Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When Teachers Have Nothing to Lose

From my seat in Providence I'm not sure I have much of value to say about the strike in Chicago, beyond expressing my support (and contributing to the solidarity fund).

I do think Mike Klonsky hits the right tone today:

Yesterday Rahm hauled a few of his pet principals, (including Ethan Netterstrom, principal at Skinner North) in front of the TV cameras, to claim that in order to be "successful" they need the unchecked power to hire and fire whoever they choose, regardless of qualifications and experience and without any due process. This is a recipe for City Hall-style patronage and going back to the days when teachers (and principals) worked at the pleasure of ward politicians. It is also a recipe for principals getting rid of teachers who may be the wrong color or political persuasion. It's interesting to note here that principals already have lots of authority over faculty hiring and that black and Latino teachers have been the victims of these kinds of hiring practices. Today, just 19 % of the teaching force in Chicago is African American, down from 45 % in 1995.

This is what happens when you make the school system a wing of City Hall, weaken collective bargaining, take power away from popularly-elected school boards and Local School Councils, and dismantle public space and public decision making.

This strike really represents a last stand for teachers and all public employees against moves by Tea Party governors and their Democratic Party counterparts in urban districts like Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, to eliminate teachers collective bargaining rights altogether. This was the original idea behind SB7 which made it illegal for teachers in Chicago (nowhere else in the state) to bargain over anything except salary and benefits -- two issues that could easily be reneged on after the contract was signed for budgetary reasons. Remember, the board agreed to a 4% raise in the last contract only to take it back once the contract was signed.

All this leaves Chicago's teachers with only one option. Dig in and fight back with the only tactic left to them under SB7 -- the power to withhold their labor and put their bodies on the line in defense of their profession and of democracy. What happens here in Chicago will ultimately determine the fate of teachers and public worker unions everywhere.

Extrapolating from our experiences here -- and Chicago is quite a few years further down this reform road than we are -- I think a big factor is that teachers just don't have much left to lose at this point. Striking is always a big risk, but what is the alternative? Hoping you can skim between the Scylla of a hostile and statistically dubious evaluation system and the Charybdis of an endless sequence of school closures where everyone loses their job?

Better to risk take a beating in a real fight than get kicked like a dog every day.

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