Investigative Journalism that is as
Radical as Reality Itself.

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.
July 07, 2015
ANDRE VLTCHEK
In Ecuador, Fight for Mankind; In Greece, Fight for Greece!
Nile Bowie
Obama’s Pacific Trade Deal Trails Behind China’s Development Vision
Binoy Kampmark
Warrior Economist: the Varoufakis Legacy
Shamus Cooke
Unions Must Act Now to Survive Supreme Court Deathblow
Dave Lindorff
The Greek People Have Voted ‘No!’ to Austerity and Economic Blackmail
Bruce K. Gagnon
Sanders Bullshit Meter Goes Off the Charts in Portland, Maine
Mateo Pimentel
The Pope’s Letter: Neoliberalism and Fukushima
Raouf Halaby
Beware Those Who Speak With Forked Tongues
Ron Jacobs
The Grateful Dead: The Ship of the Sun Bids Farewell
Jonathan Cook
Hasbara Industry: Why Israel’s Army of Spin-Doctors is Doomed to Defeat
Rev. William Alberts
Charleston: a Reality Check on Racism in America
Ellen Brown
A Franciscan Alternative: the People’s Pope and a People’s Bank?
Colin Todhunter
The Warped World of the GMO Lobbyist
John Wight
Who Will Join With Greece?
W. T. Whitney
Colombia’s Fensuagro Union is Revolutionary, Persecuted, and Undaunted
Mel Gurtov
Keep It in the Ground, Obama
July 06, 2015
MICHAEL HUDSON
Greece Rejects the Troika
Steve Hendricks
Will FIFA’s World Cup Sexism Ever Die?
Binoy Kampmark
Oxi in Greece
Gareth Porter
How US Spin on Access to Iranian Sites has Distorted the Issue
Peter Bach
ISIL and Ramadan in the Rag
Paul Craig Roberts
A Rebuke to EU-Imposed Austerity
Robert Hunziker
Looking Inside Fukushima Prefecture
Quincy Saul
The View from Mount Olympus
ADRIENNE PINE, RICHARD JOHNSTON, FIONA WILMOT, et al.
Seven Reasons to Scrap the USA’s $1 Billion Aid Package to Central America
Norman Pollack
Capitalism’s Self-Revealing Practices
David Macaray
Could Justice Scalia Be the One to Rescue Labor?
Linn Washington Jr.
Storm Smashes Chris Christie’s Presidential Candidacy
Benjamin Willis
US and Cuba: What Remains to be Done?
Robert David Steele
The National Military Strategy: Dishonest Platitudes
Joan Roelofs
Whatever Happened to Eastern European Communism?
Weekend Edition
July 3-5, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Pentagon’s “2015 Strategy” For Ruling the World
Jason Hirthler
Going Off-Script in St. Petersburg
Rob Urie
Greece and Global Class War
DIMITRIS KONSTANTAKOPOULOS
The Future of Greece Without Illusions
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Ecuador Fights for Survival – Against its Elites
David Rosen
White Skin Crisis
Jerry Lembcke
Nobody Spat on American GIs!
Stavros Mavroudeas
The Greek Referendum and the Tasks of the Left
Michael Welton
The Tragedy of Harper’s Canada
Andrew Levine
Dumping on Dixie Again
Richard Pithouse
Charleston (It’s Not Over)
Arun Gupta
What Does It Mean to Call Dylann Roof a “Terrorist”?
Brendan McQuade
The Right Wing Resurgence and the Problem of Terrorism
Chris Floyd
Heritage and Hokum in Rebel Banner Row