Strikes, from time to time, work. They do so when the strikers have the sympathy of the public. In the case of the striking teachers of the Chicago Public School system, I doubt that this is the case.
I have an perplexing relationship with unions. As a progressive or liberal, I should love them. As a resident of the city of Detroit, I’m reminded every time I have an interaction with a city worker that’s a member of a union, my blood boils. As a resident of Michigan, I take pride in the fact that without the unionization of workers, the modern middle class would look much, much different than it would today. I’ve worked on an assembly line before (only for a summer), so I’ve had at a minimum, a taste of what an industrial job would be like, and those men and women who do that for a living have my respect. And, to end, the politics in my family verges on the reactionary, and there’s few topics that comes close to eliciting rage as quickly as the evil of unions. All in all, I have mixed feelings towards unions, and I suspect that sentiment probably mirrors that of the country.
So when I read about teachers going on strike in Chicago, I don’t form an automatic judgement. There’s a lot of issues at stake, and while I’m not intimately versed with any of them, I will touch on some of the optics surrounding the situation. This strike, both because of its size, timing and location, will set somewhat of a precedent for public sector labor relations in the years to come. The strike is large, the strike is happening right before the biggest belt-tightening governments across the country have faced in the history of our country, and it’s taking place in a city dominated by Democrats.
Fundamentally, if the public is convinced that the teachers of the Chicago Public School system are on strike because they’re trying to preserve privileges and perks the rest of us could only dream of (such as free health care, immunity from being fired and defined benefit pension plans), the public will turn and it will be Chicago Democrats that break the back of the American labor movement. The GOP is supposed to be anti-union. But if it’s going to be Democrats that deliver the coup de grace to the unions, it will be with far more resounding and final than any ‘right to work’ law a conservative governor could ever hope for.