George Schmidt is the quintessential fiery fighter for workers and teachers rights. His analysis oh how the CTU got to where it is today and the challenges it faces in the coming months is below:

George Schmidt

by George Schmidt, Chicago Teachers Union/ Substance News

One of the most important things about the past 13 years in the Chicago Teachers Union is that all of us — including those of us at Substance — have a record to stand on (or fall on our faces with). In August 2000, the Chicago Board of Education, at its monthly meeting, voted to fire me, on a motion (“Board Report”) from Paul G. Vallas. At that time, the President of the Chicago Teachers Union was Tom Reece, of the United Progressive Caucus. A year before the Board fired me, Reece had stood up at a Board meeting (February 1999) and told the Board and the world that Paul Vallas and Gery Chico were “the best Board we had ever worked with.”

In May and June 2001, Deborah Walsh (soon, Lynch) and Howard Heath and their slate of candidates defeated the UPC (and Reece) by a wide margin (57 percent of the vote) and the union’s members, after nearly ten years of relentless attacks by corporate “school reform” and mayoral control had high hopes. Sadly, in May (a four way race with no one winning the majority) and June (a two-way runoff) 2004, the union’s members voted against Debbie Lynch and PACT and returned the UPC to power.

On August 31, 2007, the UPC, under Marilyn Stewart, brought in its first post-PACT contract, proclaiming it a great one. But at the union’s August 31, 2007 House of Delegates meeting, the union’s delegates experiences the infamous “No No Vote Vote…” What happened was that Marilyn Stewart called for the “Yes” votes on the proposed contract, then refused to call the “No” votes and ran downstairs at Plumbers Hall to hold a press conference. The result was raucous. But Stewart had been re-elected that year. And the CTU had become a kleptocracy, as the record shows, where the union’s officers and staff were padding their pockets to the point where the union had to borrow $3 million when it faced problems. (The best place to see who profited from those years is to read the list of retired union officials we’ll be publishing at in April, along with their annual pensions, which tell the tale…).

The reign of Marilyn Stewart’s UPC by 2010 led to a union election with five caucuses (out of a promised six) running for election. In the May 2010 voting, Stewart got the largest number of votes, but not a majority, so in June 2010 it was Marilyn Stewart and the UPC in a runoff versus Karen Lewis and CORE. CORE won even more decisively in 2010 than PACT had in 2001. But the nearly ten years of contracts that were negotiated without a fight had done a great deal of damage to the union, and the failure of the leaders of the first decade of the 21st Century to fight strongly against charter school expansion and privatization had done almost fatal damage to the union.

When CORE came into office, lots had to change fast, and it did. The unconscionable pay and benefits of the union’s officers and staff ended. (Again: a check of the annual pensions of those people who have since retired will tell the tale of that era). The hiring of a scab as a very unsuccessful CTU lobbyist ended. And a lot of cleaning up had to begin — while the new officers had to rebuild the union and negotiate a contract which was set to expire in June 2012. Then came Rahm, whose job was to declare war on the union and continue the privatization attack on public institutions that his version of the Democratic Party had been doing for nearly 20 years.

The rebuilding of the Chicago Teachers Union required enormous work, both by union staff and by hundreds (ultimately thousands) of union members. But by September 2012, the union was ready to lead the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012. Despite the sabotage of the strike preparations tried by the remnants of the UPC and some remnants of PACT, the strike was as successful as it would have been, and the members of the union returned to work on September 19, 2012 with the strongest contract — at the local school level — in union history. Not everything had been won, but more had been won during the two years of CORE than during the previous 15 years of PACT and UPC.

I know. I was there for all of it, and we at Substance were reporting it monthly at first, and then daily as our staff and website matured. Now we are facing the odious attacks on the leadership that has literally saved the union (and many of the hopes of unionism) by a coalition that claims it wants to “save” the union! For what? To return union officers to salaries that leave them with pensions of $120,000 to $140,000 per year? To hire lobbyists who are known scabs? To hire research “directors” who not only don’t know how to use computers, but who refuse to learn!?

Rahm Emanuel now has his candidates for the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union, and the members will be voting twice in the next 90 days. For the next month, the members will be able to decide whether to sign nominating petitions for the new “Coalition” and for CORE. There may be other caucuses, may not. We will know that when nominating petitions are turned in to the union’s financial office at the end of March.

Then, on May 17, the union’s active duty members will get to vote for the officers to serve from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2016.

CORE has stood for a kind of democracy rarely seen in any union, and I have stood with CORE since the beginning. We had confidence in the CTU members during the harrowing years that led up to the legal strike of September 2012, despite the attacks from right wing politicians, on the one hand, and union saboteurs, on the other. And the strike was successful — as successful as any contract fight could be in the USA in 2013. My brothers and sisters are going to hear a lot of pseudo-history and many faux militancy in the next couple of months, but the fun of publishing the facts and analyzing them every day makes my job one of the best in Chicago, whether I am working as editor of Substance or helping with research as a consultant for the Chicago Teachers Union.

But one thing will be very clear by the time the members of the CTU face the choice of reinstating those who held power and “disappointed” (that’s putting it mildly) them between then and now is a promised. Whether we are reporting about the end of the Reece UPC era (2000 – 2001), the machinations of the Lynch PACT era (2001 – 2004) or the the odious and corrupt kleptocracy and scab regime of Marilyn Stewart and the last gasps of the UPC (2004 – 2010) the facts will be available by the two times the members get to vote: first over the next four weeks as they decide to sign petitions, and then on May 17 when we decide who leads the most militant union in the USA for the next three years.