Chicago you are not alone... World-wide support grows for Chicago Teachers Union strike

The already historic Chicago school workers’ strike is still on. As I write this, my understanding is that support for the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 from around the USA and around the world continues to grow, and that readers can learn more about that at the CTU website. This true class war brought to the forefront nearly all of the realities of US schooling today:

Some of the more than 20,000 teachers and others who marched up Michigan Ave. in Chicago on September 13, 2012 to protest the continued tax giveaways to the world's richest people, including TIF subsidies to the Hyatt hotels, which are owned by Chicago's Pritzker family. The slogan 'TIFs are for kids' is a play in the Kix are for kids, targeting the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts which drain money from the public schools (which are always broke than) and enable the mayor to give millions of dollars to corporations and the nation's richest people. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.*the coming nationally regimented curricula,

*anti-working class high-stakes exams which don’t measure learning but do deepen segregation between teachers and students, and divides each group against itself,

*merit pay, akin to piece-work bonuses using fudged up science as proofs,

*the vital role of school as a baby-sitting backup for employers,

*the relationship of schooling and cruel poverty,

*the attacks on tenure, seniority, school closures, and, especially, ruthless layoffs in a time when more than 20% of the nation is jobless and 2 million, mostly poorly educated, people are in jail.

Some of the community leaders speaking during the rally in Chicago's Grant Park at the time of the march on the Regency Hyatt Hotel. Last winter, as Substance reported then, Mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered the arrest of Occupy Chicago people — including nurses — from the site where the above speeches were being given. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Moreover, the strike highlights the unity of the wings of the US ruling class on issues that are absolutely critical to them: mis-education, wars, bailouts, and torture. The direct line from Rahm Emanuel and his appointed school board composed of Chicago’s elites, to Arne Duncan, to Obama, and Mitt Romney heaping praise on the Rahm regime is proof enough.

The courage of Chicago’s school workers also shattered more than three decades of demoralization in the working class.

The strike went far beyond the massive, but hollow, Occupy Wall Street movement in showing without question that this is class war with the government acting as an executive committee and armed weapon of the rich, a real corporate state.

That is more than matched by an organized Chicago Teachers Union which has a broadly democratic hierarchy and knowledgeable, and acknowledged, leaders. In short, while the strike has many ideas–respect, justice, jobs, income, anti-racism and more–its moving idea, imputed or known, is class war.

In that context, direct action at a critical workplace, indeed the centripetal organizing place of de-industrialized American life, school, shows that nothing moves when labor, in solidarity, walks away and defends the jobs of united members and their allies.

The strikes’ many valuable lessons for students and the entire US population are far more important than another week of drudgery: teaching to the new tests attached to the not-so Common Core.

The strike united tens of thousands of Chicagoans across lines of race, age, industry–those divisions being some of the Achilles’ heels of every workers’ movement.

Despite the deception of the for-profit media, surveys say that a majority of Chicagoans support the strike as well–a result of persistent patient organizing, true organizing, that appeared suddenly in the eyes of the for profit press, but that Substance editors knew would come to fruit long ago. It’s a qualitative leap–a philosophy lesson in how things change: quantity becoming quality. Chicago support is so powerful that even Fox News felt compelled to report it.

As the strike enters week two and the arrogant, also brittle, Rahm Emanuel stages another of his predictable middle-school fits, we can also see what is–and is not--happening, but could happen anyway.

NEA’s convention passed a motion to support the strike last July, as reported in Substance.

AFT sent President Randi Weingarten to the strike. She mouthed support.

Joe Biden who spoke enthusiastically to both the NEA and AFT conventions this summer said nothing although his stump speech, “Follow the Money!” seems appropriate these days. (§ion=Article)

Rahm Emanuel insists that Obama backs him: "I want you to understand, the president has weighed in," Emanuel said. "Every issue we're talking about regarding accountability of our schools, quality in our schools to the education of our children, is the core thrust of Race to the Top."

Little could be more glaring than the fact that Obama single-handedly conducted the second, elephantine, auto bailout without congressional support, but he won’t bail out the schools.

What is not happening is the two big school workers’ unions, the National Education Association and the parent body of Chicago’s Local One, the America Federation of Teachers, moving fast to support this heroic job action.

