Militant Journalism

Chicago teachers strike for their students

All revolutionary and progressive people should stand in absolute solidarity with Chicago Public Schools teachers and SEIU Local 73 members as  fight for their students, schools and community.

Education workers are struggling for smaller class sizes, better pay and benefits, the hiring of more support staff like nurses and librarians, and for affordable housing and sanctuary schools for their students. Mayor Lightfoot should stop stonewalling and meet these just demands, and to end the neoliberal assault on unions and public education.

When Chicago teachers last went on strike seven years ago, they showed the power of the working class to win real gains for the many of the city, not just the few. That victorious strike helped to inspire a wave of educator strikes in other cities and states, from Oklahoma to Los Angeles and from West Virginia to Denver and beyond. United Auto Workers have been on strike for over a month and are still fighting General Motors for a fair contract.

Since 2012, however, the city of Chicago has closed 50 neighborhood schools, shuttered mental health clinics, and seen an explosive rise in charter schools. These renewed attacks on public education are only one piece of larger assault taking place on working and oppressed people in Chicago and around this country. From scarce mental health resources, to a lack of affordable housing, to the racist police terror and occupation visited on so many oppressed neighborhoods in this city, city leaders are waging a many-pronged offensive against the poor.

It is no surprise that educators, who are with their students every day, have recognized that the struggle goes beyond the classroom, and have made the fight for housing justice and protection from racist ICE agents a key component of their demands.

After decades of neoliberal austerity, cuts to public services and attacks on organized labor, we are witnessing a re-emergence of the working class and its power to fight not just for those workers within the union, but for all of us as a whole.

The hope to overcome the many crises plaguing the people does not lie with politicians of either of the mainstream parties, but with the people themselves. The teachers and support staff who are bravely standing up show the way forward for all workers.

Solidarity! When we fight, we win! Put it in writing! No more broken promises from CPS!

Voices from the picket lines 

Brian Grauer is a veteran educator and CTU member in his 24th year of teaching:

“CPS really needs to understand that schools and the role of schools have evolved. Schools are looked at as a safe space for children and we need to make them safe. We need to make them secure, we need to give students the help that they need to deal with the trauma that they have in their lives. We don’t have that available to us. Teachers are mom, dad, we’re teachers, we’re social workers. We can’t wear all those hats with large class sizes. Class sizes need to be reduced. We need counselors that are actually able to see students in counseling, not going from school to school and sitting in on IEP meetings and writing suggestions and not actually seeing students and helping them. We need these resources available to our students so they can be successful. Schools are shouldering a lot more responsibilities and as that changes funding and resources in schools need to change too. Contract after contract these things have been kept off the table and put on teachers shoulders. Teachers doing jobs of nurses in school, giving children medications, shots, insulin, epipens. I myself have been trained for diabetic students so that I can administer insulin to students. This is ridiculous, there should be trained nurses. On top of everything else teachers monitoring students with diabetes, for example, that needs to change.”

Nykela Nixon is a 20 year CPS pre-K teacher:

“We’re out here because our schools are overcrowded. We’re out here because we want a quality education for our students. It’s not about a paycheck. Our children really need services and it’s hard to walk through the halls always trying to be more than you’re supposed to be. We’re supposed to be teaching and we’ve got to be doctors, nurses, counselors, and all these other things before we’re teachers. We need these services for our students to give them a quality education, and just to have peace of mind and healthy schools for these children and their parents. It’s not just for us, it’s for everybody.”

Anne Ward, the strike captain of the picket at Theodore Roosevelt High School, said that specifically their concerns are supporting the SEIU members striking for fair wages, adequate building facilities for students, and smaller class sizes. She also said that she doesn’t believe the city’s position that they can’t afford to put staffing commitments in writing because of the costs of hiring new staff, saying “There’s money for Lincoln Yards, but no fair wages for SEIU membership or money for housing for 16,000 homeless CPS students.” She also pointed out SEIU members at CPS schools are contractually obligated to live in the city, so the CTU supports SEIU’s strike for higher wages because the cost of living in the city keeps getting higher.

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