The Chicago teachers’ strike is over but it performed a valuable service that reaches far beyond Chicago and its educators. In recent years, the union movement was recoiling from blow after blow as its adversaries attempted to destroy it by passing right-to-work laws in the states, attacking it in state courts with challenges to due process, and winning a Supreme Court victory (Janus) that was intended to kill the unions off.

But the teachers’ strikes that began in West Virginia in 2018 and continued through the Chicago strike point to a new brand of teacher activism.

Although legislatures have tried to limit collective bargaining solely to wages and benefits, the new unionism has a different vision, which they call “bargaining for the common good.”

Teachers are as concerned about children’s health and well-being, about class size, about having a full-time nurse in every school as they are about their own wages. In Chicago, they worked out the salary gains before the strike started. The strike was about improving conditions for students. It was a demand that public money be used for the common good, to meet the needs of children. Teachers care about support staff, not just themselves. We saw that in West Virginia, in Los Angeles and in Chicago. Expect to see it in more districts.

Rebecca Burns wrote in The Intercept about the new unionism, before the Chicago strike was settled.

She wrote:

“A central element of Bargaining for the Common Good is researching and identifying the banks, private equity firms, and hedge funds who are pulling the strings,” said Marilyn Sneiderman, executive director of the Rutgers Center for Innovation in Worker Organization. “The CTU’s demand that [public resources] be used to fund schools, not subsidize developers, is a good example of this.”

The new teacher activism takes on privatization and other means of diverting public funds away from the common good.

“The common good” is a powerful idea. It requires a sense of collaboration and connectedness, an understanding that we share a common destiny and that we cannot thrive unless all of us thrive.