STRIKEWATCH: Will Rahm try to put out this fire with gasoline? Prattle to corporate media about 'illegal' strike could create 30,000 lawbreakers among the city's best educated public servants
By the end of the first week of the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012, some in the corporate media were beginning to pick up the trivialization and nitpicking favored by Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale and his negotiating team and hint darkly that the strike is "illegal" because the teachers are talking about issues that the Board refuses to allow into the union contract, from class size to the right of veteran teachers to recall to air conditioning in classrooms that are forced to operate in Chicago summers as climate change increases its toll.
Vitale — a petulant plutocrat and multi-millionaire whose experience has been as a corporate executive used to issuing orders like a Ruritirian Army general — has been visibly fraying as the contract talks continue and he continues to work in the point position for Mayor Rahm Emanuel because the mayor is afraid to put his hand-picked "Chief Executive Officer," former Rochester New York school chief Jean-Claude Brizard, into the public spotlight.
On a daily basis since just before midnight on September 9, 2012, Vitale has lost his temper with the press and with the negotiators for the Chicago Teachers Union, and collections of his petulant pronouncements are beginning to make the rounds in Chicago. But, in the opinion of many, at least Vitale doesn't sprinkle his orders with F Bombs, like Rahm Emanuel is proud of himself for doing. The unraveling of the leaders of the "one percent" is taking place in Chicago before the eyes of the world. Whether the unraveled is David Vitale on camera, Rahm Emanuel fulminating behind the scenes (and trying to pull media strings that have been cut), or Jean-Claude Brizard quietly collecting his enormous pay while being told to sit down and shut up off stage, the sight is not pretty.
As a result, Rahm Emanuel has his underlings exploring whether he can get the strike called "illegal" and somehow end it that way. But like many in his position since the days of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette long ago, Emanuel doesn't realize he can make what for him is a bad situation even worse.
By September 13, the fourth day of the strike, Emanuel's aides in the corporate media began issuing warnings — under the usual guise of "news" reports — that the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 is "illegal." One of the places that aired that report, in Spanish, was Univision TV.
But if Emanuel believes he can turn more than 26,000 of the best educated citizens (and public servants) in the nation's third largest city into criminals through the same bankrupt rhetorical technicalities that have undermined his credibility so far, his reputation as a loose cannon will go down even further into history within the next few days.
The reason is simple:
Virtually every teacher on strike, everyone working for the CTU (including this reporter, who is a consultant for the union), every union leader, and the leaders of all of the groups supporting the union is already ready for that possibility as well. Whether CTU President Karen Lewis is interested in going to jail for the cause she represents is not even a question. The fact is that she is willing to do so, and if she does thousands of people will be standing by to post her bail a hundred times over.
But Chicago's ruling class in 2012 is nothing if Donald Trump-blind to what is happening under their noses. And on September 13, that happening was a demonstration against the wealth of one of the most prominent of them: Penny Pritzker. More than 10,000 teachers and others marched on Thursday to the Regency Hyatt Hotel in Chicago, highlighting the obscene wealth of the "one percent" and their hypocrisy. The Pritzkers, owners of the Hyatt (in many cases, with their ownership buried Mitt Romney style in Bahamina trusts that mean the family doesn't pay USA taxes) have been behind the austerity agendas of Chicago's public schools since Jay Pritzker, the leader of the previous generation, orchestrated the creation of the Chicago School Finance Authority behind the scenes in 1979.
Veteran teachers remember that one. Board of Education workers didn't get paid at Christmas 1979, and held off striking until February 1980. What the majority didn't know at the time was that behind the scenes a Pritzker was making sure that taxes in Chicago were not raised to cover the "financial crisis" and that CPS was forced into a Shock Doctrine kind of austerity under the supervision of the "one percent" — a quarter century before Karen Lewis and the future leaders of the teachers union were reading "The Shock Doctrine" to learn how that kind of stuff was done.
Rahm Emanuel may be insecure and petulant enough to try and make the legal "illegal." If he chooses to do so, for whatever reasons of ideology, insecurity, and insanity, he will have turned what is already a national cause into an international one. Whether Emanuel's former boss can survive that kind of exposure (after all, what Emanuel has been doing in Chicago is only a continuation of what Arne Duncan began in Chicago long before "Race To The Top") will be decided with the whole world watching in November 2012.