CHICAGO UNIONISM 101... SCABS and how we identify them in the Chicago Teachers Union... The all important 'SB' designator on the delegate's union membership list...

While some picket signs during the massive marches during the September 2012 Chicago Teachers Strike included messages to individual members of the ruling class (example, the David Vitale sign above), the majority of signs provided by the union read ON STRIKE. And the reason? "For our contract" or "for a fair contract." Above, some of the thousands of CTU members and supporters who marched through downtown Chicago on the first day of the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012. Substance photo by David Vance.What is a SCAB in union terms, and how does a member of the Chicago Teachers Union know if someone is a SCAB? Most simply: A scab is a worker who crosses a union picket line during a union strike. About that there has been some confusion in early 2016, so I originally posted some of the following information to CORE (the Caucus Of Rank and file Educators) and Substance staff on March 12, 13, and 14, 2016. That was during a time when most people in Chicago -- including most CTU members -- were politically interested in the 2016 primary elections. For some part of the past month, people within the CTU have been discussing whether the "action" proposed by the union's leaders for April 1, 2016, is a "Strike" -- and if so, will colleagues who do not participate in the action by going to work be SCABS.

Since being a SCAB is about the worst thing you can be in a union shop, at a union school, or even in a union neighborhood, it is very important to be clear about what a SCAB is precisely -- and not in some literary format quoting a former American novelist and socialist (Jack London) who was also a vicious American racist.

By 1990, the Chicago Teachers Union had been on strike more times that any other union in Chicago during the second half of the 20th Century. The CTU had official union strikes in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1975, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1987 (the 1987 strike at 19 school days being the longest of them all, one or two of the earlier ones, at one day, being the shortest). There had also been a "wildcat strike" a year before the first official union strike, in 1968. The 1968 "FTB Strike" was partly in response to the segregationist and racist policies of the Chicago Board of Education, and was called and led by a group within the CTU called "Concerned FTBs." The 1968 wildcat did not have scabs per se, because about half the city's public schools did not participate in it at all. But that is another story for another time.

Most of the union picket signs carried during the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 read "ON STRIKE for a fair contract." Above, Steinmetz High School associate union delegate Sharon Schmidt picked up signs for CTU members at Steinmetz at the union's strike center at the Teamsters building on Ashland Ave. at the beginning of the 2012 strike. (Sun-Times photo). As a result of the strikes of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the CTU had a long history of clearly identifying scabs and dealing with them, both formally and informally.

First, the formal union procedures for dealing with scabs:

When the Chicago Teachers Union calls a union strike, union members picket every school and work site. Each picket line is organized under the leadership of the school (or work site) union delegate, and picketing is usually during the house the workplace is "open" and scabs -- i.e. strikebreakers -- are welcomed to go to "work" and be paid. During most of the union's history, the scab hours have been from roughly six in the morning to ten in the morning.

1. During an actual CTU union strike, there is a picket line either at every school (through the CTU's 1980 strike) or at the "scab center." During the first five strikes, the Board of Education tried to open every school, but by 1980 that ploy had failed. As a result, the Board doesn't open all the schools, but instead tells those who want to work (scabs) or those who must work ("management", including today principals and assistant principals) where to "report to work." Most of the strikes since 1984 had "Scab Centers", with most of the schools closed. That lasted until the September 2012 strike, when the strike -- and the picket lines -- began at every school. After the first day of the strike, however, the Board set up the scab centers.

2. A picket line makes it clear to union people that a strike is in progress and that they are not to go to work. The union leaders from the schools watch those who cross the picket lines, identify them clearly and report them -- every day -- to the union's offices. These daily reports are how the initial scab list is compiled.

3. When the strike is over, every person who has been reported as a scab is contacted by the union and told that he or she will be facing a union trial about it. The person has the right (by the way, a legal right) to appear before the union trial and reinstate -- by paying a fine equivalent to the amount he or she was paid during the strike -- or stay a scab. Those who don't repent (and pay up) remain listed forever as "SB" on all union membership lists. "SB" on your delegate's membership list means the person is a "Strike Breaker" (i.e., scab).

