Like Wisconsin, Chicago Strike Outcome Could Affect Unions Everywhere

Chicago, IL – Mayor Rahm Emanuel isn’t an even subtly conservative politician, but he still has at least one thing in common with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Experts are saying that whatever happens in the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike will affect education unions across the country, and that if Emanuel emerges as the winner of the debate, education professionals nationwide will suffer.

The Chicago Teacher’s Union strike has been raging all week, drawing national attention and leaving 350,000 kids without an education. It’s a particularly unique situation, because it pits Democrats against Democrats, in spite of the party reputation for solidarity. Some experts have opined that the education struggles in Chicago represent a greater conflict with education reform and union power across the country. Those same experts now worry that the outcome in Chicago will set the stage for similar power grabs elsewhere in the US, the results of which will depend on who wins in the Chicago stand-off: Emanuel or the CTU.

According to NBC News, if Emanuel emerges victorious, “then it’s another setback for labor and validates the push to impose stricter measures of teacher accountability.”

“This is being looked at very carefully by school districts across the country,” said Kathleen Hirsman, who teaches education and labor law at the Loyola University School of Law. “There’s the issue of the diminishing strength of teachers unions and who is going to come out the winner. And how the Chicago Public Schools resolves this will be very instructive to other school districts now looking at implementation of state laws requiring teacher evaluation based on student performance.”

The conversation boils down to a simple question. Who is better equipped to educate our students? Elected officials impose new standards and issue threats while teachers resist the loss of power and freedom in the classroom.

“It comes down to who’s going to decide how kids are educated,” said James Wolfinger, an associate professor of history and education at DePaul University. “Who is the expert? Who should have the greatest voice?”

The Chicago strike has drawn nation interest, and the timing could not be more appropriate, what with Illinois-native Barack Obama up for re-election in a few short months. Unrest within his own party in his own state could spell some trouble for the POTUS, but only if it is not resolved properly.

“This is a very important strike for the teachers union,” said Richard Kearney, a political scientist at North Carolina State University. “If they can come out of this thinking they’ve made up some ground, that should give some encouragement to teacher’s unions elsewhere who are facing similar situations.”

Interestingly, a compromise in this situation is a loss for everybody. If both sides stalemate, “Then the fight just goes on elsewhere,” Kearney said. “And none of this meant a great deal.”