We are moving towards the 11th hour in Chicago. If the CTU and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel cannot agree to a new contract by Monday, 30,000 Chicago public school teachers will go out on strike.
The happenings in Chicago have been, and will continue to be, instructive to public school teachers across the nation. Chicago has been a laboratory for many of the schemes associated with the destructive force erroneously known as “education reform”. Many of us who take the long view of events are hoping that education reform will meet its doom in the city where it all started.
It is the place Arne Duncan made his metamorphosis from retired athlete to education hit man. His friendly basketball games with a community organizer named Barack Obama ensured his spot as United States Secretary of Education when Obama became president. Obama’s 2008 electoral mandate, along with a generous Department of Education budget, helped Duncan become the most powerful Education Secretary in U.S. History.
The result has been a metastasis of Duncan’s Chicago education philosophy across the country. It is a philosophy that celebrates Hurricane Katrina as the best thing to happen to New Orleans public schools, one that seeks to first wipe out and then corporatize all of the nation’s public education systems. Under his watch, the school systems of Philadelphia and Detroit imploded. Children of those cities will henceforward be instructed by deskilled minimum-wage teachers and computer screens. Duncan’s is not so much an education policy as it is a scorched earth policy for public schools.
As Duncan’s handiwork manifests itself nationwide, the teachers of Chicago help point the way to a cure. They are up against a mayor whose ties to both Obama and Duncan are stronger than any other local politician in the nation. If he gets his way, Chicago goes the way of New Orleans, Philadelphia and Detroit. After that, New York and Los Angeles cannot be far behind. Part of the CTU’s cure is a work stoppage, a withholding of the only bargaining chip any working teacher across the nation has left: their labor.
Those of us in New York City must take time to thank and support the CTU and their courageous leader, Karen Lewis. They are fighting an advanced campaign against Duncan’s scorched earth policy. They are manning the gates of the city while those of us in New York and Los Angeles hunker down and hope they can fight off the corporate horde. If they cannot, if the walls are breached, the horde will surely ravage our schools to a degree we have not yet seen.
How we can help:
Brian Jones and Norm Scott say Wear Red on Monday.
Donate to the CTU Solidarity Fund.
Visit the Network of Teacher Activist Groups to voice your support.
While I fully support the CTU, part of me is jealous that it is the Chicago teachers that get to be on the front lines and not those of us in NYC. Our union, the United Federation of Teachers, has been effectively mute throughout all of the high drama in Chicago. Yet, keeping in the spirit of finding silver linings, I am happy that we at least have the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE). MORE will be at today’s Labor Day Parade and you can read the details and meet-up info here.
Unfortunately, the fact I am being kicked out of my childhood home means I will not be able to make it there myself. Hopefully, many others will show up so I will not feel too much guilt.
Teachers of New York City have needed a presence like MORE for a very long time now. While the CTU mans the gates of the city against the reformer onslaught, the UFT has been sharing secrets and street maps to our attackers.
Just imagine if Chicago was saddled with the UFT. How would the last two years there been different?
June 11th 2010: An upstart organization of teachers called the Caucus of Rank and File Educators wins all of the key officer seats in the citywide Chicago Teachers’ Union elections. Karen Lewis of CORE is elected president with a 60% vote. CORE’s platform proposes investment in public schools over school closings and charters; the preservation and expansion of enrichment programs over the myopic obsession with testing; and a professional teaching force with the protections, salary and benefits to reflect it. CORE’s victory was the result of years of organizing teachers, parents and students against the weapons of corporate education reform. They passed around copies of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine in order to educate people in the historical and philosophical underpinnings of the education reform movement. People who were otherwise disengaged became activated once they realized that the goal of Chicago reformers like Emanuel and Brizard is nothing less than the dismantling of public education in their city, with the pieces to be sold off to the lowest corporate bidder.
If the UFT were in Chicago: The ruling caucus known as Unity won another term to lead the Chicago Teachers’ Union, winning a whopping 95% of the officer seats. Their president, Michael Mulgrew, won an overwhelming victory by garnering 43,276 votes out of a total of 32,674 votes cast. Despite rumors to the contrary, Unity leaders assured the press that this mathematical impossibility is indeed possible. The fact that Unity people count the votes had nothing to do with it. Unity’s platform calls for conciliation with the Mayor, whom they supported in the most recent election despite the fact that the he called Unity leaders “hacks” and said they have “less spine than an éclair”. Unity leaders sit on the Boards of Director of various charter school networks and assured their membership that “the tireless work of handing public money off to private millionaires will continue unabated”. They also have promised to work with the Mayor on an evaluation system where 40% of teachers ratings will be based on student standardized exam scores. Yet if they receive a poor rating on that 40% portion, they will be rated “ineffective” overall. According to Unity officials, “this is the best agreement we can come up with without trying.”An opposition caucus called New Action won the remaining 5% of officer seats. They are furious over Unity’s stance on the evaluations. A New Action official today said “40% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on tests? That is preposterous. We will fight to get that percentage down to 39.” Unity officials said that New Action’s proposal is “radical” and suggested that New Action’s leaders “go back to Canada with that socialist agenda”.
