoned a four year olds’ basketball game.

5:05pm, New York City represents

The Movement Of Rank-and-file Educators (MORE) called a rally today in solidarity with the Chicago teachers’ strike. MORE – inspired partly by CORE in the CTU – has been fighting roughly similar attacks on public education here in NYC, especially building momentum over the past few months. Unfortunately, the NYC teachers union (United Federation of Teachers), had not lead anything close to the militant struggle that CTU’s CORE leadership has pursued.

Hundreds have come out to Union Square for this energetic and militant rally, and for UFT members here, along with the test of our labor movement, showing real solidarity with this strike is an important way to build our own struggle against our City’s brand of austerity!

4:54pm, Rally marches down Randolph Street

4:22pm, Downtown rally begins at CPS administrative offices

The march is headed north from CPS to City Hall. Chanting at the front has switched to “Teachers, United, Will Never Be Divided!” and the drum line from Thomas Kelly High School is in the lead. This may be our last update for awhile; if so, check back tonight for a full report on the march and an assessment of the first day of the strike.

The Thomas Kelly High School band drum line

3:47pm, downtown rally begins at CPS administrative offices

Early reports from the downtown rally outside the Chicago Public Schools administrative offices in the Loop suggest an impressive show of force: “this is unreal”… “like Labor Day times ten” and of course remarks on the sea of CTU red filling the urban canyon of Clark Street. Many buses chartered from outlying neighborhoods by community based organizations were completely full.

A banner reads: “Democratic Party where are you? Support neighborhood schools, public servants, working families”

One teacher’s sign alluded to the lack of air conditioning in many schools — in fact, the number schools that CPS chose to keep open this week was limited by the buildings which have air conditioning installed: “It was ONE HUNDRED DEGREES in my classroom on the first day of school!”

Chants are making it personal: “Hey hey, ho ho, Rahm Emanuel’s got to go!” and the popular “We want teachers, we want books, we want the money that Rahm took!”

The rally turns into a march

Stand Up! Chicago, a coalition anchored by SEIU, has organized several large rallies over the past year bringing together a range of labor and community organizations; the most recent was an August march demanding an increase in the minimum wage. Their large banner was featured prominently in a march of thousands following a general membership meeting of the CTU on May 23.

When teachers win, students win

Dozens of high school students from the Albany Park Neighborhood council joined the march wearing their green t-shirts.

1:43pm, An early start

Peter sends this in on today’s morning picket at CPS headquarters:

After waking up at 3:45 am and shaking the sleep out of our eyes, a comrade and I who came from Philly to show her solidarity with the teachers union headed down to the central office of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) at 125 South Clark Street. Today is the first day of the strike and the CTU wanted members and supporters to get to CPS by 5:00 am in order to set up a picket both in front of the main office building but also at the loading dock so that we could slowdown or prevent deliveries, especially those coming from any Teamster drivers.

Shortly after we arrived, supporters and CTU members slowly started to show up and we set up a small picket at the loading dock in the back alleyway of the side of the CPS office and another picket at the front entrance. We successfully made sure that no deliveries were made—except for a couple guys delivering food who went around front and didn’t seem to get what was wrong with crossing a picket line, even though one of them said he respected what the teachers are doing—those of us who were holding down the loading docks switched it up with some other members and marched the picket line up front, which by 8:30 am had grown to over a hundred spirited union members and supporters clad in CTU red.

Coming from all over the city to be at today’s picket lines members of the union and their supporters expressed a clear message that they are determined to fight for a fair and just contract; not just for themselves and their co-workers at CPS, but for the families and students whom they serve throughout the city. Perhaps most sharply embodying this sentiment was one of the more popular chants sang today, “Make no mistake, the students are at stake.”

1:20pm, Strike coordinators

After the first morning, dozens of rank and file union leaders serving as strike coordinators met at HQ to report to CTU organizing director Norine Gutekanst and prepare for the afternoon rally and tomorrow’s pickets.

