Teacher Walkouts in Chicago, Conspicuous Details

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that 25,000 public-school teachers are picketing, rather than teaching, today.  The details are a bit distant from Rhode Island for a finely tuned analysis, but it’s fair to say that the union is not fighting a political class on the verge of right-to-work legislation.  A significant political emphasis on “labor peace” can just mean that the goalposts move.

In this case, Chicago school district administrators are saying that they offered 16% raises over four years. The union is complaining about health benefits, teacher evaluations, and job security.

Taking a long-term view, though, the key sentence in the entire story, by reporters Noreen Ahmed-Ullah, Joel Hood, and Kristen Mack, may very well prove to be the one that I’ve emphasized in the following paragraph:

With a strike, CPS will put its contingency plan in effect, opening 144 schools to students from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. But parents are being urged to find alternatives and use the schools only as a last resort. The city’s 118 charter schools are not affected by a strike.

Charters are essentially the beachhead and refuge that communities are insisting be created as relief from an outdated model that simply doesn’t serve students or cities/towns well. Teachers might want to consider whether organized resistance really serves their cause in the long run.

Here’s one other interesting detail:  In addition to the 144 public schools that “principals, assistant principals and central office employees” will open for four hours of the day to give students someplace to go: “CPS has contracted with 60 churches and faith-based centers; to extend their “safe haven” programs during the strike.”

Between the charters and the community groups, one begins to get the sense that Chicago — surely representative, in this, of cities and towns across the nation — is having to rebuild a civic society in the gaps left by the official government structure.  That is, the official government structure is not so much “the only thing we all belong to” as akin to some outside organization that communities must be prepared to work around.

That necessity is the theme that seemed tacitly to pervade much of the discussion at the Rhode Island Foundation’s high-profile gathering of local non-government movers and shakers, Friday and Saturday, to discuss reviving the fading state.  It’s as if, taking the corruption and non-responsiveness of government as a given, people are desperate for some other avenue for cooperative action.

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