Summer 2011: Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children lobbied for, and succeeded in passing, legislation through the Illinois legislature that would require the Chicago Teachers’ Union, and only the CTU, to get at least 75% to agree before calling for a strike. He brags about how shrewd he is while speaking at a convention of billionaire reformer types in Aspen. On top of this, his lobbying allowed local school districts in Illinois to further denude teacher tenure,tie teacher evaluations to standardized exam scores and paved the way for an extended school day. He tried to eliminate collective bargaining for teachers, but that law was defeated, although it served its purpose according to Edelman. Many people, especially Edelman himself, believed he pulled a fast one on Karen Lewis. This idea was swiftly dissipated one year later.
If the UFT were in Chicago: UFT officials locked themselves away in a smoke-filled room in Springfield with state lawmakers and Jonah Edelman. It took days, but UFT officials came out of the room with big smiles on their faces. “We got Cubs tickets!” The union was able to get box seats at Wrigley Field for all 30,000 Chicago teachers. In return, they agreed to an evaluation system where teachers get fired if even one of their students fail a statewide exam, due process for tenured teachers is eliminated and the school day was increased by two hours. Edelman, sweat pouring down his brow, said “It was tough getting them to accept the deal. I originally wanted the requirement to be two students have to fail before a teacher gets fired, but they just insisted on making it one. I also wanted some form of kangaroo court for due process hearings, sort of like they have in NYC, yet those Unity guys insisted that even the appearance of due process was unnecessary. The school day was about the only thing we were in agreement on. Teachers will not be paid for the extra time, of course.” House Speaker Michael Madigan said of the negotiations “I felt bad for the union. Edelman is not even a particularly tough negotiator, it’s just the Unity guys are that bad. It was my idea to offer them the Cub tickets. I felt they should have gotten something.” Later, the Unity guys realized they had been had. The Cubs tickets offered by Speaker Madigan are for October, and everyone knows the Cubs never play in October.
Spring2012: Rahm Emanuel directs his puppet Board of Education to cancel the last 4% raise contained in the city’s contract with CTU. To justify his decision, Emanuel cries poverty despite the fact that millions of dollars meant for the public schools never get there and end up right back in the pockets of the city’s millionaires. In response, Karen Lewis mentions the possibility of a strike and promises that there will be a new contract to replace the one that Rahm broke, which was set to expire June 30. For good measure, Rahm explains that Chicago’s public school teachers are horrible people who fail half of the city’s children and do not deserve a raise. Rahm was steeled by the idea that the CTU would never be able to muster the 75% necessary for a strike. Karen Lewis knew that Rahm was stirring up the beehive of teacher discontent in Chicago, making 75% an eminently doable goal.
If the UFT were in Chicago: Unity leaders pretend to be disgusted by the mayor’s arrogance and viciousness. Articles are written on the union website explaining that the mayor is a spoiled sport and pooopyhead. They reassure the membership that they will do “everything they can” to get that 4% raise. The possibility of contract negotiations are not even mentioned, let alone a strike, dooming the teachers of Chicago to an indefinite period of continuous wage losses as the cost of living competes with the national debt for the fastest-growing dollar value in America. To soften the blow, Unity hacks throughout the internet leave comments on blogs about how teachers should be thankful to Unity for health benefits that were negotiated 30 years ago. They also remind Chicago teachers that their salary allows them to “buy food” and maybe “go to the movies once a year if you are good with money and do not mind three-dollar Wednesday matinees featuring Buster Keaton films”. Teachers should be thankful to their union for being able to live the life of a member of the lower middle class. In the next election, the union supports Rahm for reelection and still, no contract. Unity claims that “no contract is better than no contract at all.”
Summer 2012: Rahm Emanuel and his incompetent lapdog CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard, unilaterally announce an extension of the school day. What will go on in that extra time they do not say. They announce that teachers will not be compensated for the extra time they work, which includes not only the time they intend to tack on to the day, but the time needed to prep for that extra time. Karen Lewis again mentions the possibility of a strike. In order to prevent a strike, an independent arbitrator is called in to make suggestions for a new contract. In his report, arbitrator Edwin Benn said teachers working the extra day should get a 15-20% pay increase for the first year, and a nearly 39% raise over the next four years. Emanuel is stunned that someone would want to pay workers for their work. Emanuel again cries poverty and exhorts the arbitrator to consider the city’s financial straits. It is apparent someone has to, since Rahm cannot be bothered to both run the city and ensure it has money.
If the UFT were in Chicago: Union leaders have had enough. They are sick and tired of their membership having to be paid for every single thing they do. It is so selfish. Educators should do this job for nothing if they are so dedicated. After the mayor reveals his plans for a longer school day, Unity leaders hold a press conference where they explain that the union will not fight to be paid for the extra school hours. “We think it is important to be on the right side of school reform.”, said the union vice president. The teachers of Chicago seem upset. Many we spoke with say they are getting tired of the union selling them out. “Oh, they always say that.”, said the VP, “they will calm down, where else are they going to go? We’re the only game in town.” Even the independent arbitrator said that Chicago teachers need more pay, to which the union VP says “Poppycock. What needs to happen is that we need to score points with the mayor so he could give us a good job after his term is up. It is not about schools, it is about us.”
Fall 2012: The CTU goes on strike.
If the UFT were in Chicago: Do not ever use the “S” word….. Taylor Law, Taylor Law, Taylor Law, are you nuts?