This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Chicago teachers last week elected CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators), a group that has worked along side the community to fight school closings, teacher firings, and privatization over the past two years, to head the 30,000-member Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).
In a five-way race this spring, CORE finished second to the incumbent slate headed by current CTU president Marilyn Stewart by a handful of votes. But in the two-way runoff CORE won by a landslide, winning nearly 60% of the votes cast and sweeping all nine citywide offices and all of the 23 vice presidencies for elementary and high schools.
The United Progressive Caucus headed by Stewart used all the advantages of incumbency, out spending the opposition by a huge margin. But the tide of anger at Stewart’s failure to defend teachers from the corporate inspired Duncan school reform known as Renaissance 2010 swept all before it.
Pauline Lipman from Teachers for Social Justice describes CORE as " an explicitly anti-neoliberal, social justice union and a key member of the Grassroots Education Movement in Chicago, a coalition of teachers, parents, students, and community organizations fighting Renaissance 2010 and for equity and justice in education."
President-elect high school chemistry teacher Karen Lewis sees public education as under assault from corporate interests. "The business people do not have a clue, but they are the ones calling the shots," Lewis said in Catalyst Chicago.
The Chicago Fox affiliate reported on CORE Monday morning.
With schools facing budget cuts, increased class sizes, and more teacher layoffs on top of the continuing program of privatization, CORE faces major challenges. However, its history of rank and file mobilization and partnership with grassroots community forces put it in a strong position to meet this test.
This election has important implications both nationally and here in Philadelphia. CORE has been critical of the AFT’s national leadership for its response to the Obama Duncan program which mirrors the worst aspects of the Chicago Renaissance initiative.
Here in Philadelphia the rise of CORE is a challenge to both the PFT leadership and rank and file. Agressive organizing, alliance with the community, and a clear message about defending public education are the keys to mounting an effective resistance to our home grown version of the Renaissance.