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STRIKEWATCH: SCAB is anyone who crosses a picket line of a union authorized strike

What is a scab? For decades, the question for most Chicagoans has been an abstraction, something to try and learn about by going to Wikipedia. While some of us who had watched the attacks on workers for the past quarter century or more could say with authority that a guy like John Kass of the Chicago Tribune is a scab (because he crossed Tribune worker picket lines to earn his current job more than a quarter century ago), there has been confusion because of the paucity of strikes the past few years.

One of the most melodramatic examples of scabbing came in the middle of the 13-day Chicago Teachers Union strike in October 1983. General Superintendent of Schools Ruth B. Love, who had been brought in to run Chicago's schools from Oakland California, proclaimed that she had to open three schools for the sake of high school seniors who would need credits to graduate. She announced that she would devote a day to encouraging the opening of the three schools, Piccolo Elementary (on the northwest side), Whitney Young High School (on the west side) and Dixon Elementary (on the South Side). Love needed a major police escort in order to enter the three schools through large picket lines of striking teachers. Above, Love is escorted through the union picket line at Piccolo while strikers carry signs, which included the slogan "Ruthless and Loveless" describing Love's approach to the teachers and their union.As the Chicago Board of Education and Chicago's mayor continue to play word games and with fire following the massive strike authorization vote by the members of the Chicago Teachers Union, it looks more and more like the union will be on the picket lines rather than in the classrooms the day after Labor Day 2012. Despite all the punditry and the fulminations of the editors of the Chicago Tribune (and lesser apologists for the plutocracy across the city), the burden for forcing the strike on Chicago will be in the lap of Chicago's union-busting mayor, his school board, and those who cheered him one during the 14 months since Rahm Emanuel took office in May 2011.

The first act of the Chicago Board of Education appointed by Rahm was to break the contract of the unions and deny school workers the four percent raise they had been promised. The plutocratic apologists in Chicago's corporate media simply repeated the platitudes and lies presented to the Board of Education on June 15, 2011 by Tim Cawley, a former Motorola executive with no Chicago teaching experience or Illinois educator certification. But Cawley, because of the special rules applied to Chicago under Illinois law, could become one of the most powerful executives in the third largest school system in the USA overnight, by mayoral edict, without knowing anything about teaching, education, or children's learning. And Cawley's mendacious Power Point presentation, because of the corruption of Chicago journalism by the summer of 2011, was simply presented by the majority of corporate reporters as fact, the first of many Power Points that would bend and break Chicago school policy in the coming months.

Striking teachers and other school workers often brought their pets and children to the picket lines during the 1970s and 1980s. Above, a union dog during the 1983 strike, at the time Supt. Ruth Love claimed that strikers were using "attack dogs" against her attempts to open three schools and comparing the Chicago Teachers Union's members to the police of Birmingham Alabama who used dogs against civil rights marchers 20 years earlier. Love left out the fact that both the strikers (about half Chicago teachers were African American by 1983) and their leadership (CTU vice president Jacqueline Vaughn became a major public spokesman for the union in 1983) were completely integrated and not a white supremacist mob. Love's "Birmingham" comment was ridiculed in the media, which contrasted films of striking Chicago teachers at Dixon (where most of the pickets were African American women) and the Birminghan police. Love's comment was one of the things that cost her her job when the Board of Education voted, the following summer, not to renew her contract.By August and September 2011, Chicago's rookie mayor had declared war on Chicago's public school teachers, bashing the public schools, holding up as examples fraudulent charter schools (like Noble Street and UNO), and even going so far as to arrange for protesters supporting his policies to be bribed to preach from their pulpits (August 25, 2011) and march outside City Hall (September 9, 2011) supporting Emanuel's push for the "Longer School Day." Ironically, while Emanuel went to war against Chicago teachers (even at one point saying "Fuck you Lewis" to CTU president Karen Lewis and then spending the next 12 months sulking and refusing to talk to the president of the largest union representing Chicago workers), he found out he wasn't so tough when the city's nasty and enormous drug gangs went to war on Chicago's streets, increasing the city's murder rate to the highest levels of the 21st Century. Like most bullies, Emanuel tried to pick on those he thought couldn't or wouldn't fight back, while backing down against the real punks. (Pause: Can anyone imagine Rahm Emanuel walking up to one of the leaders of one of Chicago's drug gangs on a corner, alone, late one night and proclaiming, "Fuck Jeff Fort!" or "Fuck David Barksdale!"?).