1:12pm, Strike flyer

Here are ‘ten essential recommendations’ for school change from the CTU in a flyer handed out in the city.

1. Recognize That Class Size Matters: Drastically reduce class size. We currently have one of the largest class sizes in
the state. This greatly inhibits the ability of our students to learn and thrive.

2. Educate The Whole Child: Invest to ensure that all schools have recess and physical education equipment, healthy food offerings, and classes in art, theater, dance, and music in every school. Offer world languages and a variety of subject choices. Provide every school with a library and assign the commensurate number of librarians to staff them.

3. Create More Robust Wrap-around Services: The Chicago Public Schools system (CPS) is far behind recommended staffing levels suggested by national professional associations. The number of school counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists must increase dramatically to serve Chicago’s population of low-income students. Additionally, students who cannot afford transportation costs need free fares.

4. Address Inequities In Our System: Students and their families recognize the apartheid-like system managed by CPS. It denies resources to the neediest schools, uses discipline policies with a disproportionate harm on students of color, and enacts policies that increase the concentrations of students in high poverty and racially segregated schools.

5. Help Students Get Off To A Good Start: We need to provide age-appropriate (not test-driven) education in the early grades. All students should have access to pre-kindergarten and to full-day kindergarten.

6. Respect And Develop The Professionals: Teachers need salaries comparable to others with their education and experience. They need time to adequately plan their lessons and collaborate with colleagues, as well as the autonomy and shared decision-making to encourage professional judgment. CPS needs to hire more teaching assistants so that no students fall through the cracks.

7. Teach All Students: We need stronger commitments to address the disparities that exist due to our lack of robust programs for emergent bilingual students and services for students faced with a variety of special needs.

8. Provide Quality School Facilities: No more leaky roofs, asbestos-lined bathrooms, or windows that refuse to shut. Students need to be taught in facilities that are well-maintained and show respect for those who work and go to school there.

9. Partner With Parents: Parents are an integral part of a child’s education. They need to be encouraged and helped in that role.

10. Fully Fund Education: A country and city that can afford to take care of its affluent citizens can afford to take care of those on the other end of the income scale. There is no excuse for denying students the essential services they deserve.

12:50pm, Afternoon rallies

A massive picket is scheduled for 3:30 at the CPS offices, 125 S. Clark, In addition MORE (Movement of Rank-and-File Educators) and Occupy Wall Street will stand with them in solidarity at a Union Square rally at 5 pm (Eastern).

11:52am, Community support

Signs supporting the CTU have sprouted up in yards and been posted in apartment windows across the city as the strike date approached. The Herrera family, who live in an Albany Park three-flat, sent in this example of parent solidarity with their teachers.

11:31am, East Coast educators solidarity

While the CTU is the oldest local of the American Federation of Teachers, New York City’s United Federation of Teachers with its over 150,000 teachers, support staff and retirees is by far the largest and most influential local of the AFT.

Longtime AFT president Al Shanker (who infamously led New York’s mostly white teachers on racially charged strikes against community control of schools at the height of the Black Power movement) and its current executive Randi Weingarten (who has recently championed AFT partnership with anti-union “school reform” forces), had previously led the UFT and its conservative Unity Caucus which has dominated the union since its founding in 1962.

The Movement of Rank and File Educators, or MORE, is a recent caucus based on the experience of CORE in Chicago that aims to challenge the bureaucratic leadership of the UFT. On Labor Day, MORE members marched with a banner saluting the CTU strike.

Across the Hudson river in Newark, another fresh rank and file effort called NEW gave front-page coverage to the CTU strike and its importance for teachers around the country in their September newsletter.

