Solidarity for Chicago teachers in Portland
TEACHERS, STUDENTS, labor activists and community members gathered at a forum at the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) office in Portland, Ore., on September 20 to stand in solidarity with Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).
The forum included an impressive list of speakers who voiced their thoughts and perspectives on the strike in Chicago and what it means for educators and workers in Oregon. It was hosted by Portland Association of Teachers and was co-sponsored by Oregon Save Our Schools, Portland Jobs with Justice, Rethinking Schools and Social Equality Educators. PAT sent $1,000 to the CTU in solidarity.
Adam Sanchez, a teacher at Madison High School in Portland, opened up the forum by recognizing the impact of the CTU strike. "The CTU's historic fightback has opened the door to a new kind of labor movement--a social justice, social movement unionism that could mobilize entire cities in defense of workers' rights and in defense of our kids and our schools," he stated.
The room of excited attendees were able to hear a firsthand account of the strike via Skype by Kirsten Roberts, a pre-school teacher and member of the CTU. She emphasized the CTU's continued dedication to the greater community: "From the get-go, we saw this fight as a fight that couldn't just be carried out by union leaders or elected representatives, but that had to be a struggle based in every single school in our system...Rank-and-file organizing, from building to building, was a big part."
As the audience cheered, various other speakers continued to speak on the importance of teacher, parent and student alliances in the fight for public education. "There is a concerted effort," said Susan Barrett, a member of Oregon Save Our Schools, "to wear parents out and keep us busy so we can't unite and fight back, but parents need to find a way to say, 'Enough is enough"...We have to find time. We must educate, agitate, organize and fight."
Oregon has seen this type of community support with the victorious Reynolds teachers strike last spring, as Margaret Butler, a member of Jobs with Justice, pointed out: "The reason the Reynolds teachers won was because the parents were there...Everywhere I look, workers are in crisis. The only way we win is if we unite all of these struggles in a big enough way to turn this around."
Heather Conroy, executive director of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503, outlined the connections between the attack on teachers and schools in Chicago with the attack on workers everywhere: "Ninety percent of our 50,000 SEIU members are having their contracts expire in June of 2013...This moment for us to see the Chicago teachers take a stand has been incredibly invigorating...I really believe the teachers have put some inspiration under us. We plan to carry through what they started."
"The challenge for us in Oregon," Richard Sanders, a member of the Oregon Education Association added, "is to build on the hope we've seen in Chicago and Wisconsin, and shape it into clear direction and clear programs that can make this world the type of place we want for our children...I hope that meetings like this can get us to the place where we can keep on talking but start doing together."
In wrapping up the forum, Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain said:
Something is happening in this country that's very exciting...and it's not the union movement--it's a workers' movement. What we're seeing is a birth of community and unions coming together, and working together and creating something that's powerful enough to push back against the 1 percent; powerful enough to push back against the mayor of Chicago. We haven't seen that in a very long time. Chicago is just the beginning.
"The lesson for me," said Margaret Butler, "is that we need to keep doing what everybody said: building connections and the solidarity through our community."
The forum represented a dedication to continue that very process in Oregon, with more strength than before.