On Feb. 5 in Chicago, charter school teachers working at four schools operated by Chicago International Charter School Network went on strike. Their demands are smaller class sizes, preservation of counselors’ and social workers’ positions and no more cuts to vital student support programs.
Acero strike victory
This is not the first strike by charter school workers in recent Chicago history. In early December of 2018, a strike was called by the teachers in the United Educators for Justice union, a chapter of the larger Chicago Teachers Union, at schools owned by the Acero charter chain.
As reported by Labor Notes, this was the first ever charter school strike in the country, and it was an overwhelming success — after four days of striking, they won an increased salary for teachers on par with those working in the Chicago Public School system, smaller class sizes, shorter days with more prep time and the designation as sanctuary schools which are off-limits to immigration police. Additionally, paraprofessionals, who aid students in need of extra help or with disabilities, won a salary schedule, paid time off and the ability to eventually become teachers.
CICS teachers on the picket line
Now, on the tails of the successful Acero strike, the current CICS strike by a group of charter teachers in the CTU is a result of nine months of failed negotiations for a new contract. While offered a 28 percent raise and more paid time off over the next four years, the teachers refused this, and the Chicago Teachers Union Communications Director, Chris Geovanis, explained why in an email statement given to the Liberation News staff:
“We refuse to agree to management’s scheme to trade a pay raise for the well-being of our students. CICS has siphoned tens of millions of public dollars out of our classrooms that they’re currently hoarding – more than enough funds to sustainably ensure that our class sizes are smaller, the positions of counselors and social workers are preserved, and there are no cuts to critical student programs and supports. As long as CICS management continues to put their greed ahead of our students’ needs, we will be on the picket line.”
Fearing another successful charter strike in Chicago, CICS has called at least eight well-paid corporate staff members to disrupt the picket lines according to CTU. The school management has also told parents that children will be punished for unexcused absences and the school will openly attempt to get children to cross the picket lines. In addition, they say they will be opting to use public school funds to hire security staff at one of the schools on strike, Wrightwood, all in attempt to thwart the strike.
National surge in teacher strikes
In addition to the successful Acero charter strike Chicago, this new CICS strike is happening during a period of increased education worker militancy nationally. It began weeks after the historic resolution of the successful Los Angeles strike, and with a strike starting in Denver.
Teachers everywhere are getting militant in their organizing and demanding a better education for their students, even when the corporations and districts that run the schools intimidate and undermine their movement. The strike represents the very real power that workers have under the capitalist system — withholding their labor until their demands are met. The workers, including teachers, are the ones that run society, and the workers are the ones who are capable of changing it for the better if we own that power and act on it.