Richard Seymour, Guardian, UK - Last month, approximately 90% of Chicago Teachers Union members voted for strike action. Only 1.82% voted against. This was a shock to the local administration.
Not only is this the heart of Obama country, where unions are expected to play ball with the Democrats in an election year. It is also a city where, thanks to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, teachers are not allowed to strike unless more than 75% of union members vote for it.
The basis of this dispute is what is innocuously termed "school reform". This is a process of privatization and union-busting. Since the 1990s, Chicago has been a laboratory for such reforms, which have been rolled out across the country. The program enjoys the support of the Democratic leadership as well as leading pro-Obama liberals such as Davis Guggenheim, whose film Waiting for Superman was a lengthy attack on teaching unions and a tribute to private schools.
Chicago intends to open 60 new privatized, non-union "charter" schools in the next five years. Public schools are being closed to make way for this change and capital spending has been slashed. The CTU's new leadership has been driving a campaign to tackle chronic underfunding in Chicago schools, and broaden the curriculum. They describe the system as one of "educational apartheid", and demand an elected school board which reflects the needs of the city's population.
But the final provocation was when the "reformers" increased teachers' working hours by 20%, while cutting a promised 4% pay rise in half. They falsely imagined that the CTU would be a pushover, having recently elected a bunch of "rookie" candidates to the leadership.
In fact, the victory of these "rookies", from the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, demonstrated two things. First, it showed the unwillingness of members to be as compliant as the leadership has been in the past. Second, it proved the new leadership's ability as grassroots organizers. They showed the same skill in building support among teachers for strike action in a series of mock ballots and mass public meetings.