Labor Day in Chicago draws more than 18,000 to rally and march... Huge support for upcoming Chicago teachers' strike.... 'The only way to handle a bully is to stand up to him,' Karen Lewis told the crowd

More than 18,000 people packed Daley Center on picture perfect Labor Day. The only thing missing were the two key players in the CPS/CTU saga — Chicago's mayor and his hand-picked schools "Chief Executive". The sea of red was dotted with green AFSCME shirts, blue Action Now shirts and more. Families with young children, numerous union groups and CTU teachers gathered in solidarity to fight for “The Schools our Children Deserve”. Substance spoke to many people during the rally and march.

In addition to the printed signs and tee shirts, creative "signage" like that pioneered by previous strikes and by the recent Occupy movement was evident by the hundreds during the Labor Day rally and marches in Chicago. Substance photo by John Station.Before the rest of this report, for those who want to jump to one of the highlights of the rally part of the day, the speech by Karen Lewis, as well as the introduction by Michael Shields, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, is available on the CTU website at:

But as Karen Lewis points out every time she speaks, the day was another day of democracy, and not one story can quote everyone who was there with a single purpose. So we will continue to try at Substance.

Part of the crowd at the Labor Day rally as seen from the southwest corner of Clark and Washington streets in Chicago. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.Ahndrea Sprattling graduated from Eugene Fields Elementary School and Jacqueline Vaughn High School. She is a self e employed professional pet sitter on hiatus from Harold Washington College and lives in Rogers Park. “I came to show my support for CTU," she told Substance. "I went to CPS schools all my life and it is a shame that the CEO of CPS and the Mayor of Chicago will not give the union a fair contract. They are the reason they want children to have a better education to fulfill their dreams. I don’t want a strike but I understand CTU needs to do what they have to do and I’ll support them.”

Aundra Thompson, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 241, is a bus operator. “I came down to support CTU. We are in the same situation. We don’t have a contract. We have to deal with the Mayor just like CTU. We’re paralleling on what they are doing." ATU 241 has 6,500 members and Local 308 has 3,000.

“They are trying to take three holidays, freeze pay, increase health care and 30 members a month are getting fired. My opinion is it’s for them to make room for 400 part time employees with no benefits. Straight time, no pension and no dental. They promised they’d be full time after the el completion is finished in two years but we have part timers who have been part timers for six year. We are having Union leadership issues over increased work. We are not getting much help they should be better organized.” He also commented that a lot more of their workers should have been represented today.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis drew thunderous applause when she told the crowd, "We are fighting for the soul of public education..." Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Brian Mulheran and Joe Gelardi came to state that Local 73 Sheet Metal Workers support the teachers. Mike Lawery, Bricklayers union said “I’m here to support my daughter who is a member of CTU.” He also told this reporter “I’d like to see them sit down and work out their differences. I think that Mr. Brizard and Mr. Emanuel need to stop trying to bully the union. What the teachers do is too important to negotiate through the press. I think the teachers have made good proposals and are willing to talk and I’d like to see them sit down and work at their differences. In our negotiations we have a good relationship with our people and negotiate in good faith. I don’t see that in these negotiations”.

One of the main reasons for the rebirth of the Chicago union movement is that CORE won the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union in the 2010 union election. Above, CORE members carry the banner during the Labor Day rally on September 3, 2012. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Karen Webster, came with about three dozen SEIU Local 73. “We came out to support labor and labor unions,"she told Substance. “I think there must be some improvement. We hope CTU will see an improvement in relations.” A number of speakers spoke at the rally. William McNair, Citizens Action Illinois talked about active participation in movements for social justice and described the days as a day of celebration, dedication and demonstration. “We are united for dignity and fair contract. It’s because of you we have better schools. This is about what kind of community we are going to live in. They can only win if they divide us. What affects one of us affects all of us.” Matt Eidein, SEIU Local 73 said “It’s about time we stand side by side as brothers and sisters to bring support. It doesn’t matter that we have a contract with the board. Until you have a contract with the board then there will be no peace. There is nothing stronger than labor getting together."

Chicago Alderman Nick Sposato (a union firefighter before he was elected to represent the 36th Ward in City Council) was well received after proving his loyalty to the unions and his friendship with the CTU many times against the imperiousness of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Henry Miller told Substance: “We as public workers stand in solidarity with the teachers.” He talked about the agenda is to try to scapegoat public servants of the city. “We know what they have in store for the teachers they have in store for us. The teachers are just the first in line. My two daughters for 12 years went to school here in Chicago. In solidarity with the teachers all of us here today are teachers.” AS the beginning of the Chicago school strike of 2012 draws near, teachers are creating more signs putting their struggle against Rahm Emanuel and his plutocratic cabal into historical perspective. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.Nick Sposato, 36th Ward Alderman and firefighter said “Teachers you are responsible for our most valued assets, our children. I am a product of CPS and my children are products of CPS. Good luck everybody I stand with you.”

