CTU strike testing its supporters
When I woke up this morning, I planned to write an essay as a coda to the Chicago Teachers Union strike, a look back at what it all meant. Now, such an essay is premature, given that the CTU has decided to put the contract to a vote on Tuesday, after the full membership has had a time to read through it, not just the delegates from each school. The earliest school would begin is Wednesday.
It's a baffling, frustrating, galling move, and it also happens to be the right one. This dispute has been incredibly charged and contentious from day zero, way before the strike, with CTU president Karen Lewis and Mayor Rahm Emanuel trading jabs in the press. The teachers I've talked to on the picket lines and out at the rallies have been thoroughly engaged and educated on the issues, impassioned by what's at stake beyond their raises. To ask them to allow such a publicly disputed contract's signing without reading it in full themselves is ridiculous. Which is not to absolve union leadership of guilt: As early as Thursday we were hearing that the two sides were very close, and yet negotiations dragged into Saturday, and then delegates were convened to vote on Sunday. Parents, who have been largely supporting the teachers publicly, were ready to send their kids back to school on Monday. The full membership should have had the contract in hand, ready to vote by Sunday afternoon.
It's a mistake that could cost the union its large share of the public sympathy. At every picket line I've visited or rally I've observed, the overwhelming public reaction has been in support of the teachers. I showed my two-year-old son a picket line in Jefferson Park and he said the teachers were "having a honking party," because so many cars were provoking cheers from the Red Shirts with their beeps. Meanwhile, Rahm has stumbled embarassingly: the tin-eared "strike of choice" slogan, oddly evoking Estonia during his strike-night speech, coldly proclaiming his concern for Chicago's children while his attend private school, earning the support of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and disparaging the schools and teachers, only further damaging public opinion of the schools (and causing CPS parents to dig in their heels).
But now, the union has handed Rahm a gift. Internal disorganization has extended the strike two days, with no villain to finger. Ever the political opportunist, Mayor Emanuel has said that he'll seek an injunction to legally force the teachers back to work. It's hard to see too many parents, even those who have been supporting the teachers, arguing with that notion.