There's some recent history for this phenomenon here in Jersey. Governor Chris Christie made war against the teachers union over pay, working conditions, and tenure. He swore up and down he wouldn't back down from the fight. But, in the end, the tenure bill he signed into law was most like the proposal put forth by the NJEA: it kept tenure, seniority, and due process.
Newark teachers, in the thick of their own contract negotiations, are closely watching the developments in the Chicago teachers strike.
Several issues under negotiation in Newark — where teachers have been without a contract since 2010 — are the same as the sticking points in Chicago, including new teacher evaluations and pay based on experience and degrees, said Joe Del Grosso, the Newark Teachers Union president. He said his members could be swayed by the outcome in Chicago.
“You have members who look at the news,” he said. “If the teachers there prevail in their way, the teachers here would want to prevail here, also. It’s just human nature.”
Yet Christie is now running around the state and the country, patting himself on the back for "standing tough." He pretends he won the fight, because he cares about a political victory far more than he cares about actually passing his ideologically-based agenda. But the fact is, on policy, he lost; worse, the unions, and a good number of their members (not enough, in my opinion), know this to be true.
And now the same situation might be playing out in Chicago. We'll see what the final deal turns out to be; will Mayor Rahm Emanuel have to give up a fair bit of his agenda to get the CTU to come to terms? Rahmbo, like Christie, is first and foremost a political animal; he sees the public gravitating toward the side of the teachers and will almost certainly make the calculation that he had better do what's necessary to end this quickly. All indications are that he is already paying a serious price for not being reasonable; how much will he give up to make this go away?
No matter the outcome, he is bound to spin it like Christie: it's a "win for the children," and an indication of his leadership. The question will be whether he really got significant concessions. Make no mistake: Christie got very few. And that's got to make reformy politicians around the country nervous about the outcome of the Chicago strike: will they go 0-for-2 in the post-Wisconsin world?
Because, if they do, it's going to empower teachers and their unions in a way that puts the reformy-backed politicians on the defensive - which brings us to the new "it-boy" for the Democratic party, Newark mayor Cory Booker. If the Emanuel and Christie playbook is to bluster a bit, then back down significantly, why would Booker do any differently? Granted, his wealthy backers have a lot riding on the installation of charters; Supermayor will definitely be feeling the pressure to keep opening up those virtual schools for K12, Inc. (although, at the rate they are going, the company may tank by then ).
But the teachers of Newark have got to be looking at the Chicago strike coming right after the NJ tenure battle, and they've got to like what they see. A united, smart, tough local can make life very difficult for a mayor, even when big money pours in to stop them. The reports of the death of teachers unions, it appears, have been greatly exaggerated.
Let's give this a few days and see what the final outcome is. But we may genuinely have reached a turning point in the War On Teachers. And that's got to give these guys pause.
They may have kryptonite! But will they use it against me? Hmm...