Back from a holiday break with my family in Brooklyn, Hitting Left was back on the air live with a podcast now available.
As I left New York, hundreds of students from the most elite public schools in the city we continuing their weekly Monday walkouts demanding equity of resources and integration.
Our guest Friday was Jesse Sharkey, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.
Both my brother and I were active supporters of teachers during the strike and I looked forward to a conversation with the union leader on the way it went.
Even as a president of a small teacher local that went on strike in 2003 I know there is always a lot to debrief and our short one hour conversation didn’t begin to talk about the larger issues of union strategy, tactics, local and national politics.
Going on strike isn’t a tea party, and I wouldn’t expect cookies to be served. But I was concerned about the way Mayor Lightfoot, only a few months in office, was portrayed as Rahm 2.0 during the strike and whether making the mayor the main target would continue through her term.
I still see Mayor Lightfoot falsely portrayed this way by some on the Left.
So we asked Jesse about that.
CTU Pres. Jesse Sharkey:
What was different about this strike was, that 2012 was much more about the mayor at the time, Rahm Emanuel, being on the offensive. It was a strike that was intended to stop him from taking away our contract. And this was the first time when we were able to go back on the offensive and putting rights back into our contract.
MK: Why? What changed from the time Rahm departed to the current situation?
JS: Good question. One, obviously, is that there’s been a change in the national mood. 2010 was the high point of the waiting-for-Superman moment…where corporate school reform identified teacher unions as being the impediment to progress. That agenda failed to produce meaningful results…and as the pendulum swung back on those ideas, it gave us a political opening.
When you combine that with a national teacher shortage and a growing movement around red-for-ed and you combine that with a wave of strikes in Arkansas, Oklahoma [in the red states].
FK: One thing you’re not mentioning is the change in the city’s administration.
JS: I’m getting there. I’m getting there. The other thing I would say was that there was the additional funding that the state legislature voted on in August of 2017, which put an additional billion dollars a year into the schools’ budget, freeing up lots of money to help run our schools more effectively. A lot of that was money going pay for pension obligations, which previously they’d been paying out of the school’s operating budget.
FK: Or they weren’t paying.
JS: That’s right. It’s money that we are paying now because for years they walked away from their obligation.
And then the final one, which Fred mentioned, and is an important one, was the changeover in city leadership. Rahm is out and Lori Lightfoot had run on a pretty explicit platform about basic education support, transforming neighborhood schools, and trying to deliver a lot of the reforms which were in line with the things we were demanding.
So you put all that stuff together and we were thinking of it as the best opportunity we’ve had in a generation.
FK: But am I wrong in feeling that your argument made during the lead-up to the strike and the strike itself was that the new administration was fundamentally not different from Rahm Emanuel’s and that there was this characterization of Mayor Lightfoot as being “Rahm2.0”?
JS: Yeah, you’re wrong in the sense that we characterized Rahm as “Mayor 1%”, you know, as a “corporate shill”. We picketed his house…The thing about Rahm was that he was such a clear corporate figure who had taken a year-and-a-half off from government work to make $16 million as a stock trader or private equity guy.
And that’s clearly not Mayor Lightfoot. She’s not in that same category.