But there’s a way to turn the tide on decades of decline and reinvigorate unions as vehicles for change in the workplace and the wider community. In the US this has taken the form of “bargaining for the common good”, where unions use strike action to lift up community concerns outside the workplace, going far beyond the traditional demands of wages, benefits and job security. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) coordinated strike action with the union representing school support staff. It also formed alliances with groups outside the workplace, such as with Black Lives Matter, in a shared recognition that “education justice is racial justice”. In a school district where nearly half of students are Latinx and nearly one in five don’t have English as a first language, the CTU demanded new guarantees for bilingual education. It called for more dedicated teachers for English language learners, and a declaration that Chicago schools are sanctuary spaces for students who are immigrants, Muslims or LGBTQI+. The union also demanded reduced class sizes, as well as a nurse, counsellor, librarian and social worker in every school. Most ambitiously, it demanded an expansion of affordable housing for educators, students and parents. Coordinated action led to 30.000 workers going on strike for 11 days, impacting more than 300.000 students. The strike had enormous public support and piled pressure on the city’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, who was elected on a progressive platform. Although the city did not meet all their demands, it agreed to spend millions of dollars on reducing class sizes, hiring hundreds more social workers, nurses and librarians, and increasing school staff salaries by 16% over five years.
Aidan Harper in How unions can flourish again: break out of the workplace and think local (Guardian)