Campaigning for Union Office

by LABOR NOTES STAFF

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.

A TYPICAL VISIT

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.

BUSY, BUSY, BUSY

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.
Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”