A lot of Chicago teachers are being asked why we choose to strike. This morning, a colleague thanked me for being out on the line today. My response was, “Where else would I be?”
When I woke up before dawn this morning, put on my red union t-shirt, donned my red hooded sweatshirt, pinned on my “Proud Chicago Teacher’s Union Member” button and headed out the door, there was not a doubt in my mind why I took the streets.
I believe in public education. There is much rhetoric being thrown around regarding school choice, but I don’t believe that education is a choice- it’s a human right. Knowledge is power and it is something that every person, every child, should have access to- equitably and without fail. We should continue to have public schools and governments should provide our schools with more funding. Especially those in low-income neighborhoods. But that’s not what is happening right now.
Chicago’s mayor is shifting funds so as to purposefully underfund our schools in favor of other city organizations or charter schools. The public is blaming teachers and unions, but no one is blaming poverty and the capitalist system that keeps us down. Some people would rather there be no unions, but the reasons we unionized is because the Powers-That-Be would like nothing better than to trample all over our rights.
Rahm Emanuel says that the strike is unnecessary and that teachers are hurting students by striking. If that is true, then why were there students marching with us this morning? And I’m not talking about teacher’s children, but students who showed up, grabbed a sign and marched in solidarity with their teachers.
I am teaching the next generation to fight for their rights. The rich people in power want the poor and disenfranchised to stay underfoot. They want teachers to give up their rights to a living wage, to job security, to the pursuit of happiness, so the rich can line their pockets. They want our children to grow up feeling grateful for the scraps they’re given like so many dogs in a pound. Well, not my students.
Those in power are trying to pass anti-union laws and there are a surprising number of people who support the measures. Have they forgotten their history? Have we forgotten what working conditions were like for tradespeople before unions? The eight-hour work day? Unions made it possible. Healthcare? Unions. The right to express your grievances to employers without worrying about losing your job? Unions.
Educate yourself. If you want to turn back the clock and abdicate your basic human rights, then you can move out of my town. Perhaps Wisconsin will suit you better. I strike because I want to take us forward, not backward. The mayor, and the rest of the 1% in Chicago, are attacking unions. Workers are so scared of losing their jobs in this bad economy that they’ve actually helped roll back their own rights. The Chicago Teacher’s Union is taking a stand and many other unions have chosen to stand up with us. Wake up, Chicago! Wake up, America!
The opposition wants to focus on the money issue. They say that teachers are greedy. But the truth is that money is only part of the issue. Teachers work hard and long hours. Most teachers work more than eight hours per day and don’t get compensated. I would also like to add that many of us do this of our own free will because we want to be prepared for the next teaching day and get our students’ grades in the book in a timely fashion. The mayor wants to add an extra hour to the school day and not pay teachers for it. Those of us who already stay late would have that time taken away and have to put in even more unpaid time to properly prepare lessons for our students.
Moreover, one extra hour isn’t necessarily going to help our students. We want a better school day for our students, not a longer day. We want smaller class sizes so that we can properly attend to the needs of individual students. We want more resources so that students can have the proper tools to learn. Most of the books I issued to students this year were worn and falling apart. We are told that CPS is broke, but there are several expensive projects going on and money is changing hands, but our schools and students aren’t reaping the benefit of that money.
If you are against the CTU strike, you’re either a member of the 1%, or you’ve been sorely misinformed about what is happening in your town and in the world. Once again, educate yourself. Listen to teachers. Listen to students.
I know where I belong and I know who my people are. I’m a proud union member and a proud teacher. I want students to have the schools and the future they deserve. I want all people to live in a world where their rights are respected and unquestionable.
This is why I strike.
*This post was inspired by this post from one of my favorite teachers.