NEA has not sent its rank and file leadership, the NEA Representative Assembly delegates, a single word of support for the strike. Rather, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel ($465,000 a year) travels the nation on a bus tour with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and, sometimes, Obama, to back the Democratic candidate who ratcheted up the Bush No Child Left Behind project in schools with the meth-inspired Race to the Top.

Now, with the threat of an injunction dangling, the leaders of NEA and AFT who declared a historic partnership in San Diego four years ago (reported in Substance) are not doing what should be done: organizing to spread the strike to other urban areas that AFT represents and, in NEA’s case, to areas like LA where a merged local is in place and New York where Weingarten’s caucus still runs the show.

This is not an unknown tactic although, granted, few people in either union remember how to actually lead a real strike. NEA’s Local One, the first a la Chicago, a Michigan local north of Detroit, formed as a multiple association bargaining organization. When one local went on strike, as often happened in the 60's, 70's, and 80's, local leaders routinely responded to threats of injunctions with the reality of a much larger strike.

Be clear: the only illegal strike is a strike that fails. When judges meet masses of organized workers, determined to control their work places, able to take the reins of the value they alone create, the definition of an “illegal strike” can quickly become a legal “Job action against unfair labor practices.”

In addition to backing the strike with spreading direct action, NEA and AFT could take away a prime element of boss’ power–hunger and foreclosures. With about 4.3 million organized school workers on the AFT and NEA rolls, even a dollar from each of them, perhaps each adopting a Chicago teacher or family, could erase that threat in 48 hours.

But NEA and AFT top bosses are not doing that. Why?

Just as there is a direct line from the strike to the reality of class warfare, so is there a direct line to empire’s wars.

The education agenda is a war agenda: class war and imperialist war.

Part of the ideological drive to sharpen control over the nation’s schools is the very real promise of perpetual war in the midst of an empire that even former dedicated cold war hawk Zbigniew Brzezinski, in his book “Strategic Vision,” says is in rapid decay, now organizing chaos.

Any country engaged in the US’ numerous wars, where more than half the total US budget goes to warfare (the known budget, setting aside the unknown, like the Central Intelligence Agency—the President’s private army) would want, to one degree or another, to use schools as human munition factories promoting witless forms of patriotism and, especially, in the words of Chalmers Johnson, teach so little history that “Americans cannot connect cause and effect.”

To a degree, that worked, and to an equally powerful degree, the strike counters that, blows back hard.

What does that have to do with the NEA and AFT lack of support for the school workers marching on picket lines when, as we know, nearly every teacher-strike has this in mind: “I Don’t Want to Strike, But I Will”?


NEA and AFT tops are determined to elect Obama, above all else. The electoral campaign is disrupted by the “embarrassing” strike. Teachers, who typically give Democrats tens of thousand of volunteer hours--the unions give them hundreds of million of dollars--might decide not to vote Obama.

Why this devotion to electoral work? Because it keeps the members, who commonly believe in it, busy, it creates a spectacle, and serves as a reason for the labor leaders to exist. Nobody, however, ever voted the rich out of their money as the wife of Chicago’s Albert Parsons, Lucy, said again and again.

The last thing NEA and AFT’s upper national ranks want is a mass, class conscious movement, a la Chicago, growing up around them.

Why? Because it would make them irrelevant. Their job depends on selling labor peace, the work of their members to employers (who these leaders describe as partners) in exchange for dues income. That is precisely the historical exchange: domesticated labor for the life of a contract for money–the money that in part pays Van Roekel that $465 thousand and probably made former NEA president, Reg Weaver a millionaire–$696,949 in his last year of office.

That, however, is not their only source of income and they know it. While they sell neutralized schooling, they also sell, and get paid for, the empires wars.

NEA and AFT’s heads serve on bodies like the National Endowment for Democracy, little more than a front for the CIA. Substance editor George Schmidt’s book on that, “The AFT and the CIA,” would be a useful primer for doubters.

NEA’s Reg Weaver retired at another connected group, Education International, the inheritor of the cold war’s CIA run international teacher union. He was joined there by other former NEA and AFT presidents, their salaries unknown.

