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CHICAGO UNIONISM 101, Chapter Two... 'The principal of reciprocal sacrifice'... SCABS -- and how we deal with them in the intimacy of the local schools... Rank and file justice... from soaked chalk to 'ratted' mailboxes and beyond...

As early as the cold winter strike of 1971, Chicago Teachers Union members picketed with home made signs in addition to the union signs that read "ON STRIKE FOR OUR CONTRACT." Although the Board of Education tried to open schools during each of the union's official strikes beginning in 1969, it rarely worked. Chicago was a union town, and students who went to "classes" often berated their "teachers" for being SCABs. By the first strikes of the 1970s, union teachers also had widespread support from the "community" and were implementing what became known among the rank and file as the "Principal of Reciprocal Sacrifice." By January 1980, virtually all of the members of the Chicago Teachers Union had been taught the hard lesson about THE BOSS. No matter what the economic reality of Chicago and the USA, the Chicago Board of Education never had enough money to pay the city's public school teachers decently, and anyone who challenged the Board's version of finances was assured, often on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, that the public schools were facing a "fiscal crisis," a "financial crisis," or some sort of "deficit."

And so as the years passed, the rank and file of the CTU learned a lesson about how the ruling class rules, and about how many lies would be told when teachers demanded justice for the public schools. The lesson, earned through strikes during the 1960s and 1970s, was finally confirmed when the ruling class attacked the public schools directly with the so-called "School Financial Crisis" of 1979 (through 1982). By January 1980, gone forever were the excuses some people had made for SCABing. These ranged from "I'm going in for the children" (but there were few if any children in the schools or Scab Centers) to "I can't afford it" (even though every strike made up all or most of the days "missed," and the years following the strike more than made up for any temporary "loss" because the pay raise compounded via the teacher and PSRP (then called "career service") salary schedules.

And so by the end of the 1980 and 1981 strikes, it was easy to know that a SCAB is a rat -- and to treat that teacher accordingly. After all, the SCAB was gaining every benefit we won during the strike, but we were the ones who had lost days (and usually frozen our hands and feet) on the picket line and elsewhere.

There had to be a "principal of reciprocal justice." That is what one veteran delegate taught me during the 1971 strike while I was at Forrestville Upper Grade Center. Forrestville UGC was on 46th St., a block west of Cottage Grove. The strike took place in winter, with snow on the ground, and we had to picket in bitter weather. But for those who pretend that the so-called "community organizing" of the CTU began in 2010 with the election of CORE, it's simply not true. We picketed Forrestville UGC in the snow in shifts, with half of us warming in the "social room" in the projects: hot coffee and other refreshments were there for us every day, thanks to those project parents. They were there with their children, who had been our students.

That strike was my first as a CTU member. I had missed the 1969 strike because I hadn't begun teaching until May 1969, when I got my "baptism of fire" as a day-to-day substitute teacher at Crispus Attucks Elementary School (39th and Dearborn; now a monument to the incompetence of the Board of Education and Rahm Emanuel's 50 school closings in May 2013...). I began learning a lot then, and fast.

But back to the 1971 strike and Forrestville Upper Grade Center -- and the "Principal of Reciprocal Sacrifice." Contrary to some 21st Century lies about the militant history of the Chicago Teachers Union and our allies, by the early 1980s, the CTU had organized a broad coalition of school unions. As a result, by the time of the October 1983 strike, it was what is called a "general strike" of all of the Board of Education's unionized workers. Above, as the signs tell, CTU members (ON STRIKE FOR OUR CONTRACT) were on the picket lines at CPS headquarters at 1819 W. Pershing Road with members of the Operating Engineers Union (Local 143 IUOE), and the trades, which were all still employed by CPS (see "Painters" sign in the background above). It was only during the 1990s the the CTU's leadership under Tom Reece and the "United Progressive Caucus" betrayed the militant traditions the union had built. Reece's officers even discouraged the use of the word SCAB to describe those who crossed picket lines (Michael Williams, who was Financial Secretary under Reece, insisted that delegates talk about "replacement workers"). The union's internal contradictions resulted in a long slide towards powerlessness...By the time I got to Forrestville UGC, the faculty was so large that we had three delegates, all of them African Americans. The rules for creating school delegates have not changed since them. Each school gets a delegate (the ranking union leader in the school, and representative of the Union legally at the school) for the first 20 teacher members at the school. For each 40 additional union teachers the union at the school gets an "associate delegate."

