Striking for the Common Good

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WHEN TEACHERS IN Chicago reached an agreement with the city to end a historic 11-day strike Thursday, it marked the closure of a labor dispute that pushed the boundaries of traditional contract negotiations – one that went far beyond fighting to increase salaries.

Setting itself apart from the dozens of other rallies, protests and strikes by teachers in more than a dozen places this year that centered on things like pay and class sizes, educators in Chicago insisted that the contract include something that has historically been outside the purview of negotiations: social safety net support for the city’s most vulnerable students.

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“For an outsider who is not sensitive about a lot of stuff poor folks need or the needs for public education, when you see the demand for librarians, nurses and social workers, people say, ‘What they hell is wrong with this union?'” says Lee Howard Adler, a labor, criminal law and civil rights practitioner who teaches at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

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