Chicago public school teachers, along with school staff represented by SEIU, are on strike as of Thursday morning. The teachers, who a poll shows have public support, are striking not just or even mostly for better pay—though, as a video you can watch below shows, many are struggling to get by—but for nurses and counselors and librarians in every school, for smaller class sizes and more bilingual teachers and more special education teachers and for “real sanctuary schools.” The city has tried to derail the strike by offering—and making a big public deal about—substantial raises, but the teachers are making clear that it’s bigger than that.
The teachers are also fighting for affordable housing for students, at least 16,450 of whom are homeless, with homelessness disproportionately affecting black students, and for lower-paid school staff who are required to live within city limits but struggle to afford city housing costs.
The Chicago Teachers Union is pointing directly at racism as a factor in the state of Chicago schools. ”Here’s what I have learned from the systems in place. They’re governed by white supremacy,” union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates told HuffPost. “We have a school district that is 90% children of color, we have immigrant children in our system?why on earth would it be difficult to enshrine class size protections and make sure there’s a nurse in every school?”
There are around 25,000 teachers on strike, along with 7,500 support staff, affecting the nearly 300,000 in the city’s schools. A former student who came out to support the teachers told CNN that “I see that many schools do not have complete sets of books for each kid. Some schools do not have the help for bilingual students, someone to help them in their native language. Some schools do not have a special education teacher, the kids are falling behind. Some buildings are falling apart, making it unsafe for kids.”
Chicago teachers last went on strike in 2012, but Jane McAlevey traces out how the CTU’s activism helped set the conditions for the more recent wave of teacher strikes from West Virginia to Los Angeles. Now Chicago teachers are again the ones on strike, but in a seriously different environment around the fight for public education than they saw (and began to reshape) in 2012.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has been strongly supportive of the teachers.
This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.