MEDIA WATCH: 'Democracy' Chicago-style... Tribune's hypocritical editorial attack on the CTU gets quick response from thousands...'a democratic militant union is what they despise...'... Readers need to remember the long reactionary history of Tribune's version of 'news'...

Retired Commonwealth Edison CEO Frank Clark presided over the August 2016 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Clark is now in his 15th month as a member of the seven-member Chicago Board of Education, all of whose members are appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Only Chicago in Illinois has a school board appointed by the mayor. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.On September 22, 2016, the Chicago Tribune — now owned by the same Rahm-buddy millionaire Michael Ferro who owns the Sun-Times — fulminated agains the latest Chicago Teachers Union strike vote. In an editorial, the Tribune, which has no problems with the fact that Chicago's school board is appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, or other anti-democratic laws and policies attacking Chicago's schools and teachers, compared the CTU's latest strike vote with the regimes of North Korea and Iraq (under Saddam Hussein).

The anger exploded across the city as teachers, parents and others considered in detail this latest example of the long history of the Chicago Tribune's attack on liberal democracy. Anyone who wishes to appreciate that history should go back and read the Tribune's versions of "news" from the days when the "World's Greatest Newspaper" was attacking President Franklin Roosevelt as a Bolshevik, or later when the Tribune's main movement reporter was getting his slanderous inside scoops about civil rights and anti war movements from J. Edgar Hoover. (Check out the Tribune's coverage of civil rights and anti-war protests by lined by Ron Kozial).

But everyone should read what the Tribune said, especially in the context of the fact that the Tribune seems to believe that the current leadership of the Chicago Board of Education, with Forrest Claypool as Chicago's chief educator, is somehow an example of "democracy" -- or that the current seven members of the Chicago Board of Education (all appointed by Rahm Emanuel) are living and breathing examples of that same democracy. AAARGHHH, as some would say.

Before reproducing the Tribune's words (at the end of this analysis), there could be a dozen or more cogent responses. But the best, in my opinion, came from Jesse Sharkey, CTU Vice President. On his Facebook page, Sharkey posted the following:


The Chicago Tribune is comparing the CTU's strike vote to some of the most undemocratic regimes in the world. What I find enraging here is that the CTU is held to a ridiculously high standard for voting on a strike (75% of entire membership must vote in affirmative.) Think about that: an 80% yes vote on an 80% turnout would still fail. But the CTU is not credited for meeting a democratic standard which virtually no elected official could meet. We are condemned. The appointed Board of Ed is not compared to North Korea and castigated for stalling negotiations for 22 months while their unelected members slash public schools. The Tribune's attack on our vote-by-petition reveals how deeply they despise our power and voice.

Why do a vote by petition? Because our original vote (in December) is being challenged by Rauner's appointed Labor Board and the CTU's (elected) executive board and the CTU's (elected) House of Delegates voted to approve this procedure. We also want to ensure our members talk to the newly hired teachers in our building.

Our original vote took over a month to plan--and was held on three successive days. It required printing three sets of ballots, ballot envelopes, three ballot boxes, three sets of ballot seals, three sets of voter lists, and delivering and picking up the materials from 550 worksites by courier three times. The whole procedure cost well over $100,000 and literally thousands of hours of volunteer time on the part of hundreds of rank and file CTU members.

When we started considering a re-vote just weeks into the school year we considered that unions typically hold strike votes in a members-only meeting and take a standing vote on the spot. It's not that the voting is public--votes are shared with neither the boss nor with non-members. But the matter is shared among union members at a workplace. This is a reasonable way to approach the decision about a strike--and one that the union movement has used for over a hundred years.

Our members-only voting requires that we talk to each other, respect each others opinions at work, and take important decisions as a group.

Consider how much work it requires to maintain the level of participatory democracy the CTU exhibits. Elected officers work at the union office and get most media attention but consider that an elected Executive Board steers the organization while working full time in schools, 800 elected delegates conduct union meetings, meet regularly as our House of Delegates and are the face of the union in 550 worksites, and thousands of members participate in CTU events, read and stay informed, argue, and will ultimately approve or reject a contract (not to mention authorize or not authorize a strike.)

Not only do I think the CTU is most democratic union in the country, I think its the most democratic institution in the City of Chicago. It's possible that the Tribune attacks the CTU because they do not understand what we really do — which is a bit pitiful considering how much time they spend fulminating about us. But I suspect the real reason The Tribune voices disdain for our workplace democracy is precisely because that democracy leads to a more active and combative union and that is what they truly fear and despise.


Chicago Public Schools teachers began voting Wednesday on whether to authorize a strike if contract negotiations collapse. A 2011 state law says at least 75 percent of Chicago Teachers Union members must approve a strike before a date can be set.

We'll save you the suspense: CTU members will authorize the strike.

How can we be so sure? Not because we possess keen insight into whether most teachers favor a walkout over a contract offer that includes generous raises (an offer that was, remember, briefly embraced by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis). We imagine that many teachers are ambivalent about leaving their classrooms for picket lines.

But here's why the strike approval is a foregone conclusion: Instead of secret ballots — which would permit dissent — teachers and other CTU members are being asked to authorize a strike via "petitions" circulated at schools. The details aren't clear, but that reportedly means union delegates will gather members' signatures to authorize or reject a strike. Presumably that means members will be able to see how their colleagues vote. And so will union bosses.

Could teachers who dare defy the union be intimidated by the prospect of being ostracized by fellow teachers who are lockstep supporters of union higher-ups and want to strike? Do we really need to answer that?

The 2011 law that mandates this strike-authorizing vote doesn't say how the votes are to be cast or tallied. It is silent, too, about independent oversight of the voting process. But we doubt Illinois lawmakers had this petition charade in mind.

At the time the law passed, many Illinois legislators believed the 75 percent threshold provision would be a poison pill, sure to prevent a teachers strike. They whispered that 75 percent was a nearly impossible hurdle. They were wrong. Nearly 90 percent of CTU members voted to support a strike in 2012. Unlike this vote, however, that was a secret ballot.

Given that, you would think CTU leaders would be confident of prevailing in a secret vote now. And probably they are. So we're perplexed about why they have come up with this Big-Brother approach that falls into the See?-Everyone-Voted-For-Me school of electioneering.

Some famous examples of this strategy:

• In 1995, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein swept to victory with 99.96 percent of votes cast. (We shudder to think of what happened to the recalcitrant .04 percent.)

• In 2014, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un reportedly notched an even more convincing victory — 100 percent — to confirm his leadership in the Supreme People's Assembly. No other name appeared on the ballot. Voters who (bravely or foolishly) sought to reject Kim would have had to do so in an open booth so everyone could see.

• Even more convincing was the 1927 Liberian presidential triumph of Charles D.B. King with about 240,000 votes. The impressive part: Liberia only had about 15,000 registered voters.

Would a secret CTU ballot guarantee a clean result? Of course not. This is Chicago. Do we really have to explain how ballot boxes get stuffed with votes from cemeteries?

But wouldn't it be terrific if CTU officials allowed their members the respect of a secret ballot? If the union leaders are sure their members are overwhelmingly set to follow them out the door, then why not?


September 24, 2016 at 6:28 AM

By: George Schmidt

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