STRIKEWATCH: 'I'd spit in their eye before I'd vote for anything but a strike!' (Robert Healey, CTU President, 1980)

Chicago Teachers Union President Robert M. Healey speaking to teachers and career service workers on the picket line at "District 3" during the 13-day strike in 1983. By 1983, the Chicago Board of Education had given up trying to keep schools open and ordered scabs and principals to report to the 23 district offices, where all picketing took place. The picket lines held firm for 13 days, even after then Schools Supt. Ruth B. Love compared the strikers to the Sheriff of Birmingham Alabama who sicced police dogs on civil rights marchers. As more and more people mine the archives of Chicago (and CTU history) some of the more interesting moments are re-lived. On February 2, 1980, Chicago teachers met and voted for a strike in a massive meeting at the Conrad Hilton Hotel. As the news report that day noted, during the day first the CTU executive board, then the House of Delegates, and finally the membership voted — all in favor of the strike.

Healey told the press conference at the Hilton that day that the strike vote had been 75 percent. As he answered questions about the strike, which eventually took place in February 1980, he noted that the other unions would also honor the CTU picket line, and that the teachers had been out without an official strike during the entire previous week. Although Chicago teachers stopped school in January and February 1980 for a full ten days, only five of those days constituted an official union strike. The eight-minute You Tube video for the entire press conference and discussion can be found at:

A shorter You Tube clip is also available, in which Healey becomes angry and lets everyone know how he feels about the necessity of the strike. The President of the CTU from 1970 through 1984 was former Gage Park High School English teacher Robert M. Healey, who is depicted in a video recently posted on You Tube. The URL for that brief video is:


April 1, 2012 at 9:23 AM

By: Jean Schwab

Video of strike from 1980

Great video!

April 2, 2012 at 5:08 PM

By: Bob Busch

Video... and 'cynical regarding Healey...'

Tomming the folks

I remember the strike well it came after the board ran out of money and did not pay us for six weeks. From September 1979 until Thanksgiving, the Board did not pay the IRS, withheld union dues, insurance premiums, and even credit union deductions.

The sainted Mr. Healey surely knew about it and did nothing.

Finally by the end of November everyone knew. The board was out of money. All old timers remember listening to Ms Rohter tearfully announce Christmas would be payless for teachers.

Finally came the most bizarre part. We just stayed home for a week, most of us anyhow. Then came the scene the video captured. We went on strike for a week. That 10 days pay was not made up.

In fact in a unbelievable example of Board Union cooperation, the poor teachers who worked the first week, before the strike was called, had their pay docked in June. So that and a hundred other reasons made me a little cynical regarding Healey.

April 2, 2012 at 5:57 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Kugler's great research, and more

I posted this comment on Facebook and realized I should also share it here:

I'm writing this on April 1, 2012. It was great to see the video of the 1980 strike vote and hear the speech of Robert M. Healey courtesy of the You Tube video we posted this morning, thanks to John Kugler at

As we've discussed, prior to the 1980 strike vote, we had shut down all Chicago schools for five days without a formal "strike" (no picket lines; no pickets; just none of us working -- NONE OF US).

How did we do that? By then we were organized and unified, so wherever we were, we were in contact with one another and with our leadership. Every day and night, while the corporate media were filled with lurid stuff about how the "children" were suffering, we kept correcting one another and staying strong. We all knew we all worked hard, every day, for those children, and the majority of those children and their parents supported us.

So at the end of January 1980 we had the "strike without a picket line." After all, what is a strike but workers not working because of the injustices done to us.

Finally, after we were already out for five days, the union leadership called that massive meeting. We were part of between 10,000 and 15,000 people at the Hilton; the strike vote was taken — as you can see in the video — and then we were officially out.

For those who didn't notice the people at the podium with Bob Healey, one of them was Albert Shanker, who made sure there was no doubt where we all stood, and that we all stood together. The support went from the national union (which Shanker headed by then) to every local union in Chicago. (Healey can be heard saying in the video that he was going to call the Teamsters about honoring our picket lines; they did).

I had my disagreements with both Healey and Shanker over the decades, but more agreements. As Healey said, once we decided to do something, we all did it. And that day was one of the great examples of how we come together and what it means for all of us.

Contrary to the Reagan era nonsense since "A Nation at Risk" (federal government, 1883) and "Chicago's Schools, Worst in America" (Tribune, 1988), Chicago's public schools were improving every year during the 1980s, because we were all working together. By any real measure, that was true.

We were forced to strike just about every year to defend ourselves and the public schools, against all the lies that were escalating against us. But we held things together because we were all committed to our work, our union, and our schools. There were many lies that became official history of those decades, and the biggest ones were the "failure" of the public schools (we were all attacked by "A Nation At Risk", then Chicago was singled out in "Chicago's Schools Worst in America"), but the biggest ones grew across the 1990s.

But we kept holding together, through the 19-day 1987 strike. (In future editions of Substance and StrikeWatch we will be going over those lies and who helped them along). One of the things left out of the official lies is that the test scores for the 1987 - 1988 school year (the year of our longest strike) showed "gains" as great as any in Chicago's history. Those are the facts, although they've been obliterated under the tsunami of lies, orchestrated from dozens of places but centered in the Tribune.

It was only after we at CTU began the long surrender in the early 1990s — and some people actually believed we were in a "partnership" with the ruling class — that our true allies were betrayed and we forgot both how to be a union and how to defend democracy and the public schools. Those days are now over, and we're going to rebuild what has been ripped untimely from us for a quarter century.

