“When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run /There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun / Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one / But the union makes us strong.”
It was about an attempt to destroy collective bargaining. It was about furthering the war on one of the last remaining bastions of union strength, the public sector workers. It was about entrenching the idea of education as a corporate tool to create “human resources” instead of educated citizens. It was about destroying another union by pitting the “reserve army of the unemployed” – capital’s most potent tool – against the ginned up image of “union thugs”, worker against worker.
The attacks on the Chicago Teachers Union were typical of the attacks on organized labor all around the United States. Those greedy, ungrateful teachers – don’t they know that workers are supposed to consider themselves lucky to have a job, any job, under any conditions and for any pay? How dare they strike when so many people are unemployed? When the Democratic mayor supports the corporate backed “charter – schools” ? And – unspoken, but implicit in every attack – when we are, after all, only talking about minority children and the women who teach them.
Union President Karen Lewis, an African American woman and the subject of endless vitriol, saw it clearly.
She invited the billionaires, the Gates Foundation elite, the politicians, to sit in unair-conditioned rooms amid peeling plaster and be evaluated. Be unable to go to a dentist when they have a toothache, a doctor when you are ill, be hungry while you are tested. Show us, she said, why do the billionaires have so much influence because they can write a check, despite having only one vote? She asked the questions that needed asking, the questions the media would not ask otherwise.
What, she asked, is unreasonable about what the teachers are actually asking for? Why do kindergartners need to be tested five and six times a year? I’m tired, she said, of being called a“thug”. “We are the foundation and they are trying to destroy us!” she shouted, at an impassioned rally at Union Park. “Your policies are harming children,” she bluntly stated. She knew what the attacks were really about and named it. “Introducing the market into the classroom is not education. You are asking us to do harm to children and THAT’S why we are here!”
From a striking teacher, about Lewis’ words: I want to cry tears of joy because I feel validated. No one has ever validated what I do and how hard I work. As a teacher, no one ever thanks me.
What are public resources? And what are they for? This is a germinal issue and your answer will determine which side of the class struggle you are on. The privatization of public space, public money, public assets has yielded great profits for the few and great hardship to the many. The attack on public workers in Wisconsin, in Chicago, and across the nation is another front in the war on workers everywhere.
I am not a human resource. I am a human being. Our children are not resources to be exploited by the ruling class for private profit. And education is not simply an indoctrination process meant to churn out cheap labor. That is what the Chicago teachers strike was about.
The tentative ( as I write this) agreement includes the following :
* 600 additional art, music, physical education and world language teachers.
> * Prep time for paraprofessionals and clinicians.
> * Teacher evaluations limited to 30% of the student test scores.
> * Up to $250 reimbursement for school supplies, which are often out of pocket for teachers.
> * Additional wrap-around services, including hiring of nurses, social workers and counselors.
> * Books on day one for teachers and students. Teachers had to wait for up to six weeks for materials to arrive
> * Defeating merit-pay for teachers. (Note – studies show merit pay does not work).
In many states, the attacks on teachers have had different outcomes. The state of public education in Florida, for example, public schools have been thrown into the volcano to appease the endless appetite of the corporate god: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/what-florida-is-doing-to-its-public-schools/2012/02/29/gIQADTYDjR_blog.html
High priced “consultants” are brought in to produce reports that will destroy the public schools and the unionized teachers:
http://roconrant.blogspot.com/ (for a glimpse into the truly amoral and horrifying human debris that are being used to destroy public schools and students in Florida, make sure you read this. )
And all working people suffer. It’s a scenario that has been replayed in many states.
The Chicago Teachers Union stood up to the bulldozer of private profit at public expense and said “enough”. They were supported by a majority of the public – something that astonished the media and the politicians who were confident that their slander and lies would have the desired effect. But the Chicago Teachers Union got the facts out:
http://www.wbez.org/no-sidebar/Chicago-school-closings (the truth about school closings)
http://www.catalyst-chicago.org/news/2012/09/17/20431/why-parent-blames-mayor-teachers-strike (the truth about who is to blame for the conditions in the schools)
http://www.ctunet.com/blog/anti-union-ads-in-chicago-paid-for-by-hedge-funds-billionaires (The truth about the origins of the propaganda)
http://lists.portside.org/cgi-bin/listserv/wa?A2=PORTSIDELABOR;a8a81e0.1209b (what it is really like to teach in a Chicago public school, and what the challenges mean to teachers and students).
The Chicago Teachers Union did not create the poverty, the crime, the homelessness, the hunger, the lack of essential resources. The working class people of Chicago did not create them. The union pointed this out, clearly and sharply, and told the corporate interests and their political mouthpieces that their “prescriptions” would harm, even kill, the “patients”.
This is a fight for all of us, emblematic of the fight of workers everywhere. The courage of the teachers of Chicago, their refusal to be intimidated by an apparently overwhelmingly powerful foe, gives inspiration and instruction. They are winning. And the eyes of the world are indeed watching – will this start a trend? Or will it be a hope crushed in its infancy?
“You can blow out a candle / But you can’t blow out a fire / when the flames begins to catch/ the wind will blow it higher” – Peter Gabriel, “Biko”
The answer will depend on our willingness to live and support what we’ve always known. The Union makes us strong.