Chicago Teachers' Rally There have been significant developments in the Chicago teachers' struggle against so-called education reform in the US Earlier this year the teachers voted 90% in favour of strike action over a new contract which imposes 20% more hours, while cutting a promised pay rise in half. This is only the latest attack on the public school system in Chicago, which is being turned over to charter schools while spending on public schools is cut. The contract dispute was referred to an arbitrator who has this week found in favour of the union's assertion that they cannot be asked to work longer hours without more pay. He has recommended a package of pay increases to compensate the teachers for their extra work. While the arbitrator's report was pending, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) was attacked by the authorities for going to a strike ballot, now that the report is out they are attacking it because they do not like its findings. Chicago teachers have been in the front line of the fight against neo-liberal reform ever since Paul Vallas was appointed as CEO of CPS in 1995. He ushered in high stakes tesing and rapid privatisation of services, which resulted in a widening of the gap between students. Above all he attacked the CTU. Since that time Vallas has left to re-organise the school sytem in New Orleans in the wake of the hurricane disaster – destroying public schools there, sacking all the public school teachers and setting up a system of charter schools. He went on to re-organise the Haiti school system after the hurricane in a typical neo-liberal trajectory of adminstering neo-liberal ‘solutions’ after disaster strikes – in what Naomi Klein describes as the shock doctrine. Paul Vallas was succeeded by Arne Duncan who carried on the same policies and is now Obama’s education supremo. Ironically it was Chicago university which first spawned the dominant neo-liberal theory and the first job of the Chicago boys – led by Milton Friedman was to impose their reforms in Chile after the brutal coup in 1973. According to an excellent article in the UK Guardian blog, the state government is trying to say that the changes to the teachers' contract are being used to pay off the deficit, but the Chicago Teachers Union has discovered that the money saved is being used to pay police officers to patrol public schools. The article goes on: Unions in America have been so diminished over the years that membership is concentrated in a public sector rump. Their struggles can thus appear as sectional, even where they have much wider significance. Union members in Madison, Wisconsin won widespread support. In the end, however, they lost the initiative by falling back on a narrow client relationship with the Democratic party. Pushing a recall vote against Governor Scott Walker, they haemorrhaged members while the new anti-union laws were passed, then lost the recall vote. Chicago teachers don't even have the option of appealing to the Democrats, who are their antagonists in this case. But if they are to succeed, they will need allies. The unions have strategic power, but they are too small to fight in isolation. Some Chicago unions found that reaching out to Occupy last year helped them resist rightwing attacks. If this strike goes ahead, it will be the first such strike since 1987. But the stakes are much higher. Teaching activists say this struggle recalls the Patco dispute. When the airline workers union failed in that battle with the Reagan administration, it was a setback for the whole American labour movement for decades. A failure in this case would potentially be much worse than Patco. On the other hand, a success would partially redeem the heavy defeat inflicted on unions in Wisconsin, and signal a fundamental shift in American politics. And more than this: from Sichuan in China to Asturias in Spain, labour protests are growing in scale and militancy. America's influence is such that a return of the labour movement in the US would tilt the balance in favour of workers globally. Teachersolidarity could not agree more.