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Education Wed Feb 26 2014
On Sept. 10 2012 the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike after negotiations on a new contract fell through. For more than a week teachers and those marching in solidarity could be seen marching outside of Chicago Public Schools and through the Loop.
In Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity by Micah Uetricht the lead up to the strike and the aftermath of the strike is examined in incredible detail, resulting in a magnificent chronicle on the CTU standing up to the current climate facing urban public education.
Uetricht, a former Gapers Block contributor, explains the rise of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), which currently has officers leading the CTU. Prior to the 2010 election in the CTU the union was led by the United Progressive Caucus, which in the portrayal given by Uetricht did not do much to stand up to the CPS. While the United Progressive Caucus was in power, schools were shuttered and then largely transformed into charter schools under the Renaissance 2010 plan. The leadership at the time did not stand up to the closures occurring throughout the city, leaving various teachers feeling disaffected.
With the background given about what the CTU leadership was like prior to the election of members from CORE, including current CTU president Karen Lewis, providing context for the battles Chicagoans have seen occur between the CTU, CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Other issues are brought up such as a law that requires 75 percent of teachers union members to vote to authorize a strike, which to show how hard the CTU went after votes for the strike Uetricht shares an anecdote about CTU members visiting a hospitalized member to assist her in voting.
Although incredibly powerful and comprehensive, Uetricht also is very fair with his book. He concedes the contract agreed upon by the CTU was not ideal and points out the battles the CTU has lost, such as the school closures that occurred in 2013.
He also paints a very honest and unflattering portrait of current American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten by starting off the book by explaining how she attended the Clinton Global Initiative, praising Emanuel's partnerships between the public and private sector. Uetricht explains that she did not mention the plans to expand charter schools in Chicago, "[n]or did she speak of the months during which the mayor antagonized the city's education workforce."
But Uetricht also points out how the CTU strike speaks volumes as unions are currently facing strong opposition, as seen with the recent attempt to organize Volkswagen employees at a Chattanooga assembly plant. He also brings up the continual shift towards a more privatized, corporate education system and how both the AFT and National Education Association continue to support Democrats who support the privatization of public education and policies that hurt teachers.
At only 135 pages, Strike for America is a breezy read that manages to tell the story of the strike thoroughly. It is no easy feat to be concise and exhaustively chronicle an event, but Uetricht accomplishes this masterfully in his debut book. The result is an essential book for understanding the changes Chicago has undergone in the past 15 years in terms of policy.