And so in January 1971, the delegate at Forrestville UGC was a Korean War Marine Corp veteran who took both the notions of "picketing" and the sense of justice very seriously. (As students of history know, during most of World War II, Black men were not allowed into combat units in the U.S. Marine Corps; it was not until the Korean War, following President Truman's order to desegregate all the armed forces, that much of the most overt racism in the U.S. military began to end)...

And so the delegate set out to teach me, a novice teacher (although I had had previous union experience; you don't grow up working class in Elizabeth and Linden New Jersey without it) two things:

-- First, "salt and pepper." After our first day on the picket line was mostly "pepper" (i.e. at that time, Black teachers and others), the delegate told me that I had to get "your people" out for the second day of picketing. "My people" at Forrestville UGC meant white people, so that night I made phone calls, and after that our picket lines, and our time with the parents in the social room at the projects, had the necessary "salt and pepper."

-- Second, the "Principal of Reciprocal Sacrifice." By that, the delegate meant that we would exact from the SCABS, an amount at least equal to the amount they were being "paid" for sitting in the school, warm while we picketed in the cold, even though most of the children we outside, either on the picket line with us, at the warming center, or doing what young people do when they are out of school.

I won't explain on line how we implemented the Principal of Reciprocal Sacrifice during the cold 1971 strike at this point. We learned, as all of us did, how to be union, year by year during those days. And one of the things we learned was that no matter how many words the SCABs oiled around their version of reality, they were in it for the money. Not one of them ever brought back the money he (or she) had "earned" during the strike, either to the union or to the children on whose behalf the SCABs had supposedly crossed our picket lines.

And so, at every strike after 1971, we had a chance to hear the same old versions of reality:

-- The Board of Education always wanted to give the teachers what we deserved, but there was "no money" so...

-- and the SCABs were always doing it all "for the sake of the children."

And so, school by school and year by year, we all learned how to be union brothers and sisters, not merely in words, or in singing "Solidarity Forever" (which until the last years of the 20th Century, virtually every union member had learned, many verses).

Because during most of the years of our strikes in the 1970s and 1980s, I was in opposition to the United Progressive Caucus (UPC, which was the power at the top of the CTU from the early 1970s until 2001, when it was defeated by Debbie Lynch's PACT caucus) I was not made an official "picket captain" or put on the Executive Board. But over time, as we organized and created the culture of struggle that was the Chicago Teachers Union's power by the time of the 19-day 1987 strike, I was leading picket lines with my brothers and sisters, some of whom were formally in the UPC, while others were with the "opposition."

And so, too, we not only implemented the formal ways of dealing with SCABs (see the first installment of this series) but also the local school version.

When I was at Marshall HIgh School in the early 1980s, there was one SCAB. One of the union delegates at the school was in charge of supplies. For some reason, the SCAB either received her supplies late -- or in unusual condition. The blackboard chalk (we used blackboards and greenboards back then) might have been in water for hours (it had rained inside the supply room, on that specific shelf). Crumbling wet chalk doesn't work, and our side never had time to find dry talk for that one "teacher." Accidents will happen... whether it was punjis under the snow at the entrance to the scab parking lot during the winter strike of 1971 or rain in the supply room a decade later.

Could a SCAB complain? Sure, but leading a school has always required deft leadership skills. Most principals realized that they had to work with the union, not against it. After al, we were the majority (even at the SCAB SCHOOLS of the late 1970s...). How can a principal complain about the chalk -- you got your chalk didn't you? More than one principal I knew made sure the union understood that he (or she in one case) was not crossing the picket line because of a desire to be a SCAB -- but because management was ordered to cross and really had no choice most years.

During one of the strikes of the 1980s, the principal of a famous South Side high school took care of the donuts and coffee every day for those of us on the picket line. He told us (without telling his bosses) that it was the least he could do, given how much money they were paying him to be inside the building, babysitting SCABs, and making sure the timesheets were accurate.

The 1983 strike last two full weeks, the longest strike until the Big One in 1987. I was at Juarez then as an FTB and active in the union leadership. We marched daily on the picket line, and Substance printed a strike song book which was very popular. There were traditional union songs (Solidarity Forever, Which Side Are You On?) and songs we made up.

When I was at Juarez High School after the 1983 strike, our one SCAB would march proudly into the building, having collected her 13 days pay when we walked the line, and then haughtily refused to repent. But after a few days, she wouldn't go to her mailbox. One morning, a filled Roach Motel. Another, not every day of course, a dead rat, left to ripen a day or two before it was daintily placed into the mailbox, gift wrapped. Finally, she began arriving at work "early," and with her boyfriend, who looked like a professional football player. He went to the box for her, snarling at anyone who was in the office, snickering.



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