Reading about the current strike in Chicago and the impending one here, I’m reminded of two that I experienced from different perspectives. One was a strike of clerical and technical workers at the university where I was working in my mid-20s. I was an editor at a research project and thus classified as “managerial and professional,” but it was work that was made enjoyable by productive and cordial relations with the “c+t” workers, some of whom had become my friends. I was lucky to be able to avoid crossing the picket line by working at home, but the office itself wasn’t able to function. What I remember from the episode was the lasting rancor and the enduring hostility of the staffers toward the administration. I believe the strike hastened the departure of the president and led to union relations becoming paramount in the trustees’ strategy. Peer institutions, seeing how polarizing the strike was on our campus, surely followed suit and made labor issues priorities in their presidential choices. To what extent has this dynamic contributed to the skyrocketing cost of college tuitions? Hard to say but worth pondering.
Striking teachers remind me of an earlier strike. We’d just moved back to Philadelphia and I was set to start 10th grade at an academically selective top-notch public “magnet” school, the kind I was lucky to get into after floundering in a less-challenging private school. But the teachers went on strike at the beginning of the year, and it was a long one, distressing for a kid new to town and eager to jump into a new academic setting. One think I remember: the school district arranged for TV feeds of lessons, which I found too awful to watch. The biology presentations were given by the teacher whom I had once the strike was over, and his in-class teaching was as excellent as his all-district monologues were dreary. The realization that I’d missed weeks of superior instruction because the city and the union couldn’t come to an agreement rankled me.
Decades later, I’m an educator myself, and the parent of a child whose teachers will most likely be on strike. My child is as lucky as I was, because we have a faculty of dedicated mentors who’ve made LFHS the best school it can be. We have a board that cares about the quality of our school but also knows the limits of available funds. We have residents who understandably are going to resist, in their rhetoric and their voting patterns, increases in taxes. I envy no party in this dilemma, nor do I propose a way out of it. All I know is how harsh a work environment can be after a strike, and how important it is for teachers to know that residents, and especially the parents of their students, appreciate all they do. With time winding down, I hope that those involved in the negotiations will keep our kids in mind and find a way to avert the ugly situation that’s just begun in the city.