[Chicago Teachers Union Strike ’75: Substitute Teachers]

Footage of the 1975 Chicago Teachers Union strike and a group of substitute teachers participating. The strike lasted 11 days and won a 7.1 percent raise. Additional wins include further reduction in class size, maternity benefits improvements, and paid dental insurance.

00:00Copy video clip URL Video opens in the midst of a demonstration. Teachers are on strike in front of a school with banners that read: “Subs won’t Scab for Hannon” and “Subs Demand Justice Now!” People are yelling, “Scabs! Scabs!” A police officer is on the site. A narrator says: “Across the nation teachers are on strike. Today the Chicago teachers go into the second week of their strike. Unemployment and inflation have been eating away at the wages and standards of living of teachers and other working people all across America. Last week unemployment in Illinois reached 9.9 percent, the highest point since the Great Depression. This fall, the Chicago School Board, like other employers, is attempting to save money and weaken the teachers’ union with cutbacks and layoffs. Teachers say ‘No!’ The schools are closed and the teachers are on strike supported by Operation Push, other community groups, trade unions, and substitute teachers. For the first time substitute teachers have organized themselves. For the second week they too are walking the picket line at schools all across this city.”

01:19Copy video clip URL Footage of strikers blowing whistles and yelling angrily to teachers in the school building, “Scabs!” “Why not stand out here with your fellow teachers? They’re fighting for you!”

01:57Copy video clip URL Interview with George, a teacher on strike. The interviewer asks: “This is the fourth time I remember teachers being out on strike in Chicago. What’s the relationship of substitutes to strikes in the past?” George answers: “In general the substitutes have supported every strike, but the strikes have occurred in the winter and by that time the subs were at school so they just stuck with the school. The thing was the subs weren’t visible at those schools and everyone assumed they were like the other teachers, were going to get the same benefits from their contract. The trouble is the settlement is always sold out to subs and nobody knew it because nobody knew we were there in the first place.”

02:32Copy video clip URL “Are most substitute teachers in the CTU?” “Most are in the CTU because the policy according to Mr. Healy [Robert Healy, Chicago Teachers Union President] has been not to sign up the substitutes. He told us about two weeks ago he instructed his delegates not to enroll substitutes in the CTU.”

03:02Copy video clip URL “How do regular teachers feel about this?” “Well I don’t think most of the teachers know that the subs aren’t in the union. One reason we’re here is to tell our side of the story to the rest of the teachers. We’ve been organizing the subs all summer. This fall we’ll put a handle out for subs, we’ll have special workshops for substitutes, things that subs need that haven’t been taken care of before. We’re also going to work more closely with teachers in the schools to make things better for everyone in the system and make the subs a better part of the whole teaching process.”

03:57Copy video clip URL George continues: “Most of us would like to be in the union on some kind of fair terms. Right now they have us paying 100 percent of the regular teachers dues even though our salary is only 60 percent of that the other teachers make. We don’t get any representation in the union house of delegates. There’s no other way we can have a voice in the house of delegates. We’re hoping to get that voice and a fair proportion of dues to pay.”

04:34Copy video clip URL Footage of strikers. Interview with a teacher who says he is a regular, not a sub. He says he is striking because he and the teachers want quality education, specifically focusing on class size, fringe benefits and other situations that make the school a better place for the kids, a more learning environment. Question: “How do you feel about the substitute teachers who aren’t in the union yet out here today supporting them on the picket line?” The man answers: “we appreciate their support. Without the sub the system, can’t run. Without them learning diminishes. Substitutes are a key part of our contract.”

05:42Copy video clip URL “What can the union do for subs?” “Well, I’m hoping they will give them higher pay and more benefits.”

06:02Copy video clip URL An interview with female striking substitute teachers. “What are the demands the union negotiates for you?” “For Lane 1, Step 1 pay and for 1200 full-time substitute teachers. Healy told a group of six of us at a meeting, I think on August 28, that he didn’t intend to work for that first demand–the Lane 1, Step 1 pay per diem. He said he can’t get that percentage of a raise for subs. In essence he was saying he wasn’t going to work for one of the demands that was actually in the contract. He said even the 58 subs who are in the union weren’t consulted in any way in terms of whether or not these demands satisfy the needs of substitute teachers.”

07:23Copy video clip URL “What kind of demands would the subs like to see?” “The first is Lane 1, Step 1 pay per diem. One good day’s work is worth on good day’s pay. The other thing is hospitalization, we don’t have any. Holiday and vacation benefits. In addition to that, an attitude from the schools that gives substitutes more respect.”

08:09Copy video clip URL Footage of petitions being signed, teachers talking to passerby about their issues, gaining support. The interviewer asks what the petition is for. The striker says it’s for support of the subs and their problems. “Many teachers are not aware of all the issues, that we no longer have access to hospitalization, no holiday pay, vacation pay, we’ve lost all these things.” The passerby tells the striker she should tell the teachers who don’t come out to strike to stop making excuses. Commotion erupts. Strikers yell and blow whistles.

11:12Copy video clip URL A striker sings a protest song, “Which side are you on? Which side are you on? They say in old Chicago, there are no neutrals there, they’re either standing on the line or standing toward the doors.” Footage of strikers singing and protesting.

11:50Copy video clip URL Striker George is asked if anything good will come of this strike for subs. He says, “I don’t know if leadership has recognized that we deserve better pay and benefits that have been taken from us, but at least we’ve become better organized and we’re gonna go back into the school to work with the other teachers and work for one another so we’re not sitting alone messed over every time we go into school. At the least, that’s a big thing.” “How will you get your demands met?” “Well, we’ll work with other teachers and the union to make sure this doesn’t happen to us again. We’ll set up our own plan for hospitalization. 400 of us don’t have hospitalization. They said they’d join any plan that would be a group plan. We’ll produce a handbook, we’ll do workshops, a special session for people.”

13:15Copy video clip URL “Do subs have a special organization to try and work these things out?” “Yeah, Substitutes United for Better Schools. Some of us are in the union and a lot more will be. We’ll build all year in the schools.” The interviewer thanks George, and the two smack the palm of their hands in a gesture of shared success. The protestors sing a protest song. “We’re gonna roll right on….”

13:58Copy video clip URL END TAPE.


1 Comment

  1. Michael Grosse says:

    Funny how things don’t seem to change. Education is important and the first to get dumped on. Loved the video work. In video’s early life.

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