Democratic Party and the Chicago Teacher Strike

Logan Rosell, Scarlet Staff

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There has been a lot of talk recently about the Chicago teacher union strike. It is the third-largest public school district in the nation with more than 300,000 students and over 25,000 faculty and staff. The strike ended on Halloween, 11 days after it started. This made it the longest teacher strike in Chicago since 2012, though the story goes far beyond the city.

The Chicago public schools strike was the most recent in a wave of education strikes around the US. In 2018, there were 6 statewide teacher strikes. This year saw many of the same states striking again, with two more joining the ranks. The public schools in Los Angeles, the second-largest district in the country, held a walk-out the same year. What is inspiring rising union activism?

Some would say politics — specifically, shifts in the Democratic Party. It’s not hard to make an argument that public-school educators are unhappy with a decade of blue centrist policies, supporting school choice, and merit pay, the final of which is perhaps the most salient issue for teachers.

With the push for standardized tests has come bonuses for teachers whose students score well on them. This forces instructors to teach to the test, which many students will tell you is the most efficient way to kill curiosity. This is a one-two-punch for educators trying to make a living and enjoy their job.

However, many of the strikes in the last two years have been about more than good pay and academic freedom. The Chicago strike differentiated itself by taking a stance on social justice issues such as segregation and affordable housing for both teachers and students. In this way, school districts are playing a delicate dance with national politics. Whether that is a reflection of collective concern or a bargaining position appears to be up to the reader. Reportedly, more people in Chicago supported the strike than did not.

The larger question is how directly the Democratic party should be involved with the rising tide of education strikes. Many Democratic presidential candidates threw their support to the Chicago teachers, including Elizabeth Warren, who gave a speech at one of their rallies, while unveiling her education plan, with big support to education unions. The Los Angeles and Chicago strikes, unlike the 2018 strikes, were against Democratic mayors. In both cases, fairly large victories went to unions.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pointed out that issues such as affordable houses should not be legislated over teacher contracts. The only question remaining is how far the Democratic party is willing to go to support educators on strike.