Matt Julian, president of the Letter Carriers stated “This is not what we supported when we supported Rahm. We support the teachers 100%. We are under attack if they are vilifying teachers, nurses and firefighters, we’re all in trouble. We stand behind you 100%. Our members voted unanimously to support CTU.” He talked about how Congress broke the postal service. “What we have here is a man made crisis.” He went on to talk about how the (CPS) Administration called for a longer school day without funding it. “They are diverting money to charter schools”. “Brizard, strike should not be an option. Shame on you Brizzard! Shame on you Mayor Emmanuel!” He told the crowd “We will stand with you, march with you and picket with you. If we have to for the students we will shut it down!”

Jitu Brown, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) had this to say. “We support the CTU and this fight is about more than just a contract it’s about what type of Chicago we want to live in.” A representative from National Nurses United said “We see gunshot victims, rapes, the students that CPS turns their backs on become our patients in Cook County. One-third of our children live in poverty. We need public school systems more than ever. We are holding on to it with both hands. CTU teachers stand on the last line for students. Chicago teachers we, they need to take it to the streets. The nurses of Chicago salute you. We stand in solidarity. Like you save lives, we save lives.”

May M has been a CPs janitor for 16 years at Curie High School. “Our kids are learning in unsanitary conditions because of their consequences of budget cuts”. “We need polices like Responsible Bidders for fair wages and benefits. We need elected officials that put our communities first. Janitors are standing in solidarity with you as you fight for a fair contract.” Wal-Mart United Electrical and Radio Machinist member Yolanda Dickinson said “We are here to join with contract workers of public schools. We are fighting for warehouse rights for our children, we are here with you 100% in this fight”.

One of the speakers at the rally on Labor Day 2012 was Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), who was leading the struggle even before the founding of CORE and became one of the earliest community allies of the new CTU leadership. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Rev, Yaegar, United Auto Workers 2330 and UAW 2320 is also an Episcopalian Priest. “God did not farm out creation to a non union contractor. Our boss is a carpenter.” He talked about the importance of the children. “Students learn because they are inspired by their teachers.” He also stated “If come Monday you have to strike, St. Andrews Church will be the strike headquarters for the four neighborhood schools”.

The President of the Fraternal Order of Police spoke next. “We stand together with you and you stand together with us. CTU Chicago teachers are not babysitters. Chicago teachers are professional educators and Mayor Emmanuel needs to treat you like professional educators. People of Chicago; do not forget the teachers are standing for you in a fight to benefit all of labor. We are proud public servants not indentured servants.”

Another view of Karen Lewis delivering the speech that has gone across the world, calling out Rahm Emanuel as a liar and a bully. Substance photo by John Station.Massive cheers roared through the crowd as CTU President Karen Lewis took the stand. “This fight is for the soul of public education in Chicago and everywhere.” She talked about the fight for the children and a fair contract and described Mayor Emanuel “He’s a liar and a bully and the only way to handle a bully is to stand up to them.”

Lewis continued to underscore the work. "Brothers and sisters," she told the cheering crowd, "we did not start this fight…Karen Lewis did not get a strike vote. That was the hard work of every single member of the CTU… This fight is not about Karen Lewis. This fight is about the very soul of public education, not only in Chicago but everywhere. …"

Some of the more than 18,000 Labor Day marchers, most of whom were wearing "CTU red", surrounding Chicago's City Hall on September 3, 2012. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who along with his appointed school board had spent the previous year trashing public schools, public school teachers, and the union, was in the anti-union state of North Carolina for the national convention of the Democratic Party. Substance photo by David R. Stone.Pointing to City Hall looming over the crowd, she cited the improvements of the 2011 - 2012 school year in CPS and noted how the work of the teachers contrasted with the lies told during the year by Chicago's mayor. "We did that without a longer day," she continued. "We did it after they stole our raises… The commitment to the children of the city of Chicago is in our hearts, in our minds, is in the work we do…. It is the work we do..." she thundered as the crowds cheering made it almost impossible to hear her words.

“We know there is a finite amount of resources," she added, "but we did not create that problem. When you come after our children you come after us”.

When the speakers were finished, the teachers and supporters marched to and around city hall. The building was surrounded and the line still backed up to Daley Plaza. People took to the streets chanting and cheering. They then marched through the streets to CPS Headquarters at 125 S. Clark with chants and cheers and songs of solidarity. Rahm must have heard the noise all the way in North Carolina because it’s been reported he is returning late Tuesday instead of on Friday.