Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Campaigning for Union Office


Our new book, How to Jump-Start Your Union: Lessons from the Chicago Teachers, shows how activists transformed their union and gave members hope. This excerpt tells how the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) campaigned for top offices, and won.It’s one of the universals of organizing—first you make a list.Elementary teacher Alix Gonzalez Guevara remembers staying up late transferring data about each school from a district-published book into an Excel spreadsheet: region, address, how many teachers, how many students.

This became a Google document, an online spreadsheet available to everyone working on the campaign. The schools were grouped by regions. Within each, a couple of lead activists took responsibility to find people to do outreach at each school.

Whenever someone went to leaflet or hold a meeting at a school, they’d document it in the central spreadsheet. They also entered their current percentage estimate of support at the school: an educated guess based on conversations with members there, what the delegate (steward) said, and how many had signed the petition to get CORE’s candidates on the ballot.


On a typical visit, the CORE activist might spend a half-hour in the parking lot talking with teachers about the issues.

Then she would go inside, chat with the clerk, stuff the mailboxes with the latest CORE flyer, and leave a personal letter for the delegate, with a phone number if he wanted to set up a meeting for candidates to meet teachers and answer questions.

“We had a group of 20 who were available to go debate with the other caucus candidates at the schools,” said HowToJumpStartYourUnionAd2history teacher Jackson Potter. “The decentralized approach allowed us to run circles around the opposition, who only deployed the four officers.”

Over the course of the campaign, the caucus hit most schools three times and some five times. The tracking made it easier to prioritize larger schools, ones that hadn’t been visited much, those where CORE’s forces were weaker, or schools where the caucus wanted to build up a base of potential activists.

At caucus meetings, activists would report on the schools they had visited and pick up five or more new ones. Sometimes they would role-play, reporting what new questions they were hearing and brainstorming how to respond.


But while they were campaigning, CORE activists also continued their push to attend every school board meeting and school closure hearing. They picketed the mayor, organized marches, and held candlelight vigils.

After all, CORE’s activist identity was its campaign platform. All the events gave the candidates opportunities to make their case publicly, tell their personal stories, and prove their words were backed up by action.

“We always made sure we wore a CORE button, a CORE shirt,” elementary teacher Sarah Chambers said. People would “look around when a school’s closing, and they wouldn’t see any UPC [the incumbent caucus].”

The school closure fights were the reason math teacher Carol Caref was able to get so many teachers at her school to vote for CORE. “We were always afraid we’d be next on the list,” she said.

“CORE was camping out all night in front of schools threatened to be closed, joining parents and kids,” said social studies teacher Bill Lamme, “while the union was sitting on its hands and being a little too generous in their compensation packages for themselves.”

To learn much more, order the book.
A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #419, February 2014. Don’t miss an issue, subscribe today.
More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”