In Chicago, Teachers And Black Lives Matter Build Bigger Movement

| Strategize!

Above Photo: A good way to boost our numbers and power is to partner with people who are organized in other ways—building a broader movement as we build our unions. Photo: Joe Brusky (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Extracting wins from the boss has never been easy—and union membership hovering at a low 11 percent isn’t making it any easier. But a good way to boost our numbers and power is to partner with people who are organized in other ways, building a broader movement as we build our unions.

For several years the Chicago Teachers Union has put incredible effort into building unity—not only among its members, but also with parents and neighborhood groups. The results were on display in October as hundreds of volunteers worked daily in the lead-up to a possible strike.

Parents spoke at press conferences, painted banners, handed out leaflets, distributed T-shirts and yard signs, and talked to other parents. My son’s elementary school was one of many where parents and kids joined teachers in an early-morning picket.

One vehicle was the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign, an alliance of dozens of unions and 60 community organizations—including the Chicago chapters of Black Lives Matter and Black Youth Project 100.


Alliances take work, but they can be built on natural connections. “Many of us have either worked or been students in the Chicago Public Schools, or have partners who work for CPS,” said Aislinn Pulley, a leader in the Black Lives Matter chapter.

That meant members already understood why public schools are worth fighting for. “A man named Ronald Johnson, who was killed by the police two years ago, had five children who are CPS students,” said Kofi Ademola, another chapter leader. “They are in the care of their grandmother, who lives in poverty, and that family is directly impacted by the attacks on public education in our city.

“The layoff of 1,000 teachers and plan to hire 1,000 more cops was a clear example of the divestment in our communities. They go hand in hand.”

The understanding goes both ways. The teachers union has made racial segregation and school underfunding central issues in its contract campaigns.

District administrators pay lip service to restorative justice, a disciplinary approach that looks for solutions instead of shunting kids into a school-to-prison pipeline. But it’s the union that has pushed for the funding required to make these programs work.

CTU and a student group got a grant in 2013 to pilot restorative justice in four schools. In the new tentative agreement, the teachers have won funding to add restorative justice coordinators in 20 to 55 schools.

In the run-up to the possible strike, the Black Lives Matter chapter spearheaded organizing a Freedom School to offer parents a safe place to send their kids while teachers were out on the picket lines. Chicago State University agreed to donate its space. Planned activities would include a youth town hall.


In August the Movement for Black Lives, an umbrella organization that includes Black Lives Matter and other groups, released a policy platform, workshopped with activists from its hundreds of member groups around the country.

The platform declares the movement’s support for workers’ right to organize unions. It calls for jobs programs, expanding labor laws to protect domestic workers, farm workers, and tipped workers, no Trans-Pacific Partnership, the renegotiation of anti-worker trade agreements, and the rewriting of tax codes so the wealthy pay their share. Unions have much in common with these values.

Last November, after allegations emerged that the city had covered up video of a police officer killing African American teenager Laquan McDonald, CTU voted to support an elected police-accountability council in Chicago. Teachers joined the protests that followed, led by Black Lives Matter and Black Youth Project 100, to disrupt the lucrative Christmas shopping season. Marchers shut down the Magnificent Mile on Black Friday, chanting, “No justice, no profit.”

That’s the kind of partnership Ademola would like to see more of: “How do we amplify each other’s message and work together to target the oligarchs that fill the politicians’ war chest?”


  • DHFabian

    We’ve been through another eight years of working intensively to divide and conquer the proverbial masses, pitting the people against each other by class and race. Liberals and Democrats have deeply alienated an entire chunk of the population.

    America has a poverty crisis that we ignore, and sometimes even deny. Those in politics and media apparently so strongly believe in the success of our deregulated capitalism that they think everyone is able to work, there are jobs for all, therefore no need for poverty relief. They are wrong. The statistics show that the majority of victims of police violence are poor/white, and it is stressed (implicitly, but powerfully) that their lives don’t matter.

    Years of work went into splitting us apart by class, and pitting the poor against each other by race. The majority of US poor are white. Poor white people are defined in purely derogatory terms, depicting them as ignorant, beer-guzzling, right wing yahoos. But mostly, they’ve been disappeared from the discussion. Black people seem to have lost any cognizance of real poverty. In a country that (the last I heard) has 7 jobs for every 10 jobless people who still have the means to pursue one (home address, phone, etc.), it appears that there are virtually no jobless poor among people of color.

  • franksnow

    The reason why there is a “poverty crisis” in America is simply because of Democrat and left-wing policies. The rise in the federal minimum wage has led to rises in unemployment and poverty. If your position brings $7 revenue to your employer but he is forced to pay $8 the position will be removed. Increases in government welfare have simply increased the dependency of those already poor on government handouts, making them less likely to be able to make their own business or get their own jobs. Welfare reform carried out 20 years ago by Bill Clinton, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, has led to decreases in unemployment for the poor and claims that it led 3 million into extreme poverty were founded by studies that undercounted the number of welfare benefits given out each month by 20 million. More recent legislation by states requiring people to work to receive food stamps has decreased those on food stamps by over 700,000 every month! Left wing policies such as higher taxes and and higher minimum wage have made it harder for people to make their own businesses and thus be able to try and make their way out of poverty.