Sunday book review section. Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity.


Strike for America: Chicago Teacher Against Austerity

Michah Uetricht. Verso Press.

The announcement of the return of former Illinois Education Association Executive Director Jo Anderson arrived in my email box almost simultaneously with the arrival of Micah Uetricht’s Strike for America.

Uetricht’s brief book contains a back-stage look at the creation of the Chicago Teacher Union’s CORE caucus, a recounting of the Great Chicago Teacher Strike of 2012, and a brief analysis of two very different conceptions of unionism.

Jo Anderson returns to Illinois after a five year appointment as Senior Advisor to Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Prior to that job Anderson was Executive Director of the IEA. Before that he was Director of the IEA’s Consortium for Educational Change. He returns to the IEA as Co-Executive Director of the CEC.

I bring up Jo Anderson in the context of Michah’s book because of numerous discussions I have had with Anderson over the years – although not in recent years due to his distance in DC. Perhaps now that he is back we can pick up where we left off.

“Our union must be take leadership of the fight for quality,” Jo would lecture me. “The days when collective bargaining was our chief concern are over.”

“Why do they need to be opposing goals?” I would ask.

It seems odd to even write these words given the assault on the collective bargaining rights of both private and public sector unions since Jo went to Washington.

Jo ran my state union for a number of years. His thinking remained in the leadership even after his departure. He now returns to a place that is truly his home.

As a member and former President of an IEA/NEA local I was not involved in the CTU, the creation of the CORE caucus, their victory over entrenched bureaucratic, incompetent and collaborationist leadership.

I was active as a supporter of the strike, both on the street and within my own union.

But over decades of battles with my own bureaucratic, often incompetent and frequently collaborationist state and national IEA and NEA leadership, the two conceptions of unionism continually emerge.

The line between the two conceptions is often wiggly. Sometimes we and our leaders find ourselves on the same side and working together. Often we seem to be – no, we are – on opposite sides. Some of my friends claim our fights with leadership too often appear personal rather than strategic.

I take some of the blame for that.

Some of my friends say I give the leadership too much credit.

That their stupidity and incompetence trumps their collaborationism.

I don’t think so.

I think sometimes it’s just hard to tell the difference.

Micah Uetricht writes that the CTU is a sign that we have not yet lost to the neo-liberal war on unions.

Then let’s get on with taking them back.