The Chicago Teachers Union strike has encouraged many educators around the nation, who are fed up with the virulent attacks on them by people who couldn’t manage a classroom for ten minutes. Or five, maybe.

Judging by the comments I am getting, CTU has lifted the spirits of teachers who were feeling as though no one would stand up to the shellacking they were taking.

CTU has stood up.

And we can expect counter-attacks. They have started. I read one news story fired by about 50 comments saying, “Fire them, fire them all.” I wonder if the people who write such letters have ever taught. I know the answer. I read a conservative blogger who predicted that the CTU would fold because the public thinks they are paid too much already.

The strike raises issues for teachers everywhere and for union locals everywhere.

What is the best strategy to ward off the corporate reform attacks?

Confronted with ceaseless attacks on public education, on the teaching profession, and on the right of unions to exist, what should unions do?

Should they collaborate or should they fight?

This post launched a heated discussion.

I am not a union member. I have never belonged to a union. But growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, I learned that the right to belong to a union is one of the hallmarks of a democratic society. Supporting the right of working people to bargain collectively was not at all controversial.

Today it is. Today unions are under fire, even from Democratic leaders like the mayor of Chicago and the mayor of Los Angeles.

What should unions do?

This reader comments:

I am surprised that this post has accepted the “reformers” moving of the goal posts so readily and assumes that it is commonly accepted. The purpose of unions is to advocate for members’ working conditions and pay. The “reformers” have used slick rhetoric to convince gullible people that the purpose of the union should be to “reform” schools. I don’t buy that at all. As has so often been stated, my working conditions are your child’s learning conditions. We can also work for school improvement but that is not our primary mission and if we accept the “reformers” re-imagining of our mission then we are setting ourselves up for accepting blame for failures caused by them.

For the last 16 years I have been involved quite deeply in both the AFT and the NEA (we have a cooperative union in Florida) and I have been a building rep for 14 of my 16 years as a teacher. I’ve visited my state legislature, written letters, called, rallied fellow teachers and worked the phone banks for GOTV. The first half of my career was spent in NYC. The second half in Florida, a right to work state. Unionism is vastly different in the many states that have adopted right to work, with little opposition or pushback from the national unions that it decimates and destroys. Why is that?

I’ve never bought the idea that it is our responsibility to conform ourselves to whatever our opposition chooses for their own comfort level in the hopes of preventing them from being even more extreme. The positions advocated in this post are exactly why we are in the situation we are in: an adoption of the Clinton-era “triangulation” strategies that supposedly reach compromise by taking the position of your opponent and making it your own. Thus we have Dennis Van Roekel and Randi Weingarten agreeing to VAM junk science, echoing the rhetoric of the “reformers” that schools are mess and in need of saving, and the list goes on and on.

I look at our colleagues in Australia and around the world who rally to shut down the entire school system when they are threatened with harmful, ridiculous reforms and then I compare that to American teachers who are an endangered species as public education is brought to the brink of extinction and I ask why aren’t we out in the streets? If you really believe that being nicer, quieter, and more accommodating will win this war then I refer you to the great Frederick Douglas who taught us that power never accedes ground without a fight and those who decry the battle are asking for a storm of change without the thunder and lightning that accompany it.

We are teachers. If our membership and the public are unaware of union history and the important gains procured through the labor movement then we must teach them these things. If we truly believe that truth and knowledge are the keys to good citizenship then we need to use these tools to further our ends. Playing old-school political games that no longer work will do nothing but hasten our end.