CORE Meeting Sets Guidelines

Jackson Potter is the founder of CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators) who now runs the affairs of the Chicago Teachers Union after his activist group scored a stunning victory over the machine of union politics last June. He said it is important to understand that while the CORE leadership has now been elected, there is a clear distinction between a caucus that started actively fighting for public education by protesting school closings that resulted in a massive push back against the Chicago Board of Education's massive privatization drive, and today's Chicago Teachers Union which is representing almost 30,000 members.

To emphasize his point - he mentioned his clothes. During the day as a CTU official he wears business attire in sparkling offices in the Merchandise Mart. But at night he arrived at a CORE meeting in a ramshackle building with dilapitated chairs in cut off slacks, with a biking helmet resting next to him.

"People are confused between CORE and the CTU and I want to clarify that distinction," he told a group of roughly 60 people at the CORE meeting on Monday at Casa Aztlan in the Pilsen neighborhood, a place where one of the first CORE meetings began almost three years ago. "CORE is a caucus that fights for better rights and fights for public education. We created this organization to build a caucus for members to play an active role and not just win an election."

Jackson told the crowd that CORE and the CTU now have a duo role. The teachers union cannot discriminate against any teachers because of political affiliation, race, age or union membership, he said.

"The union can't give favorable treatment to any caucus," Jackson said.

For example, the union cannot promise CORE members preferable treatment to write up grievances faster, he said.

"I intentionally changed clothes to show this duo role, this balancing act," Jackson added.

The first test of the Union leadership's affiliation to CORE came over the CORE listserve when several members asked that the newly elected CTU leadership support a CORE sponsored protest of President Obama's Race to the Top when the president made an appearance in Chicago two weeks ago for a fundraiser. Some members of CORE agreed with the leadership that protesting the first elected African American President could be deemed too "controversial" for many CTU members, although the leadership has taken a strong stand against Race to the Top which demands more standardized testing, more charter schools, and less public education.

Jackson and others have said it is important that such a protest first get the agreement of the House of Delegates, but since no house meeting was scheduled before the protest, only CORE along with CTA workers sponsored the lively, though relatively small protest.

CTU President Karen Lewis, who is still the CORE co-chair with Potter until a new steering committee is elected, said the Union has been working on fighting for the recently displaced teachers by filing grievances and lawsuits including a preliminary injunction against future layoffs and seeking legislative relief.

But the key ingredient to the CTU's survival in the face of massive attacks from the business and government sector is organizing.

According to Lewis, the CTU is currently hiring regional organizers and organizing is the long-term goal of an organization that previously focused on making deals at the top and spending gobs of money on lawyers, with questionable results, such as the firing of former CTU VP Ted Dallas which cost the CTU perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The last teacher's strike was in 1987. Since then the Amendatory Act was passed giving Mayor Daley control of the schools which led to a gradual roll back of collective bargaining and other important teachers' rights earned over the years from going out on strikes.

"We want to move the union in a completely different direction," Lewis said. "We can't afford not to do it."

In terms of the massive teacher layoffs, the recent federal Education Jobs Bill passed into law that will provide about $100 milllion to Chicago to avoid teacher layoffs will not kick in for another month, according to union sources.

Debbie Pope, a CORE member and Gage Park teacher, noted that unfortunately there is no recall element in the current teachers' contract which would guarantee that the teachers layed off be rightfully restored to their former positions.

"The biggest flaw in the contract is no recall provision," Lewis said.

One member in the audience expressed what some other teachers throughout the city are thinking, which is how can the CTU increase its PR campaign where the media frames the question always - will teachers take cuts or allow increased class sizes, rather than note how much money there is available to plug the so-called "deficit." But there are limits to such a strategy when the two major dailies promote fiscally conservative propaganda that includes gutting state pensions, curbing unions and lowering corporate taxes.

"The problem is, the corporate media is not interested in our story," Lewis said.

Interestingly enough, one audience member expressed concern that there would be people to "derail" the CPS Budget hearings this week. CORE organized many speakers at the first hearing at Lane Tech, but not one member of the audience expressed support for the budget "deficit" being used to destroy the third largest teachers union in the country.


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