11:23am, East Side

A teacher on Chicago’s East Side sent in this photo. Due to the curvature of the lake, the “east” is at the far southern tip of the city, between the Calumet river and Lake Michigan. This was a highly industrialized working-class immigrant neighborhood for much of the 20th century: the heart of U.S. steel manufacturing, and the site of the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre when the Chicago Police Department gunned down 10 striking steelworkers. Since the 1980s, plants closures have decimated the available manufacturing jobs, leading to many social problems common across the deintrustrialized “Rust Belt” region.

10:47am, Gale Math & Science Academy

In Rogers Park, one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the country, CTU members at Gale Math & Science Academy are joined by activists with the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign and Teachers for Social Justice: singing, chanting, and leafleting arriving parents. Gale, which has a student body that is 62% African American and 27% Latino, is one of the 144 schools that CPS is keeping open during the strike as a glorified day care center deemed “holding tanks” by the CTU.

In a leaked memo to the administrative staff, principals, and other non-teachers who will be working in the classrooms at these schools, CPS included pointers such as:

  • “Wear a watch — your room may not have a functioning clock.’’
  • Dress comfortably as “many schools are NOT air-conditioned.’’
  • “You will need to bring your own breakfast and lunch. Please note that you cannot rely on access to refrigerators or microwaves.’’
  • “Keep personal items to a minimum.’’
  • Sessions for kids run from 8:30 to 12:30 but “you should arrive as early as possible” and be prepared to stay late.
  • Bring 30 sharpened pencils, 30 pens and a personal pencil sharpener.
  • Bring “stickers or other small inexpensive incentive items.’’
  • • Bring old magazines and newspapers, puzzles and games.

Non-teachers are given a long list of things to do ahead of time to prepare. They should: study and “internalize’’ recommended classroom management techniques; determine their classroom procedures and “practice explaining them,’’ create a Day One sample schedule, write a supply list and collect it, and “attend trainings.’’

To “create a climate of respect,’’ the tool-kit recommends that non-teachers “communicate with words” and “do not yell, threaten or insult, even if joking.’’

And to make students feel comfortable, they should appear “confident and calm by being firm but friendly. You can accomplish this by writing a general schedule on the board.’’

For third- through eighth-graders, non-teachers are urged to walk students in two single files in the classroom, and “greet each student with a smile and a handshake as they enter.’’

As a “get-to-know-you” game, non-teachers are advised to model a “two truths and a lie’’ game, in which participants share three facts about themselves and students have to guess which one is a lie.

Games to be played during physical education include Simon Says, Farmer in the Dell, Mother May I and Four Corners.

10:33am, Lincoln Park Elementary

Teachers from Lincoln Park Elementary school reported that every single CTU member at the school was present for picket duty. Mid-morning, a group of picketers broke off and marched to the rhythm of a snare drum through the neighborhood. Lincoln Park is rich with history of working class struggle — from being the home of Lucy and Albert Parsons and other leaders of the 8-hour day movement through serving as a center for the Young Lords Organization and radical counterculture of the 1970s — but today is a severely gentrified neighborhood; Hyatt heiress Penny Pritzker, one of the notorious billionaire appointees to Rahm Emanuel’s school board, is a resident.

10:02am, A parent returns

Sarah Jane, the mother of a CPS elementary student and a member of Parents for Teachers, stopped by her old high school, Mather, on Chicago’s far north side. Mather isn’t one of the “open” schools; no students are there – just pickets.

A group of teachers, some with signs recalling a famous slogan from the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike, where the entirely Black male workforce declared their dignity with sandwichboards reading “I AM a Man”. A chorus of car horns greeted the teachers.

9:54am, Karen Lewis speaks

The Real News reports on today’s strike. See also their series of interviews with CTU President, Karen Lewis, from 2010.

9:49am, Up before the sun

Chicago comrades at the 5am rally at CPS headquarters: “Teachers, Parents and Community Unite: Money for Classrooms, not for Banks!”