Why do that? Why be Quislings and sit in friendly circumstances with ruthless killer spies of the empire?

For the same reason the American Federation of Labor has done it for a hundred years and more: The idea that if other nations’ workers do worse, US workers will do better. It is something of an extension of the old AFL idea that excluding workers from the craft jobs they controlled, like black workers and women especially, those who had the jobs would do better.

It’s never worked, but it worked well for those exploiting the idea–those labor bosses who deny the contradictory interests of employers and employees and, instead declare their unity–shattering the very reason most people think unions exist.

So, the structures of NEA and AFT, or the entire AFL-CIO, are not going to do us much good.

But, Chicago, you are not alone.

We have learned from each of you and your solidarity. It’s the best pedagogy in the country now. We have seen that it is possible, and right, to rebel. We know that to develop real solidarity, united workers with clear ideas will need to boil up within the unions, as organizing boiled over in Chicago. Your battle has been inspiring, heartening, and if you choose to fight on, there are millions of school workers, professors, students, and community people who are behind you–if necessary with money. We know paychecks run out very soon. The one thing we can, certain, do is pony up and send you some cash. Just show us how.

And, we will know, if not now, in the future, that the way to support strikers is to spread the strike.

Rich Gibson is an emeritus professor of education at San Diego State University and co-founder of the Rouge Forum.


September 18, 2012 at 12:12 PM

By: Sean Ahern

The national scene - Injunction?/AFT /Obama/Emmanuel

The AFT has a history of placing Locals under trusteeship when under investigation for alleged mishandling of finances. Would the AFT seek to do likewise to the CTU if the membership deems it necessary to continue the strike in the face of an injunction? As an officer of the court and a dedicated sellout, Weingarten is very likely using the mere possibility of an injunction to pressure the CTU leadership to end the strike prematurely. If CTU members decide to continue the strike and if they face fines and imprisonment of their leaders as happens in NYC when public workers strike, Weingarten will be weighing whether or not she can weather the storm that would ensue if she intervenes and seeks a trusteeship over the CTU. Lots of ifs here but the traitor at your back can do more damage than the opponent you face. As a NYC teacher I have seen Weingarten in action and there is nothing she would not due to prove her loyalty to the corporate reformers and secure her cherished "seat at the table".

As for Obama I don't see the seamless connection you say exists between him and Emmanuel and it is a mistake in my opinion to ignore differences when they arise among the rulers. Obama's prime directive right now is to be re elected and I don't see how Emmanuel is helping with this. Indeed he seems intent on creating his own national image as the strutting little bully on horseback who put unions in their place. I have read posts from some CTU members who compare Emmanuel to Romney. For all we know Emmanuel is Netanyahu, another bully strutting around the world calling for blood. Not everyone, maybe not even the majority of the ruling circle around Obama think it is a good idea to crush labor before the election (or attack Iran for that matter). I think CTU members will take stock of these differences as they deliberate over the proposal. It is one thing to strike against the CPS and the Mayor when you have a unified membership and solid community support, it is another thing to face off against the Feds as well but I don't think this is the situation and if there is some light between Obama and Emmanuel it is part of the landscape that CTU members and leaders will consider. If the CTU needs a few more days after Weds to win the memorandums of understanding regarding class size and school closings I doubt that Obama would take this moment to weigh in publically against them and if he did this it would place the privatization and union busting core of the corporate agenda out into the public arena bare naked stripped of all pretense. From here it looks that the resolve of the members combined with the support from the parents and students in Chicago makes for formidable line of defense that would allow them to fend off an injunction should one be granted. Obama has not played his hand at least publically in this strike even though his educational policies are under fire. Like in warfare, differences arise between the general staff and the officers in the field, lines of command can break down and new opportunities arise for the defenders. I don't think it is radical or wise to collapse all such distinctions. (It didn't turn out very well for the world when the German communists collapsed all distinctions between the Nazis and the Social Democrats and opposed any united front with the latter against the former but we can argue about history another time). Generals have been known to abandon the field officers, field officers over extend and misjudge their opponents strength and are defeated. The details matter. As the old tailors used to say, "measure the cloth ten times before you cut."

September 18, 2012 at 3:44 PM

By: Anthony Smith

Houston Texas is with us!

