On Saturday, November 17, representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union, Michael Brunson, Debby Pope, and Rolando Vasquez, spoke to an enthusiastic crowd in Philadelphia about their strike in September 2012.
According to the mission statement of the union, which represents nearly 30,000 teachers and support staff, they by extension also represent students and families they serve. This is truly the goal of unionism: to consider the big picture in advocating for better working conditions and pay, progressive reforms in society and democracy the work place.
The union has addressed issues on charters, privatization and standardized tests. The union has also confronted the demonization of teachers and organized labor. In the past corporate-model school reformers dominated the discussion around issues of accountability and standardized testing; Chicago teachers have focused on funding, poverty and inequality.
Chicago teachers were successful because militant grassroots leadership from the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), guided the union membership in 2010 to build unprecedented community and parent support for educational reform.
Philadelphia schools have suffered drastic cuts under Gov. Tom Corbett and the confrontation continues over a radical restructuring and privatization plan advanced by the state-controlled School Reform Commission and backed by the powerful William Penn Foundation. In response, this past September hundreds gathered to found the Philadelphia Coalition for Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), a broad union-community coalition set to counter the Boston Consulting Group-drafted restructuring plan. PCAPS asks for your advice by completing a public education survey to aid in developing a plan in which the citizens can contribute their ideas.
Video below features selected comments from the panel.
Social justice unionism, democracy in the workplace, shared leadership and responsibility are ideals shared by the Industrial Workers of the World. As the labor movement embraces these principles, mobilization will continue to grow and resist monied interests that obstruct educational reform.