Thousands of school teachers in the US city of Chicago have gone on strike for a second day, putting pressure on Rahm Emanuel, the city’s Democratic mayor who formerly served as chief aide to President Barack Obama.
Up to 26,000 teachers and their supporters took to the streets during the Monday evening rush hour after failing to reach a settlement demanding better pay, health benefits and more resources to serve students.
The strike in a district where the vast majority of students are poor and minority put Chicago at the epicenter of a struggle between big cities and teachers unions for control of schools.
David Vitale, Chicago School Board president, said board and union negotiators were yet to bargain on two of the biggest issues, performance evaluations or recall rights for laid-off teachers.
Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, confirmed this was due to the district not changing its proposals over the strike action which was voted for by 90 per cent of the city’s staff body earlier this year.
“This is a long-term battle that everyone’s going to watch,” said Eric Hanuskek, a senior fellow in education at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
“Other teachers unions in the United States are wondering if they should follow suit.”
Obama’s home town
Chicago is the third-largest US school district and the walkout has created a problem for parents who have been left struggling to place their children with alternative supervision.
The strike by has created a political headache for Emanuel just as he has decided to take a larger role in his former boss’s campaign.
Up to 350,000 children in Obama’s home town have been put at risk and city officials admitted that unsupervised children living in areas with a history of violence were exceptionally vulnerable.
It is likely that the ramifications of the strike will affect districts engaged in similar debates at a time when labour unions have been losing ground nationwide.
Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, was quick to criticise Chicago teachers for turning their backs on students and accused Obama of siding with them.
White House reaction
Jay Carney, White House spokesman, said Obama was monitoring the situation in his home town but was not eager to take on a role in the dispute.
Obama has urged accountability in teachers – a move that union leaders have opposed.
For instance, Obama’s administration has favoured pilot programmes that challenge current practices, rewarding schools who try new approaches and has pushed for longer school days.
Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, is a former head of Chicago Public Schools who pushed for changes that unions opposed.
“The unions are a strong part of the Democratic Party and when you alienate the unions, then you begin to pull the
Democratic dominance of Chicago apart,” Dick Simpson, a political science professor at University of Illinois at Chicago, said.