My niece, Marisa, was defending teachers in Chicago and our Union to the people of Houston, on Face Book and other social media.

For the first few days the public in Houston was against us. It is even evident in their reporting. They have it on nightly on their LOCAL news as well as national.

Not so now!

The public in Houston is with us and now very much dislikes our Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

I am hoping that my brothers and sisters realize that we need to stand strong and continue the strike until we get a better contract.

I have many issues with it. One of them being the additional 10 days we are to work but not be paid for. If you want us to work an additional ten days then pay us at our hourly rate.

Not to mention the additional time, which translates to another 5 work days that we in the high schools are not being compensated for. The state mandates 170 school days. We are moving to 180. Fine, add the days and time but pay us for it!

I'd also like to see language that states that Rahm will put a moratorium on charters and closing schools.

I guess we will see in a little bit.

Best wishes to everyone.

In Solidarity.

Standing Strong and standing proud!


September 18, 2012 at 4:44 PM

By: Rod Estvan

re: Houston Texas is with us

Unfortunately Anthony, teachers in the Houston Independent School District who are members of the Houston Federation of Teachers, do not have a legally binding contract. They only have what is called a consultation process.

Each teacher under state law has an individual contract and almost every teacher's contract contains this provision: "The District shall have the right to assign or reassign the Employee to positions, duties, or additional duties and to make changes in responsibilities, work, or transfers, at any time during the contract term."

These contracts also normally contain this section: "This Contract will terminate upon a determination by the Board of good cause, financial exigency, or a program change, in accordance with applicable law and Board policy, or upon the Employee’s resignation at the end of a school year without penalty, pursuant to the Texas Education Code."

Most public school teachers in Texas are employees at will with very limited rights. The HFT has for 30 years been attempting to expand the legal rights of its teachers and it has made only limited progress. Texas Government Code chapter 617 prohibits collective bargaining by teachers, along with strikes and other organized work stoppages. If you organize and plan to have a group of people fail to show up to work using a sick out, it is prohibited. Unions, per se, are not illegal in Texas. But collective bargaining and strikes are.

In 2007, a small firestorm in Houston ISD over teacher bonus/incentive/merit pay. The criticism that was flung about over the whole deal at one point resulted in talk of teachers calling a "sick out" in protest of the way the administration handled the bonus money. But the teachers sucked it up because in Texas, a "sick out" by teachers is prohibited, and teachers who participate in one could potentially lose their job, their teaching certificate, and their TRS pension. So instead of supporting Chicago's teachers, which is nice, the people of Houston might want to start by supporting their own teachers.

Rod Estvan

September 18, 2012 at 5:13 PM

By: Anthony Smith

Thanks Rod, didn't know that, and did you see...

Thanks Rod.

I will discuss this with my niece.

Did you see ABC at 4pm? The ministers in Chicago put a 5-year-old girl on a cross to symbolize being crucified.

They said something like: "Teachers, stop crucifying our children" (I could not make this up, it would never occur to me to do so, and I know, I wouldn't believe it myself, except I just saw it!)

Too bad we can't get the ministers to understand that if they were to side with us they would be siding with the children and we could get a fair contract and better conditions for our kids!

Best wishes,


September 18, 2012 at 6:10 PM

By: Susan Ohanian

Chicago, we're with you

Rich Gibson nails it: Chicago is showing us the best pedagogy in the country. You're showing us that it is possible, and right, to rebel.

Onward. We will support you.

September 19, 2012 at 11:38 AM

By: Keeley Frank

Brainwashing to keep the poor in their place

Some of the public is easily brainwashed including the minister who thinks the school system is crucifying children. The poor, disadvantaged minorities who might have a history of complex trauma, etc, will be left behind by the privatization of schools. Rahm speaks for himself. He is leaving the children behind and selling children to billionaires. It is the new type of slavery. Teach people not to think but to repeat facts. Fascism is here and now and it is only going to get worse.

The only way to keep the poor and desperate in their place is to make them think they are being taken care of, (the charter school propaganda). When billionaires can profit off of children, they will get them where they want to be and do what they want and teach what they want. I would never tell my children to not pursue a career they want. But I would never want them to become a teacher because teachers will become obsolete.

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