4. I have served on the trial board from past strikes (not 2012) and know two things. First: Most scabs are greedy assholes and unrepentant. Second: However -- and this is a big however -- some "scabs" actually have to cross picket lines. For example, I knew a guy at Lane Tech who was going through a nasty divorce. During our longest strike (1987) his ex-wife went to court and a judge ordered him to cross the picket line so he could get his "pay" and pay the mandatory child support. Once the strike was over (after 19 days) he paid the fine and was reinstated.

So now we are in 2016 and some people think we can do a one-day "strike" and identify "scabs" during and after that event.

Precisely how are "we" going to do that? Will there be picket lines at every school on April 1, 2016, until ten in the morning (which is usually the latest you can report to work and get paid for the whole day)?

I'm not going to apologize here for insisting that we take a step backwards and think through the corner we've been painted into by the ruling class (and in some ways have let ourselves be painted into).

On April Fool's Day 2016, the members of the Chicago Teachers Union are either ON STRIKE... (for OUR CONTRACT?) or --

The Chicago Teachers Union has a proud tradition of militancy going back to 100 years ago. That's when the American Federation of Teachers (originally, of the "American Federation of Labor") was founded. The AFT was founded in Chicago thanks in a large part to the work of teachers here in Chicago, many of whom were persecuted for their union activities. The Chicago Teachers Union didn't bring everybody together into the Chicago Teachers Union until the mid-1930s; prior to that there were divisions by level (elementary teacher organizations; high school teacher organizations) and even by sex ("men teachers" and "women" had different organizations). The CTU finally came together into one big union of almost all CPS workers in the 1930s, and was made "Local 1" of the American Federation of Teachers.

Because union militancy and lots else was interrupted by World War II, a certain level of union militancy in Chicago's schools didn't begin to return until the late 1950s and early 1960s. Part of that militancy (see the "Wildcat Strike of 1968" and "Concerned FTBs") was organized by the civil rights movement in the face of the vicious segregation organized by Chicago's ruling class, a segregation that resulted in the most segregated public schools in the USA by the late 1960s.

But after 1969, all the strikes were CTU strikes, and picket lines were formed, scabs were ID'd, and the odious "SB" designation was available to anyone who wanted to "work" while their brothers and sisters were on strike.

As some of the leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union began calling for an "action" for April 1, 2016, the question began being discussed as to (a) whether the action is to be a strike and (b) Just why are people going to be ON STRIKE on April Fool's Day (for one day?), which would result in (c) those who didn't participate being SCABS.

The question now before the 28,000 members of the CTU is: how is the Chicago Teachers Union going to identify scabs and follow our historical and legal reality in the face of those activities by men and women who, today, are our union brothers and sisters? Will April 1, 2016 find picket lines held by union members under the leadership of union delegates at every school? Will the union's offices be staffed to receive the SCAB lists that day from those on the picket lines?

As of the beginnings of these discussions in early March 2016, the CTU leadership was apparently pushing and pulling the 28,000 members of the CTU towards what I called "this April Fool's Day thingy" because the leadership at every level from downtown to the local school delegate -- legally and in honor of our union's militant history and traditions -- needs to be ready to answer those questions before and during the House of Delegates meeting. A House of Delegates meeting is scheduled for March 23, 2016.

Some of the "communications" stuff that took place in early has been insulting to the members and to the historical traditions of the CTU as a fighting union. The members deserve the "transparency" that was one of the reasons why the current leadership was first elected in 2010. As of March 15, 2016, many of these questions remain unanswered, but one thing is clear:

A SCAB is a vile thing to be, but almost as bad is the confusion that arises when things get murky in the face of the realities of, say, 2016.