Teachers in Chicago, Verizon workers, and students in Quebec recently proved that not only are strikes and general resistance and dissent essential to any democracy, they also work.
Despite ongoing efforts by private education lobbyists and a complacent national media working to smear teachers as being selfish, greedy leeches on society, educators in Chicago secured a major victory for themselves and their students.
After just nine days on strike, the Chicago teachers union fought for and won a contract that includes hiring more than 600 additional teachers in art, music and physical education, making textbooks available on the first day of school, and bringing the percentage of teacher evaluations that are decided by standardized test scores down to the legal minimum of 30 percent.
CTU is the third biggest union in the country, and this was the first time in twenty-five years the union went on strike, but most importantly: it worked.
CTU President Karen Lewis called the agreement “a victory for education.”
Similarly, when unions representing 43,000 employees went on strike, employees won a three-year agreement that covered job security, retirement benefits and other issues. CWA, which represents 34,000 Verizon workers, said the new contract preserves existing job security language prohibiting layoffs for those hired before 2003, preserves the pension plan for current workers and restricts the company’s right to assign workers too far from their homes, according to the AP.
It’s important to note that many Verizon workers feel this deal didn’t go far enough in protecting workers, and Verizon won some big concessions in the process, including the fact that members will now have to pay a portion of health insurance premiums, workers retiring after January 1 will pay the same premiums as active employees for their retiree medical benefits, and new hires will receive 401(k) plans and not pensions.
Pam Galpern, a technician in Local 1101 in New York City, told the Indypendent the proposed contract deepens the two-tier system.
“New hires already aren’t covered by the job security protection that pre-2003 hires have, and they don’t have the same retiree health benefits as those hired before 2008, and now they won’t have a pension,” she said. “They’re incrementally trying to dismantle the contract we have.”
However, the deal does guarantee an 8 percent raise over four years, preserves the existing pension plan for current workers and includes an $800 ratification bonus.
Many Verizon employees are rightly disappointed in the deal, but the fact that Verizon bowed at all to any of the unions’ appeals indicates strikes are still a powerful tool for collective bargaining, and if workers feel slighted by this latest contract, the option remains to strike again and push the goal posts to make better, bolder demands.
Students in Quebec showed how to draw a line in the sand and then refuse to accept half measures in the negotiation process. Following mass unrest, the tuition increase that triggered protests in Quebec was cancelled last week by the new government.
“Together we’ve written a chapter in the history of Quebec,” said Martine Desjardins, head of the more moderate university student association.
“It’s a triumph of justice and equity.”
Premier Pauline Marois ran partly on the promise that she would repeal the tuition hikes, and made good on her word, making the tuition hike cancellation announcement during a news conference after a cabinet meeting.
Tuition will go back to $2,168—the lowest in Canada, The Canadian Press reports.
This is by no means intended to be a complete list of recent strike victories, but rather a microcosm, or a demonstration, of why unions and strikes are so essential to any democracy. Workers and students should take comfort in news of their fellow global citizens’ victories against the forces of privatization and corporate greed, and also feel encouraged to make bolder, bigger demands. After all, strikes work.