The strike is undeniably one of the most significant labor struggles in decades. What is at stake is not only the working conditions of Chicago teachers but also their job security and preservation of their union. Moreover, the teachers are fighting for the survival of public education in the face of the campaign being waged by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, formerly the head of the Chicago public school system, to Charterize and Privatize the nation’s school system
Under his plan and the one being pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago School Board — an appointed group made up of corporate CEOs, real estate magnates and bankers — “failing schools” would be closed and turned over to private interests or made charter schools employing non-union teachers and free from state supervision.
As this historic fight continues, the corporate-driven propaganda mills are working overtime to demonize teachers and especially their leaders. During the September 11 widely watched “Morning Joe” MSNBC program, Joe Scarborough, a former member of Congress, repeatedly castigated the teachers’ union leaders as “stupid.” The Washington Post denounced them as well and was joined by both of Chicago‘s major newspapers — the Tribune and Sun Times — in placing the blame for the inevitable disruption of life in the city squarely on the teachers. But as Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis explained, “The teachers had no choice.” And the 98% vote authorizing the strike proved conclusively that the rank-and-file were at one with their leaders — in fact, the rank-and-file are the leaders.
According to Lewis, the city’s proposed evaluation scheme — basing teachers’ advancement and job security on students’ standardized testing — could result in 6,000 teachers losing their jobs. She called the plan “unacceptable.” How could any union worth its salt not agree?
We live in the age of austerity, and unfortunately too many unions across the country have bought into the employers’ demands for cutbacks, concessions and “shared sacrifices,” resulting in massive layoffs, cuts in wages and benefits, and worsening working conditions. Now, at last, the Chicago Teachers Union has stepped forward and said, “Enough!” Their fight is our fight, and we in the Emergency Labor Network urge all unions throughout the country, joined by defenders of public education, parents, students, and community allies, to join this historic struggle and demonstrate solidarity with the embattled teachers, including providing financial support.
There is plenty of money available to meet the needs of all of the Chicago teachers and provide students with a quality education. For starters, the big banks and corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars, having been bailed out by the same federal government that refuses to pour more money to improve and reinvigorate the public school system. Taxes on the wealthy, scandalously low even when compared to the Clinton years, need to be substantially increased. But this is not what is on the table in Chicago. Instead, ruling circles are demanding that the teachers, not the millionaires or billionaires, assume the burden of the debt and deficit.
If there is one thing that this strike should clarify for anyone who still believes that the Democratic Party is the party of the U.S. working class, just consider: Democrat Rahm Emanuel is leading the charge against the CTU, Democrat Arne Duncan is behind him 100%, and Democratic President Obama, who famously said in a message to labor, “I’ll walk with you on picket lines as president of the U.S.,” appointed both of the above to high office and supports their policies.
Isn’t it time for labor to organize independently of both major corporate parties and do what unions have done in other countries and that is establish a party that genuinely represents workers and the great majority?