Saturday January 16th's Chicago Teacher Union Toronto Workshop was a great success! Even our cities cold weather snap couldn't stop a full house of enthusiastic teacher and worker activists from packing the downtown Cecil St. Steelworkers Hall specially for the occasion! There was a great turn out of members from our local GTA CUPE, ETFO, OPSEU, OSSTF units! Unfortunately, our OECTA colleagues were conspicuous by their absence.
Too bad! I recognized many experienced participants from the different affiliates, dating back to the Harris Years. Surely we felt at home in our familiarity with the various organizing and mobilization strategies being jointly discussed. Likewise, there was the next generation of activists whom cut their teeth more recently through their active involvement in CUPE, ETFO, OPSEU or OSSTF's various job and strike action plans. They too were especially knowledgeable and keen!
A good union refresher course is always in order! Plus as political and social activists we all know that great ideas need to be exchanged. Fleshed out. Developed further. We need to network. To feel, share and grow a bond of solidarity with everyone actively engaged in our progressive union movement, regardless of their various backgrounds, experience or union affiliate.
Following the CTU workshop format, the local affiliates each introduced a topic, then encouraged active discussion and role playing within both a large and small group setting. IMHO, only one, small oversight: as our students remind us in class, NEVER run overtime into lunch, no matter what. Even admin can't force us to do that, so why do it to ourselves? On a Saturday?!?
Nonetheless, a lot of great ideas were discussed over the course of the workshop covering mapping, organizing, and mobilizing the members at the grass root level. CTU brought some great, new strategies to the table too. A hunger strike to protest a school closing in an underprivileged neighbourhood of the city? It's been done! [*]
Or how about actively and successfully engaging and then empowering teachers on pressing, specific local job and social justice issues within their own school? Even when the teacher union's executive elite would much rather prefer to just skip over the members direct involvement? To collaborate with the bigger powers that be by themselves instead? Only to then be removed from office by the members? It happened at the CTU!
Let me tell you -that accomplishment was enough to give me the shivers! So. The CTU members once suffered too under rule by and for an executive union elite too? Is it deja vu? A glitch in the Matrix? So many of us have been there! Seen that! In both 2012 and in 2015!
The CTU has successfully organized and mobilized it's membership at the grass root level into an effective, empowered, teacher union movement. They've tossed out a top down executive elite languishing away their decades of hard fought union gains in collaboration with the politicos and corporate creep shows within their education system. The war for public education isn't over yet, but they've created a lean, mean, union fighting machine.
What's the CTU's recipe for success? Before we get too excited, it's important to note that the Chicago Public School [CPS] board, along with the US education system in general, has a very different political set up than we do.
Sometimes, our American friends unfortunately still tend to think that the world views the US as a beacon of light and hope; politically, socially and economically too. Unfortunately, that is often no longer true. As far as I'm concerned, the US "education system"[**] in particular really seems to suck. But then again, no slight intended, ours does too, though in a different way, so we find still ourselves in good company with the CTU. However, in Ontario we will need to find our own way to win the good fight.
For better and worse, education is a provincial, not a municipal responsibility here in Ontario, Canada. Our collective agreements, for each of our many, different teacher and worker affiliates, are now basically being negotiated separately at the provincial bargaining table, not locally nor as a united front. Unlike the CPS, all our boards have an elected, not an appointed local board of trustees. And our local school councils don't have the power to choose the principal, nor do they get to approve the local budget like in Chicago.
It seems a pretty mixed bag as to who's got it worse. Obviously both systems are unfairly stacked, leaving our American colleagues at the CTU and us here in Ontario, Canada both in quite a mess, each facing a constant uphill battle!
Still, in our screwed up Canadian diaspora, we have sometimes successfully managed to do quite well against all odds. Unlike in the US, our union movement has so far been able to knock the wheels right off the Right to Work [for Less] movement, for now at least. Also, our Ontario teacher unions in particular have been hip to, and developing at least in principle, the CTU emphasis on "social justice unionism" for quite some time now.
For example, our Ontario teacher union affiliates have made solidarity grants available to other various, community, activist groups and causes based upon this shared principle. We might help with a picket. Attend a rally. Contribute in a wide number of ways to a lobby campaign. However, we still don't usually develop a firm, well established, two way, outreach relationship with them. Not as independent, third party, community groups in the concerted, equal, respectful partner sense, discussed at the workshop, outside of what we've been able to accomplish through the TYRLC. Indeed, even solidarity between our big, provincial teacher unions, has also been dubious at best since 2012. We all each still think and act as if it's a question of us verses them.
I am familiar with CTU's strategy of "Socialize to organize to mobilize" through OECTA TSU, where it was our established practice, at least until I retired a few years ago, since the Harris Years. Quite frankly I thought we thought it up, but no matter! ;-) Our various committees, including PAC often mixed business with pleasure at sponsored pubs and other sports and social gatherings and events to interact and successfully engage the membership at the grass root level. Somebody would always complain about the free soda pop and beer, but even more would come, have fun and get actively interested and involved in our union. We are all at heart social animals! You can check my Teacher Archives from 2011-2012 [LINK] The interest was there. It was big bangs for small bucks and we were able to accomplish good things! I believe many other units and affiliates have tried that too.
It's not a question of not knowing what to do, or how to do it, when it comes to creating an effective, grass root, membership based, teacher union movement in Ontario. One that's got both a labour and a social justice outreach thrust. Reflecting upon the CTU Toronto workshop, I believe that all the seemingly missing pieces to the puzzle are still all here. They are still remembered and to a lesser degree practiced on the whole, outside of being exercised through an often top down tightly controlled process. Since 2012 at least, the membership has rarely been allowed to really catch fire at the grass root level, where an effective, empowerment strategy might still flourish, if the power issues can ever be overcome to allow it to freely flower into action as it might in the members', not the leaderships' best interest.
On a final note, I found the CTU focus on a union executive "mobilization" verses a "service delivery" model quite fascinating. Considering our own union executive "elite" experiences since 2012, I would've liked to learn much more. I'm not sure how that could best be served up as a workshop. One doubts that the provincial head offices at most if not all of our affiliates would exactly be tickled pink by the prospect, to say the least! ;-)
One would be wise to read the CTU's 221 page primer; How To Jump Start Your Union: Lessons From the Chicago Teachers. [LINK] And let's hope the CTU is no stranger in the years ahead here in repeat workshop visits north of their border. Saturday's Toronto Workshop was a great day of solidarity at the grass root level. We enjoyed an invigorating, much needed lively, open exchange of ideas. And after all is said and done, our Canadian and US teachers all have much to teach and learn from each other, in the good fight to protect our students, our profession and our public schools in the challenging years ahead.
* = though of course, I was about half starved by this point too!
** = by "school system" I am referring here to the political and administrative set up.
My Teacher Free Speech Grass Root Renewal Blogsite Manifesto is @ HERE!
My Grass Root Fall 2015 Queens Park Indie Rally Review @ HERE!
My blog on Union Deals: Life With The Lions is @ HERE!
My Teacher Free Speech News Archive 2011-2015 is @ HERE!
On Why You Need a Teacher Union [a good one that is!] is @ HERE!
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