Why Chicago DSA Must Go All-In to Stand With the Chicago Teachers Union’s 2019 Strike An SEIU member chants alongside striking CTU members during the 2012 Chicago teachers strike. (Flickr / Spencer Tweedy)

Why Chicago DSA Must Go All-In to Stand With the Chicago Teachers Union’s 2019 Strike

Before the red-state teachers strikes and the blue-state strikes that followed, the Bernie Sanders campaign and the rise of the Democratic Socialists of America, the half dozen socialists elected to Chicago’s city council, and the multiple recent charter school and higher-ed strikes in Chicago, there was the 2012 Chicago Teachers Union strike.

That strike transformed how we talk about public education in America and helped spark worker militancy throughout the entire labor movement, reminding workers everywhere of the power of withholding their labor. Today, CTU members are on the precipice of walking off the job yet again, fighting for smaller class sizes and nurses, librarians, and social workers for every school. They are joined by thousands of special education classroom assistants, bus aides, security guards, and custodians in SEIU Local 73 who are demanding an end to poverty wages and the privatization of school services.

It’s crucial that Chicago DSA members go all-in to stand with them.

DSA members today who weren’t involved in the Left or the labor movement before 2016 probably can’t quite conjure how different the pre-Bernie years were from our current political moment. Socialism wasn’t on the agenda, labor was weaker and weaker (and striking less and less) — things seemed bleak.

That was nowhere truer than in public education. Teachers were under attack, and education privatizers had seized the moment and the momentum. They posed as racial justice advocates, steamrolled educators’ unions, increased standardized testing, and eroded teachers’ freedom to teach as they saw fit, and privatized public ed piece by piece — especially here in Chicago, first by Mayor Richard M. Daley, then by Rahm Emanuel.

Today, the privatizers’ narrative and forward march has halted. Their pro-corporate “movement” isn’t dead, but it’s stalled. We have the CTU strike to thank for that: it stopped education reformers in their tracks and stiffened the spines of teachers around the country, whose union leaders themselves were often complacent or complicit in the neoliberal attacks.

We all know what’s happened since then: educators of all kinds have followed the CTU’s lead and pushed back against austerity in and around their schools. Graduate workers, charter school teachers, professors, bus drivers, and many others have joined public school teachers in red states and blue states in walking off the job to protest disrespect and low pay. Their example is starting to spread to the private sector, in industries like hotels and telecommunications.

As Chicago DSA members, we’re lucky to live in the city where the current strike wave kicked off. But that means we have a responsibility: to give everything we’ve got to support the CTU and SEIU Local 73.

The two unions’ power doesn’t lie solely in their ability to walk off the job and shut down the schools. Without strong community backing, the city’s power brokers can divide teachers from Chicago’s working class — and conquer them both.

The CTU won in 2012 precisely because they organized alongside community members and fought for a broad agenda of social justice, in the schools and beyond. That agenda won the support of the city’s working class, as multiple polls both during the strike and since have shown. That strong support is the reason why Rahm Emanuel lost to the teachers in 2012.

This time around, we can be assured that Mayor Lori Lightfoot will also try to divide teachers, parents, students, and working-class Chicago. She’s already indicated that wants to dig her heels in against the union.

That’s where Chicago DSA can come in. We need to jump in to support CTU and SEIU Local 73. How can we do it?

  • Sign up here to join our strike support efforts. We’ll be reaching out over the course of the next few weeks with opportunities to get involved.
  • Come canvass with us in support of the teachers. Our next canvass is tonight at the 33rd Ward Working Families office in Albany Park. Details here.
  • Come to a discussion about the 2012 CTU strike, the red state revolt, and how we can help the CTU and SEIU win in 2019 with CTU-striker-turned-Arizona-striker Rebecca Garelli, DSA member and Red State Revolt author Eric Blanc, CTU president Jesse Sharkey, and CTU organizer Tennille Evans, moderated by yours truly, on September 29. Details here.
  • What socialist doesn’t love walking a picket line? Commit to walk the line with us if the strike comes. Sign-ups for strike support will come closer to the strike’s starting date.
  • Get ready to donate money to a strike support fund. Chicago DSA will be organizing a fund to feed teachers and students and provide other forms of support once the strike kicks off.
  • Get involved with the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign, which organized solidarity efforts with CTU in 2012 and will again in the 2019 strike. You can like them on Facebook here and text “CTSC” to 844.335.4682 to receive updates.

We’ve seen over the last year that DSA support can be transformational for teachers strikes. Take the recent strike in Oakland, for example. East Bay DSA members played a key role not just as rank-and-file members of the union, but in supporting the strike from outside: DSA members convinced business owners to hang signs in windows supporting the strike throughout Oakland; led the organization of Bread for Ed leading up to and throughout the strike, which raised nearly $200,000 to feed students and community members during the strike, hosted educational events and panels with teachers, turned out hundreds of members to picket lines, started a publication called Majority to cover the strike, and more. Chicago DSAers can do the same.

We can’t know yet if CPS workers will strike this year. But we know that if and when they do, it will be a crucial moment for public education and the labor movement as a whole. And we need to ensure that we are supporting our teachers right now by building support for the strike in our communities and preparing a battle plan for strike support that will allow us to spring into action once school workers walk off the job.

All Chicago DSA members should join in this fight to support the CTU and SEIU 73. If a strike comes, CPS teachers and staff will put everything on the line. It’s our task as socialists to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.