April 2, 2012 at 9:19 PM

By: bob busch

The Old Days

The 80”s

Not to get personal but I remember events differently. We did not work for a week to protest the entire situation that had built up since the first payless payday in December 1979. Mr Healey knew full well of the events up to then because no union dues were forwarded; his silence spoke volumes. It was not until after the pay disaster went public he came forward with the week off — then all of a sudden a week strike. That was 5% of our pay. During the 1970’s, I was a union delegate from Simeon and saw the sainted Mr.Healey in action he turned me off completely. Reading about union meetings now seems little but the names have changed.

Around that time I became familiar with a group called S.U.B.S. led by a hot spur named George. If I recall right they were rather harsh in their assessment of union leadership. Let’s not confuse a Politician with a union Leader.

April 3, 2012 at 4:37 PM

By: John Moran

1979 — and the School Finance Authority

Bob & George,

You both have parts of the story right.

First, We were paid from September to Thanksgiving. The Payless Pay Days were from Thanksgiving until Christmas Break. We missed 3 Regular Checks and 1 Anticipated Check for Christmas Break. We worked 6 weeks without a paycheck.

Second, You forgot to mention the School Finance Authority (SFA), the ultimate villain in this story. Joe Hannon, the General Superintendent, and the Board of Education were fired by Thompson, the Governor. The Board was bankrupt so the School Finance Authority was created to sell Bonds and control the Finances of the CPS. The SFA decided to use the money from the bonds that were sold to first pay off all vendors that were owed money by the CPS. The SFA decided that if their was any money left over, then the CPS employees would be paid.

Third, The sale of the bonds took time. All of this drama happened over Christmas Break. The SFA decided to lock us out of the schools until they could get the CPS Finances in order. That is what led to our being our of school for the first 5 days after Christmas Break. We were locked out by the CPS.

Fourth, That is what led Healey to call for the Strike Vote. He said that we would not work until we were paid all of our back pay. We did Strike and that is what led to our being out another 10 days. But Healey won, and we did get paid all back pay checks before we returned to school.

The SFA became our ultimate enemy who created the yearly strikes for next several years. They were meant to be a Union busting organization who always opposed any pay raise for the CTU members.

April 3, 2012 at 8:22 PM

By: bob busch

1980 clarifications

If I recall the schools were open that first week because at least two Simeon teachers worked. And there were students present. Both were union members and went out on strike with us during the second week.

If we had been locked out there would have been an immediate strike called but that didn’t happen for a week. The two teachers who worked the first week were paid only to have that money deducted from their last checks in June.

April 4, 2012 at 12:10 AM

By: Marybeth Foley

The 1980 strike in some detail

Here are some of my memories of 1979-1980.

We did not get paid on Friday, December 21. 1979. We did not even get notification or acknowledgement that we would not be paid. The end of the day came and went without any announcement and we just went home without pay.

It seems to me there had also been some kind of pay trouble the previous Thanksgiving — maybe a threat that we would not be paid.

Notes from a calendar and 1980 pay stubs: (missing the 1979 pay stubs and pay period 4 in 1980)

Thursday, January 3, 1980 - went to a Delegates' Mtg. regarding lack of pay on 12/21/79

Sunday, January 6, 1980 - House of Delegates approved return to work for pay week (during which time, we got three checks)

Monday, January 7, 1980 - got 1/4/80 paycheck today (a one week paycheck)

Wednesday, January 9, 1980 - got 12/21/79 paycheck today (a two week paycheck) at 3:30! This was stamped "1980 INCOME"

(Also, on 1/7 or 1/9/80, got vacation pay that was due 1/3/80)

Friday, January 11, 1980 - Did not get retroactive pay we were scheduled to get today.

Friday, January 18, 1980 - Delegates' Mtg, Voted to stay out till we are paid in full

Wednesday, January 23, 1980 - voted 13-0 to stay out if not paid on Friday

Friday, January 25,1980 - Went to Delegates' Mtg. We are not going to work till we're paid in full - 700 to 1 vote

Monday, January 28, 1980 - went to Union Rally

Week of January 28 to February 1, 1980 - took my nephew who attended Portage Park School to zoo, etc. His mom was sick.

Monday, January 28, 1980 - Half of net pay for pay period 2, due on 1/18/80, was paid on 1/28/80

Friday, February 1, 1980 - other half of pay due on 1/18/80 was paid

Friday, February 1, 1980 - a retroactive paycheck that was supposed to be paid on 1/11/80 was actually paid on 2/1/80

Friday, February 1, 1980 - paycheck for pay period three, January 13 to 1/26/80 paid

(The previous four paychecks might have been picked up at the district office

Sunday, February 3, 1980 - Went to Delegates' Mtg. & General Membership Mtg. at Conrad Hilton

Monday, February 4, 1980 - First day on the picket line ay my elementary school (one person crossed all week)

Tuesday, February 5, 1980 - Second day on the picket line

Wednesday, February 6, 1980 - Third day on the picket line

Thursday, February 7, 1980 - Picketing again

Friday, February 8, 1980 - Picketed again.

Sunday, February 10, 1980 - Went to Delegates' Mtg. at Amphitheater. We voted to return to work tomorrow.

Monday, February 11, 1980 - back to work

April 4, 2012 at 3:49 PM

By: Sarah Loftus

Scare tactics

during the two weeks we didn't go in, teachers including me, were getting phone calls from CPS (but not from CPS phone numbers, and when asked would only give first names) telling us that if we didn't go into school our positions were cut.

Ed Powell, a great field rep, held a meeting of picketers and told us of many other calls being made to scare teachers into crossing the line.

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