I am not one of the people who run the CTU. I am no privy to inside information nor do I always agree with everything that the teachers union does. However, for a couple of weeks last September I found myself with a ringside seat for history. In fact as a member of the bargaining team, I was called on to do more than just watch history be made, I was called to be a part of it. The CTU’s official comments on the anniversary are here, but I wanted to give my own remembrances.
The pace was exhausting. I’d be at my school for 6AM picketing and then downtown by 3 or 4 for bargaining sessions that sometimes didn’t end until nearly 4 in the morning. Sometimes we were being briefed by our officers in a fast paced and frantic blur of events, but other times, we were stuck in a room trying to be available when needed and trying to find out (in my case) the score of the Bears/Packers game because the Hotel we were meeting at didn’t get it.
As long as the hours were for the big bargaining team, they were even longer for the officers who fought tirelessly into the wee hours of the morning and then were back at it the next day. I also heard and saw the tremendous heroism and support on the picket lines. I thrilled when teachers were given a standing ovation when they went to a police station to use the bathroom and I saw a panhandler who I didn’t have change for, stop when he saw my CTU shirt and tell me, “You’re fighting for this city. You don’t back down from that Mayor now.”
We accomplished something and to the surprise of Rahm. Bruce Rauner, Josh Edelman, and the Tribune Editorial Board, the city was behind us. We showed the city that we were a force and we will remain a force as long as we are united. The school closures came, but we knew they would. This plan to close these schools was straight from the Broad Academy. What we hoped we could do was to make it easier for our teachers to get rehired through the teacher quality pool. We didn’t get large raises, but we held off city plans that would have seen lanes and steps eliminated. We fought on a lot of issues, but this wasn’t a strike about winning. We were fighting not to lose everything we had worked so hard for. I feel that we won a contract we could live with and considering where these negotiations started, that was huge.
More than this, we reminded the powers that be that the Chicago Teachers Union can be a fighting union and we strengthened our ties to parent, student, and community groups in a way that will continue to bear fruit. We won and the children of Chicago won, but it was a battle and not the war. Our next big fight is coming to the ballot box. What we do there will make a huge difference.
[Here are Kenzo Shibata’s thoughts on the anniversary]