Seattle stands with the CTU

September 18, 2012

SOME 100 labor officials, union members, teachers, activists and supporters came out to a forum at Seattle's Labor Temple to build solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike.

Dan Trocolli, a substitute teacher, member of the Seattle Education Association (SEA), and founding member of the Social Equality Educators (SEE), kicked things off via Skype from Chicago, where he traveled to help support the strike.

"The picket line here has a totally different feel than any other picket line I've been on before," he described. "The teachers are so confident because of all the prep work they did and their connections with the community. The public support they have is obvious and overwhelming."

Several union officials came to express their solidarity with the Chicago strike and outline its importance for workers in Seattle. "This is a defining moment in labor history," Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, said. "Corporate America and their servants are trying to crush us. The CTU is an inspiration to us all and we fully support them in their struggle to defend public employment and education."

"Non-educators are weighing in on a discussion that they know nothing about," Karen Strickland, president of the American Federation of Teachers at Seattle Community Colleges, explained. "We stand together with all teachers to protect and provide the education our communities need and deserve. Thank you, CTU, for standing up for all of us."

Leaders of the Tacoma Education Association (TEA), which stood up to a court injunction to win its strike last year, came to show their support. "We want you to know that Tacoma teachers support you 100 percent," said Adrienne Dale, president of the TEA. "Your stand is awe-inspiring and humbling. You are fighting the same battle we fought last year. Stay strong. You're on strike for all of us and we thank you."

"Like the CTU, we had to strike to win," added Angela Morton, TEA vice president. "The administrators on the other side of the table had never been in a classroom but they weren't listening to us. We need to stand up to be heard. We're professionals who know what we need to educate kids."

DAVID YAO, vice president of the Greater Seattle Area Local of the American Postal Workers Union, explained the larger political attack on public sector workers:

The political establishment and media blame workers for problems, but they really just want to privatize public services and turn them into businesses. They know that the biggest obstacle to Corporate America taking everything is unions, so they're coming after us. But when you fight back, people notice. It's encouraging to see public-sector workers stick their necks out and fight together to win. It's an inspiration to all of us.

Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher, member of SEA and founding SEE member, exposed the hypocrisy of those in power:

You would think that they would put forward educational reforms that they actually support, but they don't support these reforms--not for their kids, who go to elite private schools. Rahm Emanuel and Bill Gates have two sets of policies: one for their kids and one for ours. That's why the CTU is on strike and why it resonates with parents and students everywhere. Our contract is up at the end of this year and we're going to need more of the CTU in our union. In Chicago, our power is on display.

David Freiboth, executive secretary of the Martin Luther King County Labor Council (MLKCLC); Jonathan Knapp, SEA president; and Gary Coffey, shop steward in Teamsters Local 117 at Davis Wire Corporation, which recently waged an 87-day strike; also gave solidarity greetings.

But the highlight of the forum was hearing from Kirstin Roberts, a preschool teacher in Chicago and member of CTU, who described the strike via Skype and thanked everyone for their solidarity. "We have been simply overwhelmed and moved by the outpouring of support, in Chicago and from all over," she said. "These types of meetings really help to bolster our spirit and resolve to fight to win."

"Everyone in Chicago is wearing CTU red," she explained to the Seattle audience, which was also clad in red. "People put signs in their windows and fly red streamers. Even the charter school teachers here are wearing red, pumping their fists, and giving us donuts on the picket line. Thanks to rank-and-file pressure, school janitors engaged in a one-day solidarity strike."

Roberts also described how much teachers have already won through striking. "We stood up for ourselves, for respect and dignity. Our union today is stronger, more active, more conscious, and more tied with the community than ever before."

"But the outcome is not clear," she warned. "This is only round one. There are further battles ahead, but we've pushed Rahm back and we've only just begun to fight. At the beginning of all this, we didn't know if we could do it, but we tried and we've won," she said as the audience erupted in cheers and applause.

Seattle labor activists are hoping to develop a union solidarity network out of the forum to organize actions in support of the CTU strike and to build solidarity with local labor struggles.

The forum was sponsored by SEE and endorsed by the MLKCLC, SEA, AFT Local 1789, International Longshore and Warehouse Local 21 in Longview, Wash., and the Seattle International Socialist Organization.

SEA donated $1,000 to CTU, ILWU Local 21 donated $500, and several hundred dollars was raised from the audience at the forum.

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