Our contractual rights are only meaningful if members know them and invoke them. One of our basic rights as workers is the right to union representation.
The Chicago Teachers Union is AFT Local 1 for some very important reasons. Margaret Haley, often dubbed Chicago’s ‘Lady Labor Slugger’ is the figure who put Chicago teachers on the labor map. She joined the all-female Chicago Teachers’ Federation in 1898, fighting to improve pay, benefits and working conditions for female teachers who earned much less than men. They battled an early plan to ‘factorize’ public education. In 1916 they helped found the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
During the Great Depression, Chicago, at times, paid teachers with IOUs, or not at all. These militant teachers took to the streets protesting the City and the Loop bankers who owed taxes that could have been used for salaries and schools. Joined by students there were demonstrations of up to 25,000. In 1937, competing teacher unions finally united to form a single strong group… the Chicago Teachers Union.
CTU won recognition in 1966 as the official bargaining agent for Chicago teachers, negotiating its first contract in 1967. In the following decades, there were seven strikes which improved both learning and working conditions. Gains included limits on class size, preparation periods, money for classroom supplies, lanes and steps and more.
During the civil rights movement African American students walked out protesting overcrowding and discrimination in education, especially against the segregated temporary trailers known as ‘Willis Wagons’ (named for the superintendent of Chicago’s schools). In 1968, a series of wildcat strikes led by Black teachers protested racist hiring, promotion, and certification policies. Their courageous actions helped CTU begin to incorporate educational equity into its demands. During this period, Jacqueline Vaughn became an officer of the Union, later rising to become its first African American President.
Following a lengthy strike in 1987, the Illinois School Reform Act was passed. This Act established Local School Councils but also seriously weakened teacher tenure. In 1995, a new law was used to weaken the voices of both educators and parents. The Amendatory Act limited subjects for union bargaining, and gave control of CPS schools to the mayor, including the power to appoint the Board of Education.
More recently, neoliberal attacks and educational ‘deform’ have led to massive increases in charter schools, privatization, school closings, and over- testing. Bankers and millionaires (with the help of politicians they’ve supported) refuse to pay their fair share of taxes to fund quality schools. In 2010, CTU members spoke loudly, electing a new leadership. Under President Karen Lewis, the Union has launched major fights against school closings, radical disparities in school resources and other issues that hurt our students. The first strike in 25 years took place in 2012 and, with massive community and parental support, today continues its work to achieve the city and schools our members and students deserve.
The CTU recognizes that when we fight these attacks together, we win, which is why in 2018 our membership voted to stand united with charter school teachers and staff in one local, fighting for the benefit of all of Chicago’s educators and students.