9:28am, Chicago Teachers Union press release

After hours of intense negotiations, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent the first teachers strike in 25 years. Pickets are expected to begin Monday at 675 schools and the Board of Education as early as 6:30 a.m. Teachers, paraprofessionals and school clinicians have been without a labor agreement since June of this year.

Union leaders expressed disappointment in the District’s refusal to concede on issues involving compensation, job security and resources for their students. CTU President Karen Lewis said, “Negotiations have been intense but productive, however we have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike. This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could avoid. Throughout these negotiations have I remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve.

Talks have been productive in many areas. We have successfully won concessions for nursing mothers and have put more than 500 of our members back to work. We have restored some of the art, music, world language, technology and physical education classes to many of our students. The Board also agreed that we will now have textbooks on the first day of school rather than have our students and teachers wait up to six weeks before receiving instructional materials.

Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation. However, we are apart on benefits. We want to maintain the existing health benefits.

Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.

We want job security. Despite a new curriculum and new, stringent evaluation system, CPS proposes no increase (or even decreases) in teacher training. This is notable because our Union through our Quest Center is at the forefront teacher professional development in Illinois. We have been lauded by the District and our colleagues across the country for our extensive teacher training programs that helped emerging teachers strengthen their craft and increased the number of nationally board certified educators.

We are demanding a reasonable timetable for the installation of air-conditioning in student classrooms–a sweltering, 98-degree classroom is not a productive learning environment for children. This type of environment is unacceptable for our members and all school personnel. A lack of climate control is unacceptable to our parents.

As we continue to bargain in good faith, we stand in solidarity with parents, clergy and community-based organizations who are advocating for smaller class sizes, a better school day and an elected school board. Class size matters. It matters to parents. In the third largest school district in Illinois there are only 350 social workers—putting their caseloads at nearly 1,000 students each. We join them in their call for more social workers, counselors, audio/visual and hearing technicians and school nurses. Our children are exposed to unprecedented levels of neighborhood violence and other social issues, so the fight for wraparound services is critically important to all of us. Our members will continue to support this ground swell of parent activism and grassroots engagement on these issues. And we hope the Board will not shut these voices out.

While new Illinois law prohibits us from striking over the recall of laid-off teachers and compensation for a longer school year, we do not intend to sign an agreement until these matters are addressed.

Again, we are committed to staying at the table until a contract is place. However, in the morning no CTU member will be inside our schools. We will walk the picket lines. We will talk to parents. We will talk to clergy. We will talk to the community. We will talk to anyone who will listen—we demand a fair contract today, we demand a fair contract now. And, until there is one in place that our members accept, we will on the line.

We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters throughout the state and country who are currently bargaining for their own fair contracts. We stand with those who have already declared they too are prepared to strike, in the best interests of their students.

This announcement is made now so our parents and community are empowered with this knowledge and will know that schools will not open on tomorrow. Please seek alternative care for your children. And, we ask all of you to join us in our education justice fight—for a fair contract—and call on the mayor and CEO Brizard to settle this matter now. Thank you.

The union is not on strike over matters governed exclusively by IELRA Section 4.5 and 12(b).

The Chicago Teachers Union represents 30,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in the Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the more than 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third largest teachers local in the United States and the largest local union in Illinois. For more information please visit CTU’s website at

8:57am, Hashtags

Follow the strike via these hashtags: #FairContractNow and #CTUStrike

8:44 am Picketing the Board of Education

An early-morning crowd in the dozens at CPS headquarters on 125 S Clark St increased to over 125 demonstrators as the sun came up. Pickets began at 125 S. Clark at the earliest moment, 12:01am Monday morning, bolstered by additional supporters who arrived in an attempt to create a picket that would prevent Teamster truck drivers from crossing and making deliveries for CPS (we’re still awaiting details on how this went). A large afternoon demonstration is planned every afternoon of the strike from 3:30 to 6:30.

