Yesterday, the news came down that the Chicago Teachers Union had suspended its strike after reaching a tentative contract agreement with Mayor Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools. Children returned to school today and within ten days the contract agreement will be voted on by the entire CTU membership. Tzedek Chicago was proud to formally stand in solidarity with CTU and SEIU in their struggle.
As we noted in our statement, "public education does not occur in a vacuum." In addition to issues of contract length, benefits, class size and necessary services for students, workers demanded that the city address wider issues of justice in the areas of affordable housing, sanctuary schools, sustainable community schools and restorative justice.
I know that there are many who were fairly cynical that the CTU put issues such as affordable housing on their list of demands. And yes, it's true, the school district isn’t legally required to negotiate with teachers over any issues beyond pay, benefits, and the length of the school day. This tactic, however, known as "bargaining for the common good" (BCG) is rooted in the recognition that the issue of public schooling is inseparable from other issues of justice in our local and national communities.
Unions such as CTU, who are part of the BCG network use contract fights as an opportunity to organize with community partners around a set of demands that benefit the wider community as a whole - not just individual bargaining unit in question. In other words, these are campaigns for investing in our communities, not only settling a union contract.
And the impact of these campaigns is not merely symbolic. Through strikes and public pressure, the CTU has been able to move the needle on bigger political issues in recent years. Indeed, BCG is a form of solidarity that has very real power that can keep issues in the public agenda so that they cannot be so easily ignored in the future.
At the core of this ideal, it seems to me, is a sacred ideal: the uncompromising imperative to fight for the world we want to see - not just the one we think we are able to realistically get or the one that will benefit us alone. I would submit that every successful movement for transformative justice has been historically been ridiculed for "dreaming too big." And I would further submit that such successes could only have been achieved through the leadership of dreamers, who understood the true meaning of solidarity: i.e., struggling for the common good.
Many of our Tzedek Chicago members are CPS teachers - and many more are important leaders in Chicago's education justice movement. At our Shabbat service tonight we will celebrate this latest victory together (see below for more information). What better time to celebrate the world to come right here on earth?
We hope to see you there!
Rabbi Brant Rosen