One week after Labor Day, Chicago public school students get a front row seat to lessons in work, labor, unions, and the persistent struggle between workers and employers. The story is everywhere this morning – union teachers in Chicago are striking for the first time in 25 years.
Given the erosion of workers’ rights across the country, even in strongholds like Chicago and New York, it is imperative that workers stand strong and go public about struggles for working conditions and pay that provide respect, dignity, and a decent living. Who better than educators to teach us all a lesson about work?
Some of the big issues for Chicago teachers? 1) Teacher evaluation (working conditions – how we are evaluated matters); 2) Policies that take funding away from existing schools and give it to charter schools that are often for-profit (this is also about working conditions – how workplaces are funded/equipped appropriately or not).
If you decide to open up an inquiry about work, workers, labor, unions, strikes, etc. some questions you might consider:
Why were labor unions formed to begin with, and what were the working conditions that made them necessary?
Labor unions claim to protect the middle-class, in what ways might that be possible?
With global “labor” now available to many multinational corporations, some say that national labor unions aren’t enough. What might global labor unions look like in the future? What kinds of goals would these unions have for our global future in 10, 15, 20 years?
And some really important questions given the rhetoric of teacher strikes “hurting our children” -
In what ways can unions, and even strikes, protect all of us from being further exploited by employers?
In what ways might unions, and even strikes, protect the “customers” (or clients, or students, or recipients of the services) of the organization or business?
Who benefits from workers unionizing and striking?
Who benefits from non-union and anti-collective bargaining laws?
Some resources that might be helpful for teachers digging into this with students:
Unionstats.com has a pretty exhaustive database of union membership by state and sector
United States Department of Labor collects data on union membership – compare these stats to Unionstats.com
Interested in basketball? Check out the NBA Players’ Union
Football fan? Check out the NFL Players Association
One of the strongest unions in the country is the United Federation of Teachers in New York City
Service workers have unions and continue to unionize – here’s one example
Trades have their unions too – check out the Plumbers, Steamfitters, and Service Technicians No. 72 in Atlanta of all “Right-to-Work” places!
Don’t forget the international context – miners are striking in South Africa where events have been deadly, Spanish miners are striking, and the London Olympics took place among threats of transit strikes and taxi strikes. And the Chinese factory workers who have been said to be willing to work for lower and lower wages under worse working conditions? They started striking last year.