STRIKEWATCH: The first Chicago strikes were 'illegal...' How Chicago teachers make a strike.... The first thing it's about is no longer working on the boss's terms for the boss's offer and taking the boss's insults

Since Substance published the first installment of our new feature STRIKEWATCH in the February print edition and on line, more and more younger teachers have been asking veterans about a strike. It's time for a few "FAQs" about past Chicago strikes and what teachers and all other school workers won during those strikes.

Walking on the picket line and singing songs are only part of a strike. The picketing is to keep the lines strong and to ensure that no one crosses the line and begins to break the strike. Above, during the 1983 Chicago teachers strike, substitute teachers, organized as Substitutes United for Better Schools (S.U.B.S.), were active on the picket lines and produced a songbook which went through more than 5,000 copies as the labor and strike songs, some invented for the 1983 strike, were sung on picket lines from the Evanston border to the Indiana Line (a line in one of the songs). The official union picket signs always say "ON STRIKE FOR OUR CONTRACT", which says it all. Teachers sometimes make other signs as well, expressing their personal reasons. The substitute teachers singing above were (left to right) Joe Corker, Margie Fineberg, Sam Borde, and Phil Grant. Only Sam Borde continued teaching in Chicago into the 21st Century. Margie Fineberg moved to Pennsylvania where she taught college. Joe Coker continued teaching until his early death ten years ago; Phil Grant, after a heroic struggle, died of AIDS. Substance photo. WASN'T IT ILLEGAL FOR CHICAGO TEACHERS TO STRIKE?

YES. During the first five or six strikes, striking was illegal for Chicago teachers. But not striking was no longer an option. For more than 25 years, the school board had added insult to injury to inanity, and the majority of teachers had had enough. The first Chicago teachers' strike was against the racism of the CPS hiring system, which in those days had two tiers. Most white people with college degrees were hired and placed on tenure track. Within three years, they were "regularly certified and assigned" teachers. Most black teachers were substitutes, some kept there for decades at lower pay and with even fewer benefits.

A year before the first "official" Chicago Teachers Union strike, "Concerned FTBs" led by black substitute teachers (the long-term substitutes in those days were called FTBs, which stood for "Full Time Basis" substitutes) led a five-day strike which closed half the schools in the city, despite denunciations from the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union. At the time, teacher strikes were not legal in Illinois, but as the teachers who struck pointed out, the city didn't have enough jail cells for the 5,000 to 10,000 teachers who were on strike, and the leadership of the group, while public, was not as vulnerable.

The specific injustice that led to the FTB strike was the impositions of "standards" that discriminated against black teachers trying to get full certification to teach in Chicago. From the beginning of the various ages of discrimination against minorities in the USA, "standards" were a smokescreen behind which white supremacy lurked. The poll tax and literacy tests for voting were major examples mentioned even in bourgeois history books, and where possible they were utilized instead of terrorism to prevent black people in the states of the defeated Confederacy from voting. But elsewhere, and in the Jim Crow South, the racism would be masked behind "standards" that were imposed ruthlessly against black people, while white people would get beyond them with a wink and a nod. (It was only after the rise of the massive financial subsidies to a certain strata of black leaders — and the foundations and not-for-profits that apologized for the Nouveau White Supremacy of the last decade of the 20th Century and the 21st Century — that a racist program like "Race To The Top" could be masked behind the talking points of Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and groups like Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children).

Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s was more direct. In order to meet the "standards" to teach full-time, certified, and get tenure as a CPS teacher, you had to pass both a written and an oral examination. And for reasons which became clear over time, even Black people who "passed" the written exam were very very likely to "fail" the oral examination. Discussion, debate, and protest failed. Finally, a strike was necessary, and "Concerned FTBs" led it.

A complete history of "Concerned FTBs" and these struggles still needs to be written, but a few of us have told parts of the story already. (Not all of the strikers in the "Concerned FTBs" strike were black, and not all black teachers joined the strike; it was in some ways a generational thing as well...). More of that will be shared as the days grow shorter to the first major confrontation with the same racist and class biased forces in Chicago in the 21st Century, and doubtless the talking points from the other side will echo eerily, for those of us with the historical memories, back to those days of Jim Crow in the South and massive segregation in Chicago.

More about Chicago's strikes to come.


March 5, 2012 at 6:13 AM

By: Albert Korach

Get ready for the strike — school by school

As an 82-year-old retired teacher that went through all of the past Chicago Teacher strikes, I have to say to all school delegates GET READY!I recall that some school delegates had their first school union meeting just as a strike vote was about to be held. It is important to have a prior feeling of solidarity among your faculty so there is a united front among the membership. This is only accomplished by prior union meetings that cover the issues involved and to organize at the local level. Start with your contract, and if necessary some of us retirees will tell you, page by page, how we won each right we have in that book through our strikes. Don't let anyone believe that the Board won't try to take back everything we won as soon as we are weak. Study and learn, from history and for today. As an elected retiree delegate, I will be there to help if needed.

March 5, 2012 at 7:06 AM

By: john kugler

Who's Schools? Our Schools!

Lets do some simple math:

30,000 members

400,000 kids on the street

9.5 spoiled ballerina carpetbagger

Who do you think is gonna win?

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