We Will Not Strike: The Black Revolt in the Chicago Teachers Union
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In the 1960s, black teachers in Chicago were systematically discriminated against by the school system’s Board of Education. The Board used a subjective oral exam to deny the vast majority of African-American educators certification. Although many uncertified black teachers taught full time at Chicago Public Schools, they were paid significantly less and were vulnerable to arbitrary transfer and termination. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) claimed to represent uncertified teachers, but severely limited their ability to vote on contracts and in union elections. Union leaders also relegated the demands of uncertified black teachers, prioritizing the concerns of certified white teachers and non-educational support staff. Both certified and uncertified black teachers rebelled against the Board of Education and the union in the late 1960s. Black teachers drew from the tactical traditions of black unionists in the first half of the twentieth century (strikebreaking, wildcat strikes, and all-black organization) to ultimately force the CTU to prioritize the grievances of black educators in 1969. Furthermore, the labor activism of black teachers in these years embodies the junction between a number of trends in black unionism: migration into the public sector, the expansion of black caucuses, and heightened militancy. In light of this convergence, historiographical conceptions of “the long seventies” should be revised to emphasize the catalytic role of black workers.