In Chicago, teachers and Black Lives Matter activists partner up to build a bigger movement

Extracting wins from the boss has never been easy — and union membership hovering at a low 11 percent isn’t making it any easier. But a good way to boost our numbers and power is to partner with people who are organized in other ways, building a broader movement as we build our unions. For several years the Chicago Teachers Union has put incredible effort into building unity — not only among its members, but also with parents and neighborhood groups. The results were on display in October as hundreds of volunteers worked daily in the lead-up to a possible strike. Parents spoke at press conferences, painted banners, handed out leaflets, distributed T-shirts and yard signs, and talked to other parents. My son’s elementary school was one of many where parents and kids joined teachers in an early-morning picket. One vehicle was the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign, an alliance of dozens of unions and 60 community organizations—including the Chicago chapters of Black Lives Matter and Black Youth Project 100. Alliances take work, but they can be built on natural connections. “Many of us have either worked or been students in the Chicago Public Schools, or have partners who work for CPS”, said Aislinn Pulley, a leader in the Black Lives Matter chapter. That meant members already understood why public schools are worth fighting for. “A man named Ronald Johnson, who was killed by the police two years ago, had five children who are CPS students”, said Kofi Ademola, another chapter leader. “They are in the care of their grandmother, who lives in poverty, and that family is directly impacted by the attacks on public education in our city. “The layoff of 1,000 teachers and plan to hire 1,000 more cops was a clear example of the divestment in our communities. They go hand in hand.” The understanding goes both ways. The teachers union has made racial segregation and school underfunding central issues in its contract campaigns.

Leah Fried in In Chicago, Teachers and Black Lives Matter Activists Partner Up to Build a Bigger Movement (Labornotes)