March 2, 2023

“Local 1”: Insight Doc Exposes Chicago Teachers Union

By: Justin Tucker

The right to free, peaceful association and assembly is a cornerstone of the American system. Humans are social creatures and will associate with other humans for companionship, mutual aid, and to leverage power, as labor unions do. Freedom of association as it relates to governments has been tested in recent years. In the 2018 Janus vs. AFSCME decision, the Supreme Court ruled that public sector workers should not be forced to pay union dues. Last year, voters passed Amendment 1 in Illinois, which enshrined the right to collectively bargain in the state’s constitution. These actions are controversial. Some feel public sector unions can cause conflicts of interest and are prone to corruption. Others feel that the right to bargain collectively has no limits, even if the workers’ salaries are paid by taxes.

President Franklin Roosevelt, considered by many to be an ally of organized labor, recognized problems associated with public sector unions. In his 1937 letter to the National Federation of Federal Workers, he wrote:

The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. …Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.”

I was reminded of Roosevelt’s quote while watching Local 1: The Rise of America’s Most Powerful Teachers Union, the latest documentary from the Illinois Policy Institute. It’s a fascinating exposé of the Chicago Teachers Union, an organization that has made headlines in recent years. Like their previous film, Madigan: Power. Privilege. Politics., it uncovers a Prairie State force that possesses disproportionate and pernicious influence.

The organization that became the Chicago Teachers Union has its origins in 1897 at a time when Chicago was a mecca of labor organizing. They were among several groups that came together to form Local 1 of the American Federation of Teachers in 1937. They worked for better pay and working conditions at a time when they were often compensated with worthless scrip. They built up their power and momentum through the years and frequently went on strike. Chicago Public Schools was put under the control of the Mayor’s office by the State of Illinois because of the recurrent disruptions. Many reforms and experiments with school choice were then instituted.

These reforms threatened the power of Local 1 and provoked the ire of a radical cadre of teachers and CTU organizers. They formed a caucus, took control of the union in 2010, and clashed with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who wanted to continue reforms and close underperforming schools. They went on strike in 2012, the first time in a quarter century, and energized teachers’ unions across America to rise up.

The CTU has had work stoppages a few more times since, including during the COVID-19 pandemic when remote learning put stress on families. The strikes and general operation of CPS under the Chicago Teachers Union have negatively disrupted the lives of parents, students, and fellow teachers, some of whom are interviewed on camera. Meanwhile, test scores and enrollment continue to drop, leaving students inadequately prepared. The CTU is also a political machine of its own with a strong socialist tilt, spending more on campaign donations to “progressive” candidates than on representing their members. All of this is very concerning, considering many families in Chicago have no other choices when it comes to their child’s education.

Local 1 makes tremendous use of archival footage. CTU leaders are shown making incendiary statements and praising socialism in their own words. There are also several insightful interviews.  Dr. John Kugler, a former CTU rep, discusses how the union encourages political work during school hours instead of attending to the needs of the students. The film also clearly demonstrates why Roosevelt’s position on public-sector unions was well-founded. Striking, distracted teachers do a disservice to the taxpayers. According to Illinois’ constitution, the state “shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services.” Local 1 shows us that the CTU works against the purpose of public education.

Local 1: The Rise of America’s Most Powerful Teachers Union is available to watch at