But when the picket lines go up at every Chicago public school the day after Labor Day, many honest people will still be asking what it means to cross a picket line and what is a "SCAB"?

The answer is simple.

A scab is anyone who crosses a union picket line.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the current "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools, Jean Claude Brizard, have spent weeks recently proclaiming that the unions representing all the other workers inside Chicago's schools have "settled" their contracts and hinting that all of the lunchroom workers, engineers, and custodians will open the schools when Chicago teachers and other CTU members strike the day after Labor Day. Brizard's underlings have also been telling lunchroom workers (represented by Unite HERE), custodians and security workers (represented by the Service Employees International Union, SEIU Local 73) and the operating engineers will be "taking case of the children" when Emanuel orders the schools opened in September as the strike begins. Aside from the fact that such an attempt would be both illegal and dangerous, it may be the "Ruth Love moment" for both Emanuel and Brizard.

What happened in October 1983 in Chicago has been written out of the official history books, but was a signal moment for Chicago unions. Two years earlier, President Ronald Reagan has supposedly broken the will of public workers unions to strike by breaking PATCO, the air traffic controllers union (which, ironically, had supported Reagan in the 1980s presidential election). But in 1983, Chicago had the first general strike of all Chicago school workers, as the Chicago Teachers Union, under the leadership of President Robert M. Healey and vice President Jacqueline Vaughn, led a 13-day strike of the "Coalition of Chicago School Workers" representing more than 20 unions against CPS and then-Supt. Ruth Love.

The "Ruth Love moment" came when the Superintendent, apparently believing her own media clips, proclaimed that she had to open some schools (as is always the case with scabs) "for the sake of the children." The next 24 hours were signal in the history of Chicago (and have therefore been erased from the history books, except lately for the Chicago Teachers Union and in the pages of Substance). The most melodramatic example of scabbing came in the middle of the 13-day Chicago Teachers Union strike in October 1983. General Superintendent of Schools Ruth B. Love (who had been brought in to run Chicago's schools from Oakland California) proclaimed that she had to open three schools for the sake of high school seniors who would need credits to graduate.

Late one afternoon, Love announced that she would devote the following day to encouraging the opening of the three schools, Piccolo Elementary (on the northwest side), Whitney Young High School (on the west side) and Dixon Elementary (on the South Side). Love, whose offices were at 1819 W. Pershing Road (which was also being picketed) was going to lead scabs through union picket lines. The challenge was thrown down, much in the manner that Rahm Emanuel has been proclaiming his manhood the past year by cursing at Chicago teachers.

Love needed a major police escort in order to enter the three schools through large picket lines of striking teachers. Love was escorted through the growing union picket lines at Piccolo, Whitney Young, and Dixon while strikers carried signs, blew scab whistles, and hooted her. The signs included the slogan "Ruthless and Loveless" describing Love's approach to the teachers and their union. By the end of the day, Love had lost it and told the TV reporters that the pickets, most of whom at Dixon were African American women, that never since Birmingham Alabama during the civil rights movement had a black leaders been treated so badly and that she had been attacked by "vicious dogs" brought by the picketers.

By midnight that night, the city was laughing at Love, as TV reporters played over and over photographs from the dramatic attacks on civil rights marchers 20 years earlier in Alabama contrasting them with the Chicago pickets, most of whom were African Americans like Love, at Dixon where Love claimed the attack dogs had gone after her.



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