The Chicago Teachers Union strike gave a shot in the arm to education unions and all of labor. CTU reawoke a labor movement lacking confidence that it could take a militant stand and win.
The CTU strike faced huge obstacles, constrained by state law and a national narrative that scapegoats teachers and education unions as the causes of the crisis in public education. Nevertheless, the Chicago teachers won key victories at the bargaining table, mobilized their entire membership and built on their parent-community alliances.
If Chicago rekindled the fire of mass action, we can’t forget the importance of electoral work. The reelection of President Obama in the face of the most reactionary Republican Party in living memory is essential to continue push-back against threats to government as the collective voice of the American people.
In California, a flood of money from the Koch brothers into the Proposition 32 campaign will bring media buys designed to deceive voters. In the guise of cleaning up elections and keeping out “special interests,” Prop. 32 really aims to cripple the political power of California unions.
Prop. 32 plays on a deepening cynicism toward politicians and political institutions. Even union members may be questioning labor’s reliance on elections when we see less money for education and vital services, and friendly politicians who seem to support reforms that demonize educators.
Despite the justified cynicism many of us feel toward our electoral system, we must be clear that Prop. 32 will decimate our ability to elect board members and end our ability to promote initiatives like the Majority Budget Act and the Millionaires Tax. If Prop. 32 passes, it will change the California and national political landscapes and devastate the progressive movement for years to come. We can’t let that happen.
Proposition 32 is a defensive battle, but Proposition 30 offers a way forward and much-needed funding for education. So far the governor has been able to keep business interests neutralized. But that could change if outside players, such as the Koch brothers or Karl Rove, decide Prop. 30 represents a national trend toward progressive tax reform.
We are working with the Prop. 30 campaign and our labor-community alliance, Reclaim California’s Future, to turn out voters across the state in support of the initiative. CFT members can be proud of the role our union has played in forging an impressive labor-community alliance and laying the foundation for long-term change in California.
In the final weeks of the campaign, we can expect massive amounts of money to be spent against us. While labor has built a campaign war chest, we cannot compete against the billionaires who have unlimited money.
Chicago proves that ordinary folks who are organized and committed can overcome the influence of the wealthy and powerful. Now is the time for us to be active. Let’s push hard to the very end and enjoy election victories that will benefit our members, our students and help reclaim California’s future!
— By Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President