Teacher’s Strike: A Scholastic Death Sentence or a Choice of Conscience?

Teacher’s Strike: A Scholastic Death Sentence or a Choice of Conscience?


With an impending strike looming for Chicago’s schoolchildren, can at-risk children in Chi-town’s struggling neighborhoods really afford the blow of a strike in the midst of an exploding urban battleground? Will Chicago’s Black teachers yield to historical reference or union deference?

There are plenty of Americans that do not hate unions. I know that I do not. Until recently, my father was a member of a local union before retiring. Unions have a place in America, even today.

However, when it comes to teachers unions in places like (urban) war-torn Chicago, the message must be clear: on the priority scale, children’s needs have a greater place in America than unions’ requests.

For Black union members of the CTU (Chicago Teachers Union), this reality presents an interesting contrast of perspectives that they have to address.

Ironically, in the week after Black Republicans such as Mia Love have taken loads of cantankerous criticism based on claims of aligning themselves more with a group’s desires than with the best interests of their communities, Black teachers in Chicago will be forced to take on the same question. With Chicago teachers poised to strike on September 10 over union concerns including pay increases, a new teacher evaluation process, and hiring leniency for principals when laid off union members are involved, many Black members of the union will have to ask themselves the question that many African-Americans (such as Black Republicans in Tampa) were asked recently.

Black teachers in Chicago must ask themselves: are you willing to speak out against the direction that your team is headed towards – and, perhaps, avoid a crippling strike – for the sake of vulnerable Black people?

Make no mistake: the purpose of a union is to advocate for the best interests of its constituents for the purpose of leveraging as much affluence and benefits as possible within any given situation. In many ways, this is similar to the role of a political party. Thus, in the same way that Black Republicans often must choose between co-signing on the questionable rhetoric that has come from conservatives concerning race from time to time, Black teachers in Chicago now have a similar moral dilemma. They must look at the conditions facing our children and determine if going along with 98% of CTU members that voted for a strike this fall is the right thing to do, considering the tragic levels of violence, educational gaps, and unemployment facing our children in the south and west sides of the city.

From a corporate standpoint, they have no other choice but to back their union family and push for their demands. After all, they are dues-paying union members. From their historical obligation, they have no recourse but to buck back against the trend and work to prevent this strike. After all, they are Black people that represent the gateway for social and economic equality for our children.

Black children in Chicago are already facing a mountain of woes, hardship, and social instabilities that make the path towards contributing as successful members of 21st century America a rocky one. Amid the Second City Shoot-fest of 2012 throughout areas such as Englewood, South Shore, Pill Hill, and (my old stomping grounds) of Hyde Park/Woodlawn, these children are in no position to have any part of their school year delayed. Fights over mandating that principals re-hire laid-off union teachers (instead of the best-possible teaching candidates, including non-union members), stopping the introduction of merit pay measures based on student performance, and preventing public funding to go towards charter schools is not enough for Black workers to strike over at a time when Black children are at the brink of permanent irrelevancy as Americans.  At a time when over 80% of CPS students qualify for the free lunch program (most of whom are Black or Latino) and often attend schools with gang warfare going on outside, Black teacher union members will have to question whether a struggle over receiving compensation from the Board of Education to pay for teachers’ extra education is worth jeopardizing Black youth’s health and safety at this critical and dangerous point of time.

In a time of national and statewide economic crisis sweeping across the Land of Lincoln, some of the demands voiced by the CTU are not worth the risk to Chicago’s children, particularly as trends continue for increased pay for teachers, increased benefits for the system, and diminishing returns for the educational future of America. Much like how minorities within the partisan structures of politics must search their collective conscience, Black members of CTU must immediately look around – and then look within themselves. They must decide whether walking lock-step with the union on this endeavor is worth putting scores of children’s lives on the line.

A strike during this summer would likely make Black children on the south and west sides of Chicago more vulnerable to shootings and other crimes in the short-term and lackluster and life-limiting performances in school in the long-term. A fair deal with the Board of Education is understandable. A strike at this point of time – when Black children generally fail at horrific clips in CPS schools and face daunting educational challenges even in status quo conditions – is not reasonable or acceptable. The nature of a teachers union is to illustrate why a strike is the only viable option at times like these for the sake of their constituents. The nature of Black teachers in Chicago as historians and potential history-makers must be to illustrate why the hopes of a generation of Black Chicagoans cannot endure another blow to their development – or another strike against their educational pursuits.

LENNY MCALLISTER is a senior contributor to Politic 365 featured on several national and international outlets including CNN, Current TV “The Young Turks”, and Sirius-XM Radio. Catch Lenny on Canada’s Sun News Network  for more analysis on the GOP presidential ticket. His new book, “Spoken Thoughts of an Amalgamated Advocate in Today’s America” is now available electronically on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.com . Catch Lenny’s analysis of the RNC in Tampa on The American Urban Radio Network.