On June 26, The Chicago Teachers Union joined forces with Occupy Chicago in an effort to, according to Occupy Chicago Labor Working Group leader Susan Dirr, begin the process of building solidarity for the CTU. Their reasoning: instead of reacting to a blow, they want to prepare a preemptive attack against CPS and Rahm Emanuel. They did not allow me to film, saying that it was a private event. However, the event was publicly advertised on CORE’s (Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators) website.
Attendees of the meeting included about a dozen CTU teachers; several union members from, among other labor groups, AFSCME, ICW (International Chemical Workers), and NNU (National Nurses United); at least two members of the International Socialist Organization; and an abundance of Occupiers.
The speakers stressed that the CTU contract fight is only the tip of the iceberg of what unions everywhere are facing, saying that working people’s rights are under attack.
Norine Gutekanst, organizing coordinator for CTU, and Michael Brunson, recording secretary, gave speeches explaining why it is imperative for the CTU to gather as many supporters as possible to join their fight against Mayor Emanuel and Jean-Claude Brizard, CEO of CPS. Negotiations have commenced, and Brunson labeled the opposing side as “unreasonable.”
He explained that the CTU can only discuss salaries and benefits during negotiations, not the numerous other issues teachers say they are incensed about, including smaller classes, more staff (nurses, social workers, etc.) and offering classes in art, theatre, dance, and the like.
“We can only talk about salary and compensation in the meetings,” Brunson announced to the crowd of approximately 100. “But, remember, we’ll be talking to you about the other things (issues).” He also condemned groups such as Education Reform Now, Democrats for Education Reform, and Stand for Children – saying these groups, among other insidious acts, have been targeting African-American and Hispanic communities spreading lies and running a smear campaign against the CTU.
Gutekanst railed about the 4% raise that the teachers were denied last year, saying, “I work very hard. How dare you take away my raise!” She implied that CPS was making excuses by saying the funding that the teachers want is not there. She went on to say that this is a very rich country. There are a lot of rich people here, so the money is there. However, she continued, the money is being given away to rich corporations.
Teachers or not, the CTU wants as many people out on the picket line – if it comes to that – as possible. Gutekanst and Brunson also urged people to come to Board of Education meetings and speak out in support of the teachers. They told people to get out and talk in front of churches, at other labor events, and to anyone on the street who will listen. They encouraged the crowd to bring out friends and family to help with the effort.
After the general speeches, people broke down into six sub-groups:
1) Community and Parent Outreach
2) Union Outreach
3) Press and Social Media
4) Research and Messaging
5) Actions and Events
6) Student Solidarity
The Actions and Events committee discussed how they could spread awareness about the teachers’ fight to the broader public and discredit the opposing side. Ideas discussed included:
1) Canvassing parades, festivals, farmers’ markets and concerts while talking to people and handing out fliers. Specifically targeting family events – such as movies in the parks – where children and parents are present.
2) Targeting Stand for Children events: “It’d be great if they (Stand for Children) can’t have a single event without us protesting” at it.
3) Setting up outside of public pools and park district camps in order to speak with parents who are there with/picking up their children.
4) Protesting outside of Hyatt hotels in order to shame Chicago Board of Education member Penny Pritzker (Pritzkers own Hyatt hotel chain).
5) Engaging children in the fight by passing out picture books or coloring books that teach children “union values and solidarity.”
6) Occupy Chicago hosting a “people’s summit,” as they did before NATO
The Solidarity Committee – the merged group that resulted from the meeting – will train volunteers on what the issues are and how to answer people’s questions when out canvassing. The Committee plans to meet every few weeks to strategize and plan more events.