8:09am, Report from Lane Tech

Isaac reports hundreds attending pickets at the Northside school, lining Western and Addison. This is Karen Lewis, President of the CTU, home school where she teaches chemistry and has over 4000 students enrolled. The strike captain announces a 90% participation from striking teachers. The school’s band director acts as lookout from the Western Avenue entrance for potential scabs coming into the parking lot. Other unionized workers not striking are entering, but encouraging with signs of support. A handful of parents, students and grads are also here in support. A parent from Brighton Park swings by to support the teachers, says that the demands of the teachers are things that they shouldn’t even have to ask for.

7:41am, Strike bulletin

CTU began publishing the strike bulletin, “On the Line”, Sunday, with updates on bargaining and information to CTU members on picketing duty. On The Line will be distributed at the over 600 worksite pickets as well as at strike headquarters.

5am, Picket

report from the picket line: Supporters and allies begin to picket the CPS headquarters downtown at 125 S Clark St.

Sunday, September 9


At 10 pm Sunday evening the Chicago Teachers Union held a press conference to announce a strike beginning at 12:01 Monday morning.

Friday, September 7

Establishing the headquarters

At the start of the weekend, momentum for the September 10 teachers strike continued to build.

CTU members and supporters began setting up the strike headquarters at the Teamster City complex. The old brick building in Chicago’s “union row” on South Ashland Avenue will function as a nerve center for the strike operations, distribution hub for picket materials, intake center for volunteers, and as a meeting space. It’s being run by leaders from the union as well as an independent group, Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign (CTSC), which the labor activists of Occupy Chicago created early in the summer, following the CTU strike authorization vote. In describing the vision for HQ, CTSC member Steven Ashby recalled the variety of roles that the occupied Wisconsin State Capitol building played in Madison last year: organizing space, symbol, and a living symbol of the movement.

One direct nod to the Madison experience (where supporters from around the world bought pizza from Ian’s to feed the occupiers) are arrangements for “pizza solidarity” from local a pizzeria, Primo’s, which has offered to take orders from far and wide and make regular deliveries to Headquarters. If you’re interested in offering this highly material and delicious form of support, call Primo’s at 1-312-243-1052.

Friday night, while the large upstairs hall was being used for a family’s quinceañera. strike activists set up an assembly line in the basement to process some of the 30,000 picket signs that will need to be distributed to union delegates: stapling placards to thin slats of pine, cutting even lengths of twine, punching holes (“line up the hole punch just above the letters “I” and “L”, we were told) to run twine through, and finally tying off the signs so they can be worn by picketers like a sandwichboard.

Over the weekend, hundreds of union delegates will form a drive-thru line to HQ’s basement door on Van Buren to pick up the supplies and take them to their worksite pickets. CTU plans to set up lines beginning at the crack of dawn at CPS administrative building downtown as well as the 144 so-called “Children First” schools that the school district wants to keep open, essentially as daycares. At these sites, most pickets will be primarily informational, proving parents dropping off their children with materials that outline the reasons for the strike and CTU’s vision for public education.

Current state of negotiations

One key dynamic in CTU negotiations is the presence of “permissive” issues in bargaining. While negotiations over teachers’ pay and benefits is standard, permissive topics (including class size, quality of schools, length of the school year and day, and closure of public schools and opening of privately-run, nonunion charter schools) may only be introduced by the CPS side. This legislative trick to tie the CTU’s hands works to paint the union in a bad propaganda light of “only caring about the money”. As such, crucial issues as capping the class size and introducing the richer curriculum recommended by CTU studies are not currently being bargained–because CPS refuses to do so. With these legal constraints, CTU fights at the negotiating table for its own members and fights in the streets for broader changes in education policy and funding.

