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Editorial: The future of the Chicago Teachers Union

Since we began reporting on huge the internal crisis in the Chicago Teachers Union two months ago, some of our readers and friends have asked us a simple question: “Why bother?” Above (at microphone), retired Toledo Federation of Teachers President Dal Lawrence speaks in favor of the Chicago Teachers Union's "Fresh Start" program during a press conference at the CTU offices on February 25, 2008, two days before the Chicago Board of Education voted to reconstitute six Chicago schools. ON February 27, 2008, the Board voted without discussion or debate to reconstitute Orr and Harper high schools, and Copernicus, Fulton, Howe, and Morton elementary schools. At the press conference above, the union asked the Board to make it a partner in getting rid of "failing" teachers from "failing" schools, and Dal Lawrence told the media he had helped fire more teachers than any school superintendent in Ohio, even though he had been a union president. The "Fresh Start" program, which was never presented in full to the membership of the Chicago Teachers Union, is one of several controversial policies that have been implemented without oversight by the union's members or House of Delegates since Marilyn Stewart became CTU President. Under Fresh Start, the Chicago Board of Education has been given unprecedented powers to fire tenured teachers in certain schools.

With the majority of the members of the CTU viewing the current union leadership as both terminally corrupt and embarrassingly stupid, the legitimate question is: “Why bother?”

Consider, however, what things would have been like this school year if the CTU had led a strike to ensure that further school closings (under “Renaissance 2010” or any other corporate privatization attack on public schools and democracy) were stopped and the existing schools improved.

How much more stability would Chicago’s school children have had if principals had been forced to give reasons for ending the careers of young teachers, instead of just being able to “click” them out using a mouse at a computer?

How much safer would the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund be if the leadership of the CTU were celebrating the years of union service from its retired members (as most unions do) rather than serving up hostility toward retirees that the union president never shows towards the Board of Education and those who are destroying public schools?

We could go on, but the simple fact it, there is no organized alternative. For three years ending last summer, Marilyn Stewart and the other leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union campaigned for their re-election charging that mistakes by Stewart’s predecessor, Deborah Lynch, had made things much worse for the union’s more than 30,000 members.

Among Stewart’s many promises were to end the ability of principals to terminate Provisionally Appointed Teachers (PATs) with the click of a mouse; to restore health care benefits that had been eroded; and to stop the Board from taking away union members’ jobs by closing or reorganizing schools.

After a tumultuous August 31 House of Delegates meeting at which she refused to count the “No” votes, Stewart appeared before the media to announce that the delegates had approved the contract she was proposing. Her mendacious comments were interrupted when more than a hundred delegates began pounding on the door chanting “No!” That was because the majority of people at the meeting knew that had the “No” vote been called, Stewart’s contract would have been rejected in 2007 — just as Deborah Lynch’s first contract was rejected in 2003.

After railroading the “Yes” vote through the House of Delegates, Stewart and her people then railroaded the “Yes” vote through the referendum in the schools on September 10. By the middle of September 2007, Chicago’s teachers were locked into the longest contract in their history (five years) with a minefield of unpleasant surprises awaiting them.

Since then, the CTU, once one of the most powerful unions in the USA, has lurched from crisis to crisis, from lie to lie, and from disaster to disaster. By February 2008, Mayor Daley and his hand picked Board of Education were confident enough in their power to close or otherwise destroy 18 public schools, the largest number since Daley was proclaimed dictator of CPS in 1995. Privatization is moving faster as the quotas for “Renaissance 2010” are increased, and the Chicago Teachers Union must mobilize and intelligent response to the destruction of public education in Chicago. Now. 



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