The 29,000 Chicago public school teachers and support staff resumed their duties on Wednesday after 800 delegateds of the Chicago Public Schools voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to end their seven-day long strike.
The end came after Mayor Rahm Israel Emanuel had to make some compromise and put on hold some of the sweeping reforms in struggling public schools. However, the Chicago Teachers Union always resisted what they called the corporatization of the public schools.
The first school teacher strike in a quarter century ended a day before a court hearing on the Mayor’s request was scheduled for Wednesday.
“I am so thrilled that people are going back,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, a fiery labour union leader, said while announcing the end of confrontation. She said the entire membership of the Union will cast a formal vote in the next two weeks to ratify a new contract agreement.
It was on Sunday that the Union decided to continue the strike for two more days so that it could review details of a proposed three-year contract with Emanuel.
The Mayor had to make a climb down from a proposal to introduce merit pay for teachers and he promised teachers that at least half of all new hires in the district would be from Union members laid off by the closing of schools.
Emanuel said he was pleased by the outcome. “This settlement is an honest compromise,” he said. “It means a new day and a new direction for Chicago public schools.”
The strike, a rarity in US school, ignited a national debate over how to improve failing schools. Emanuel, backed by a powerful reform movement, believes poorly performing schools should be closed and reopened with new staff or converted to “charter” schools that often are non-union and run by private groups.
In contrast the Teachers Union want more resources put into neighbourhood public schools to help them succeed. Many of students come from poor and crime-ridden areas and this affects their study. More than 80 percent of public school students qualify for free meals as they come from low family incomes.
Figures suggest that only 60 per cent of Chicago students graduate from high school against 90 per cent in affluent private schools. About 90 per cent of those who study in Chicago public schools are either African-Americans or Latinos.
The strike revive the weak US labour movement in the United States after a string of defeats. Labour unions lost battles recently in Wisconsin, Indiana and California.
The strike tore President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party as Emanuel had been his top White House aide while the Chicago Teachers Union supports him. Obama himself chose to remain silent though Chicago is his home city.
Now he would make all out efforts to regain the support of teachers alienated by Emanuel. Chicago has after all a long history of union activism. The May Day violence of mid-1880s is the most clear example.