Chicago Teachers Union Draws the Line Against Cuts and Concessions!
By Editors of The Organizer Newspaper
For more than 18 months, the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has been fighting against the cuts and concessions demanded by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s right-hand man and former chief of staff. The CTU leadership was part of a rank-and-file caucus (CORE) that was voted into office on a platform that rejected the givebacks demanded by Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, in the name of their “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) program.
NCLB — with its “Race to the Top” component — is basically a plan to restructure and privatize the U.S. public school system and break the powerful teachers’ unions. It calls for Merit Pay and teacher advancement based on standardized test scores, while penalizing schools that perform poorly on these tests by restructuring them into Charter Schools (where union contracts and state standards are voided) — a first step toward their privatization.
The top trade union officials in the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), which represent jointly one out of every four unionized workers in the United States, have bought into this NCLB process by and large and have gone along with major components of this corporate assault on public education and on the teachers’ unions themselves.
But in Chicago, the 25,000 members of the CTU have said “Enough!” and have voted by an overwhelming majority (98% of the teachers in the Chicago Public Schools) to authorize a strike, should the talks break down, to demand that the mayor and the district meet their pressing demands. The talks have since broken down — with the district refusing to back off from its drive to cut wages, close schools and impose a longer workday, among other points. The CTU leadership has set September 10 for a strike vote.
CTU Refuses to Line Up Behind Biden
CTU delegates took their struggle, with a plea for visible labor solidarity, to the American Federation of Teachers Convention in Detroit at the end of July. Delegates supported the CTU teachers overwhelmingly, voting a resolution to build solidarity with their fight for a decent contract.
When AFT President Randi Weingarten gave a directive for all convention delegates to put on an Obama-Biden T-Shirt — as Vice President Joe Biden was about to address the gathering — the CTU delegation, expressing their independence in relation to the Obama administration and its policies, refused to put on the T-shirts.
Their action was reminiscent of the AFT convention in Seattle in June 2010, when hundreds of delegates turned their backs on Bill Gates and walked out of the convention hall when he rose to speak to the convention. Gates, who was praised by Weingarten for his commitment to education, has been leading a drive to create Charter Schools and “reform” public education.
This CTU challenge to Weingarten and Biden should come as no surprise. The Chicago teachers have had to take on three prominent Democratic Party leaders from Chicago — Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and current Mayor Rahm Emanuel in their fight for a decent contract. This small act of defiance may appear to be insignificant in the greater scope of things. But it isn’t. It’s a sign of the deep anger simmering just below the surface in the labor movement — an anger that is looking for any avenue, any fissure in the edifice of the house of labor, to break out and be channeled into a real fightback movement cemented in a truly independent labor movement.
As they prepare for a possible strike, the Chicago teachers will have to stand up to the combined pressures of Obama, Duncan, Emanuel and . . . their own top AFT union leadership.
Major Showdown in the Works
The struggle of the public school teachers in Chicago and the CTU is shaping up to be one of the most important labor struggles in many years. The corporate anti-teacher lobby, led by Bill Gates, is pulling out all stops in their effort to defeat the Chicago teachers.
If CTU votes to go on strike, it will be especially important for teachers affiliated with the AFT to organize effective support for the CTU struggle in their union locals and to urge the Randi Weingarten leadership to stand firm on the side of the CTU. While Weingarten issued a statement in support of the Chicago teachers’ union following their 98% strike authorization vote, the week of that vote she’d been in Chicago, where she praised Mayor Emanuel to the skies for his strong commitment to “public-private partnerships” and summoned teachers wanting social justice to hold out till November, when they could go to the polls to vote for Obama.
More worrisome still is the fact that the back-to-school September-October 2012 issue of the American Teacher, the monthly magazine of the AFT, mentions the struggle of the Chicago teachers only once, buried in an article on page 11 alongside a number of AFT districts facing assaults on their rights. Worse still, the Labor Day message sent out by Weingarten on August 31 to all AFT affiliates does not even mention the Chicago teachers. Substance News, a publication devoted to defending Chicago’s public schools, highlights this grave concern, stating:
“One week after a controversial article in the Chicago Sun-Times declared that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would intervene in contract negotiations between the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, a stunning ‘Labor Day Message’ from Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has many Chicago teachers wondering whether Weingarten has been selected to cut a deal on behalf of Rahm Emanuel — and against the members of the CTU, the most militant of the K-12 locals in the AFT.
“The increasing suspicion about Randi’s work not only comes from her history (she was completely committed to the programs of former CTU President Marilyn Stewart and promoted them enormously during the 2008 AFT convention which was held in Chicago), but also from current events. Randi’s ‘Labor Day Message’ … did not mention the Chicago struggle, even though Randi was in Chicago for May 23 and has had a representative at the CTU offices for several months. Additionally, the AFT convention passed a Special Order of Business pledging support for Chicago and other locals under attack. While many delegates to the convention were suspicious at the time, the ‘Labor Day Message’ confirms those suspicions. (September 1, 2012)
As they prepare for a possible strike, the Chicago teachers will have to stand up to the combined pressures of Obama, Duncan, Emanuel and their own top AFT union leadership.
But all is not doom and gloom. Quite the contrary. Rank-and-file caucuses such as CORE (which defeated the pro-Weingarten slate) are springing up in AFT locals nationwide. In San Francisco’s 6,000-member teachers’ union, a similar slate, Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU), challenged the local leadership, falling just 65 votes short of winning the top union offices in an election this past May. EDU locals have been formed in Massachusetts and other states. The task in the next period will be to coordinate the work of these dissident locals to build a national rank-and-file EDU that can enable the membership to take back their union and defeat the concessionary policies of the union leadership.
In the immediate days ahead, though, it is urgent that all union activists and defenders of public education across the United States and internationally answer the call of CTU President Karen Lewis for visible and concrete solidarity, including funds, for the Chicago teachers. They need — and deserve — everyone’s support!