Word came in midweek that the Board of Education has taken their demand of merit pay off the table. Merit, or “performance-based” pay–linking teachers’ compensation to test scores and creating a patchwork of different pay rates within the same workforce–has been an important element of efforts to “reform” education by busting education unions through the introduction of competition between their members, as well as emphasizing standardized testing (and creating a segregated stratification of funding and resources determined by the scores). This was a second retreat after their previous agreement to rehire hundreds of laid-off teachers so that Rahm Emanuel’s beloved “longer school day” would be implemented in early-start schools without lengthening the working day for CTU members.

CTU members delivering wooden planks for picket signs reported that the supplies of several nearby Home Depots were exhausted by demand

On the salary and benefits side of the coin, the major outstanding issues that have lead to the strike are protection of “step and lane” pay (whereby teachers receive raises based on experience and additional degrees) and job security through guarantees for rehiring laid-off teachers displaced by rampant school closures. CPS has not budged on these issues.

From a strategic point of view, a favorable scenario for the strike would be securing these union demands while engaging in a massive campaign to educate and involve the public would fortify the CTU and its allies for the bigger, longer fight. The long-term struggle pivots on restructuring the funding of public education, forcing CPS to address the apartheid conditions of its schools, and waging aggressive organizing drives among non-union school workers.

The National Scene

News broke early last week that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had been ordered to not just cut short his appearance at the Democratic National Convention, but dismissed of his post chairing Obama’s re-election campaign and moved to fundraising operations (fitting for a guy who clearly prefers rubbing elbows with the 1%). These demotions were widely seen as an attempt by the President to distance himself from Rahm and the public relations blotches he’s associated with, namely the conflict with the CTU and Chicago’s notorious murder rate on the impoverished South and West sides. While Obama’s and the Democratic Party leadership’s record on labor and public education is one and the same as Rahm Emanuel’s, the conflict in Chicago is a liability; Rahm’s attempt to crush a union so close to election time as well as the embarrassment if Rahm continues to suffer setbacks are both potential liabilities for Obama 2012.

“Hey, Rahm, would you mind not standing right next to me?”

The Democratic Party’s election year strategy has long been to fundraise big bucks from their 1%er corporate patrons and bosses while mobilizing the 99%’s electoral support through get out the vote efforts of labor, women’s, African-American and Latino organizations which have no party of their own. A close connection with a mayor who’s stepped up the war against public sector unions and has not only failed to address the loss of hundreds of Black and Brown lives, but exacerbated the city’s social crisis through closure of mental health clinics, works against this attempt to harmonize the conflicting interests of the rich and the poor in one chimera of a party.

These cynical, short-term reasons for sending Rahm packing also speak to the potential national resonance of the CTU’s fight, not just in this strike, but over the long term. As community organizer Jitu Brown said at an energetic Labor Day rally spearheaded by the CTU, “this is about what kind of Chicago we want to live in”. Out of the vacuum of any powerful front for working class interests in the city, the CTU–representing a city-wide workforce with organic connections to all communities in the city–has begun to play a role that others have failed to. Outside the borders of Chicago, the fighting strategies of CTU and its CORE caucus are are an increasingly visible alternative to the surrendering leadership of the American Federation of Teachers, and even beyond.


3 responses to “Windy City Fights Back: Live blogging the Chicago Teachers Strike”

  1. R Avatar

    We’ll try to do that. It looks like they’ll all be available here on the CTU page:

  2. Detroit Pete Avatar
    Detroit Pete

    Thanks for sharing all the great news! I saw the link for Day 2 for the strike bulletin. Is it possible to post those with a link when they appear each day?

  3. Patrick M. Quinn Avatar
    Patrick M. Quinn

    Early this morning Mary and I joined the picket line at Mather High School on Chicago’s northside. There were over 100 pickets there with signs and banners. They were very spirited, militant and optimistic. A picket line leader (a math teacher) told us that over 80% of the school’s teachers turned out for the picket line as well as counselers and support staff. There were also members of other unions on the picket line including Unite Here among others. Many cars passing by the school on Lincoln Avuenue honked in solidaity with the strikers. It was all very encouraging and exhilerating.