A few days ago, the Chicago Teachers Union voted overwhelmingly to strike.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Just a year ago, Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children boasted at the Aspen Ideas Festival how he had outsmarted the teachers’ union. He described how he had shaped legislation not only to cut back teachers’ job protections but to prevent the Chicago union from ever striking. He told the nation’s elite, ‘if it could happen in Illinois, it could happen anywhere.” Stand for Children was once a grassroots group but has now become one of the active leaders in the corporate reform campaign to advance privatization and bring teachers to heel.
Speaking to a gathering of the nation’s elite at Aspen, Edelman offered a template to beat back public employees in other states. Armed with millions of dollars supplied by wealthy financiers, he hired the top lobbyists in Illinois and won favor with the top politicians. He shaped legislation to use test scores for evaluating teachers, to strip due process rights from teachers, and to assure that teachers lost whatever job protections they had. In his clever and quiet campaign behind the scenes, he even managed to split the state teachers’ unions.
His biggest victory consisted of isolating the Chicago Teachers Union and imposing arequirement that it could not strike without the approval of 75% of its members. Edelman gleefully told the assorted corporate reformers, charter sponsors, and equity investors in his audience how he had skillfully outfoxed the teachers, leaving them powerless. He was certain that the CTU would never be able to get a vote of 75% of its members. It would never be possible.
Guess what? Jonah Edelman was wrong. Nearly 90% of the members of CTU voted to authorize a strike to protest Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s policies of more work for no more pay, privatization of public education, and increased class sizes. To be exact, 89,73% of the CTU voted to authorize a strike, 1.82% voted “no,” and 91.55% of members cast a vote.
Sorry, Jonah. You don’t know what mass action means. You have no idea what happens when working people organize and mobilize and stand together against the powerful financiers and politicians that you now represent.
Karen Lewis showed that the teachers of Chicago stand together against mayoral authoritarianism. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has demanded that they teach longer hours without additional pay; he has allowed class sizes to rise; he has dealt contemptuously with teachers; he has made clear his preference for privatization.
There’s more of this story yet to unfold, and we will keep watch. But for now,the important lesson is that the teachers of Chicago showed Jonah Edelman that the money gathered from hedge fund managers and other equity financiers can’t buy them.
Now the only remaining mystery is how the son of a legendary civil rights leader, Marian Wright Edelman, became an acorn that fell so very far from the tree.