STRIKEWATCH: 1969, the first CTU strike scores victories... Board had claimed a 'fiscal crisis' (sound familiar) and wanted to cut 7,000 teachers

STRIKEWATCH [1969]: First CTU strike lasts for two days; brings salary gains. "The Chicago Teachers Union and the Board of Education signed a contract on May 28, 1969, which implements all previously negotiated items, retracts unilateral decisions and directives of recent months, and provides better teaching conditions in the Chicago Public Schools," the editorial in the Chicago Union Teacher explained...

The last meeting of the members of the Chicago Teachers Union at the Auditorium Theater took place (above) in May 1969 during the May 1969 CTU strike. The union's members will return to the Auditorium Theater on May 23, 2012. The issues facing the teachers in 2012 are similar to those facing teachers in 1969. One hundred dollars more each month in their paychecks for teachers and a 7.5 percent increase in pay for career service employees were among the benefits won by the Chicago Teachers Union after its first strike on May 22-23, 1969. Another benefit was the membership's new realization of what solidarity really means, and of the kind of results it can bring. Back in those days, the people who are now called "PSRPs" were called "career service" and had civil service protections that had been in place since the 19th Century, by the way. (That was one of the first things ended with the "Amendatory Act of 1995," which began mayoral dictatorships over Chicago's public schools...). "The true meaning of unionism was born in the hearts of members of the Chicago Teachers Union as they marched together on the picket lines," said CTU President John Desmond after the strike.

"CTU members embarked on a new era of professional militancy when they experienced for themselves the fundamental components for a strike — unity in the ranks, tile effectiveness of picket lines around every school building and the Board of Education building, and the importance of the respect of every CTU member and members of other labor affiliates for our picket lines," he said.

The strikers had to picket at every one of the city's more than 500 public schools. In those days, the headquarters of CPS was at the old Builders Building at what was then 228 N. LaSalle St. (which teachers called "The LaSalle St. Pentagon..." in honor of its massive bureaucracy). The strike was also highlighted by a citywide meeting of all union members at the Auditorium Theater (which will be the site of the May 23, 2012 meeting). The 1969 strike also won:

-- the guaranteed employment of 900 teacher aides in high schools and another 900 teacher aides in elementary schools;

-- two duty-free preparation periods for elementary teachers;

-- a maximum class size of 30 students in the primary grades, 33 in the intermediate grades, and 35 in the upper grades. Beginning with this contract, these class size maximums were enforceable by grievance (a right that was not lost until the 1995 Amendatory Act took away the union delegate's power to enforce Article 28 — the class size article — with a grievance).

-- the right for the first time for the Union president or his designee to visit members in the schools.

The Union also was successful in pressuring the Board to include courses on African American history in the curriculum.

More than 85 percent of the employees represented by the CTU participated in the strike, according to the June 1969 edition of the Chicago Union Teacher. The newspaper carried a school-by-school tally of the number of persons honoring the picket line and of those crossing it. A large number of schools showed 100 percent participation; in no school did more than three persons choose to cross the picket line.

Prior to the strike, the Board of Education had proposed cutting 7,000 positions, increasing class size and teaching load, and eliminating various educational services. At the time, Union members were working under a six-month extension of the 1968 contract that that had been approved the previous January, without any salary increase or additional benefits. Union leaders maintained that the Board of Education had failed to live up to financial commitments made in previous contract agreements, even though money was available in the budget. The Board, meanwhile, insisted that it was in the midst of a "financial crisis" and not able to keep its earlier promises.

After two days of intense negotiating, President Desmond was able to present a proposed contract agreement to the Union's House of Representatives at a special meeting on May 24 — a Saturday morning. The body voted 265-30 for acceptance. A subsequent vote by the membership produced a lopsided 17-to-1 vote for approval.

"More than 19,000members of the Chicago Teachers Union's bargaining unit showed their strong support for their Union and its leadership by conducting one of the most effective teacher union strikes in history," The Chicago Union Teacher editorialized in its June 1969 edition.

"Because of CTU's solidarity and unified action, the Board of Education has finally realized that it must address itself to making a more effective instructional program its priority," the editorial continued.

"The Chicago Teachers Union and the Board of Education signed a contract on May 28, 1969, which implements all previously negotiated items, retracts unilateral decisions and directives of recent months, and provides better teaching conditions in the Chicago Public Schools," the editorial explained.

At the table during the negotiations leading to the contract were not only President Desmond but also two future presidents of the Union: then Financial Secretary Robert Healey, and then Recording Secretary Jacqueline Wright (Vaughn). Also participating were Vice President Vivian Gallagher, Treasurer Glendis Hambrick, and Attorney Joseph Jacobs.

Less than two years later, CTU members would be on the picket line again. In 1971, however, the strike had to take place during the coldest days of January because of the way the Board's fiscal year ended in those days. But the 1971 strike is another story for another time.

Article written with the assistance of "On Strike A History of Job Actions by the Chicago Teachers Union".


May 14, 2012 at 4:32 AM

By: John Kugler

Strike if Denied that Voice

"The Union should have a voice in every aspect of board of education policy, and strike if denied that voice." James C. Chiakulus, Chicago Teachers Union, United Teachers Committee, Dec 18, 1964.

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