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WI: Teachers walk strike lines with Chicago brethren

By   /   September 12, 2012  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Hundreds of protesters converged on the Wisconsin Capitol in 2011 protesting passage of Act 10, which reformed collective bargaining for unionized public sector workers.

MADISON – After losing the collective bargaining war in Wisconsin, a Madison teachers union is providing backup for its Chicago brethren engaged in a bitter labor strike.

Madison Teachers Inc. plans to deploy members and supporters to the Chicago teachers strike , a work stoppage that has displaced some 400,000-plus students and has left parents and guardians scrambling to find safe places for their kids.

MTI is putting together a caravan of solidarity soldiers to walk the picket lines with the Chicago Teachers Union – if needed – on Saturday.

“We are investigating a large scale car-van pool or the possibility of bus transportation,” the organization’s web site states. “Wear Red, bring your Solidarity! and your comfortable pair of shoes.”

It’s not clear how many have signed up. The labor union’s leadership did not return Wisconsin Reporter’s calls for comment.

Pick-up points will be at the University of Wisconsin-Memorial Union and the Madison Labor Temple between 8 and 8:30 a.m., according to the teachers union.

MTI also plans a “Solidarity Rally” in Madison, beginning at 5 p.m. Friday at the Capitol, according to the organization. The event will include “speakers and an opportunity to deliver a personal message or resources in support of the strike.”

With that overture, the union invites contributions to the Chicago Teachers Union Strike Fund.

Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for CTU, which represents about 26,000 active teachers in the nation’s third largest school district, said the outpouring of support from unions across the country, particularly in Wisconsin, has been wonderful. He said Milwaukee’s unionized teachers plan to travel to Chicago this weekend as well.

“It shows these attacks are certainly not a local issue,” he said, pointing to Wisconsin’s organized labor battles in the public sector over the past year and a half  — a fight, at least politically speaking, that labor lost.

Public unions took a beating in their historic fight against Republican Gov. Scott Walker and a Republican-controlled Legislature.

The GOP, which swept into power in 2010 amid dissatisfaction among voters who gave Barack Obama a 14 percentage point victory two years before in the presidential contest, pushed through Act 10. The law, narrowly upheld by a divided state Supreme Court, curtailed collective bargaining for most unionized public employees, including teachers. Act  10 holds wage increases to the rate of inflation, requires public workers contribute to their pensions and contribute more to their health insurance, and changed the dynamics of union certification.

Irate, organized labor and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin teamed up to organize successful recall campaigns against Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and several Republican senators. The initiative mostly failed at the polls, with Walker beating his opponent, Democrat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, by 7-percentage points and Kleefisch easily surviving her election.

As Act 10 was being debated in early 2011 amid a severe budget crisis in Wisconsin, tens of thousands of the bill’s opponents – public workers, union activists, politicians and others – stormed the Capitol in protest.

Chicago public teachers were there, too.

Now Wisconsin teachers, it seems, are returning the favor.

Potter said CTU watched Wisconsin closely, taking a number of caravans to the state Capitol in solidarity with public workers last year.

“It was hugely inspiring to us,” he said of the Madison demonstrations. “Even though Walker was able to put in place his agenda the ripple effects have not begun to be explored in how people have used that experience and use it in their own experience and context.”

He called the Wisconsin story a “wake-up call,” that even though Chicago public school teachers are in a “solidly union city in a solidly union state” thanks to legislative and executive branch control by Democrats, organized labor still has a hefty fight on its hands with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel – a Democrat and President Obama’s former chief of staff.

“We’re the last bastion of organized workers in the public sector,” the union official said. “If we allow this to happen in Wisconsin, in Ohio, our days are numbered.” Potter called for a change in organized labor culture, emphasizing the imperative to organize.

But there are many on the right, among disgruntled taxpayers in general, who would like to see that “last bastion” fall.

Critics of the teachers strike take issue with what they see as complaining by the decently paid — the typical Chicago Public Schools teacher earns about $76,000 a year for much less than a year’s worth of work.

As the New York Daily News pointed out, CPS teachers work the shortest school day of any city in the country, in a district with a 60 percent graduation rate.

The fight between Emanuel and the union is over pay, teacher evaluations and hiring priority for laid-off teachers.

The fight comes amid a teachers pension system that owes tens of billions of dollars more than it has put said taxpayer on the hook for said obligations.

One thing Chicago teachers didn’t learn from Wisconsin public educators — how to strike.

That right was taken away from Badger State teachers in the early 1970s. Some did try a “sick-out” during the 2011 demonstrations. Many who skipped out of work were forced to return their day’s wages to their districts.

“I come from a family of teachers so I know hard it is. At the same time it’s taxpayers who are paying the bill. You have to take into account what taxpayers can afford,” said Bob Delaporte, a spokesman with Sen. Alberta Darling’s office. Darling, a River Hills Republican and Act 10 supporter, survived a recall election.

Delaporte recalled the busloads of Chicago teachers coming in to demonstrate at the Capitol. He asserts what those teachers won’t say Act 10 has worked.

“I’m proud we made education affordable for everyone in Wisconsin,” Delaporte added.

Contact M.D. Kittle @mkittle@wisconsinreporter.com

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M.D. Kittle