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Showdown on West Coast Docks: The Battle of Longview
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Chicago Plant Occupation Electrifies Labor
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Rip Up the Sellout Contract – Mobilize to Stop Layoffs, Racist School Closures
Strike Was Huge, Settlement Sucks
Striking Chicago teachers rally in Union Park on September 15. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama Are No Lesser Evil
Break with the Democrats – Build a Class-Struggle Workers Party!
article below was published, the CTU
membership approved the contract. However,
more than 4,300 (21%) voted against the
sellout deal. The CTU leadership endorsed
Democrat Obama for reelection.
CHICAGO/NEW YORK, September 23 – The strike by 30,000 teachers and school personnel in the country’s third-largest school district electrified educators and union militants across the U.S. The walkout by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) was its first in a quarter century. It was also the first strike nationally against the teacher union-bashing corporate education “reforms” pushed by both Republicans and Democrats, from the White House and Congress on down to the state house and city hall. Teachers struck against the policies of Wall Street candidate Barack Obama and stood up to his former chief of staff, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. The strike was solid from the beginning on Monday, September 10 to the end on September 18. Strikers mobilized in the thousands and had huge support from parents and the 350,000 students affected.
The outcome, however, is something else entirely. The reform leadership of the CTU agreed to a contract that caved in to mayor “Rahmbo” and the education deformers on every key point, selling out vital union gains while preparing the way for mass firings and the loss of hundreds, possibly several thousand teachers’ jobs. The union membership should turn down this giveback contract in the voting, currently scheduled for October 2. Chicago teachers need to prepare now to strike the entire school system next time (charters included) and to mobilize supporters to shut down the Loop to stop the mass layoffs and school closings which are coming very soon. And with the November elections looming, militants should call on the CTU to break with Obama and the Democrats who are currently spearheading the bipartisan, capitalist war on teachers unions and public education.
Showdown in Chicago
The strike was prepared by a year-long campaign of mobilization by the CTU. A state law (SB7) was passed last year (with the complicity of Illinois labor leaders, including CTU’s Karen Lewis) which among other anti-union provisions sought to make strikes well-nigh impossible. It required lengthy fact-finding, mediation, “cooling-off” periods and in particular that 75% of the entire bargaining unit approve a strike. This hurdle, the Democratic legislators figured, couldn’t be overcome. But after lengthy preparation, last June 90% of the CTU membership participated in a strike authorization vote and 98.46% voted to strike – an amazing show of determination, fueled by the bully boy mayor’s strong-arm tactics. Emanuel’s ripping up of a scheduled 4% pay raise and imposing a longer school day with not a dime in increased wages enraged teachers.
In the run-up to the strike authorization vote and over the summer, the CTU repeatedly hit the street, beginning with a march of over 10,000 in October 2011 at the height of the Occupy movement, continuing through May Day and the mass protests against the NATO summit in Chicago in May 2012 right up to the start of the strike. The experience of joining with tens of thousands marching in a sea of CTU red shirts gave a sense of union power. Strikingly, a large number of marchers were younger teachers in their 20s and 30s who around the country have been more interested in curriculum and “making a difference” in the lives of their students than in pensions and wages. The CTU’s emphasis that it was fighting for better education and not just over dollars and cents appealed to them. Yet this was in no way reflected in the contract.
The strike instantly became the focal point of the national battle over public education. While the right-wing Republican governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, provoked a massive outpouring of labor protest last year by removing bargaining rights of public workers, this time around the Democrats are leading the charge. Under a 2010 law passed by the Democratic-dominated Illinois legislature to qualify for funds under Obama’s “Race to the Top,” teacher evaluations were to be based in good part on student test scores. In 2011, SB7, passed as an “alternative” to the Wisconsin bill, said school districts could impose a longer school day while layoffs according to teacher evals instead of seniority were mandated, paving the way for a management push to get rid of older, higher-paid teachers.
The man who
would be Boss:
Rahm Emanuel was a particular focus of the strikers’ ire. Emanuel gained a reputation as an attack dog for the Obama administration when he ran White House operations. As he rammed through the bill to “rescue” auto companies after the 2008 financial crash while slashing United Auto Workers’ wages and benefits, Emanuel notoriously exclaimed “f--k the UAW.” In Chicago he focused on attacking the CTU even before taking office. Even the big business press concedes that he provoked tensions by disrespecting teachers, one of the few unionized workforces that is predominantly women. “King Rahm” is trampling on their rights in order to close public schools, open privately operated charter schools, eliminate seniority job protection and tie teachers’ pay to student test scores. His real crime is not foul-mouthed epithets but that he is imposing the “business model” of education “reform” program pushed by the entire ruling class.
On the outbreak of the strike, Class Struggle Education Workers (CSEW), an opposition group in New York City teacher unions which is politically supported by the Internationalist Group (IG), participated in an NYC solidarity demo and issued a September 11 leaflet calling to “Mobilize the Power of NYC Labor in Solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Strike.” As the battle deepened, a CSEW supporter traveled to Chicago to show solidarity and report back on this crucial struggle. While both U.S. education unions – the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA) – are wedded to the Democratic Party and going all-out to re-elect Obama, and the CTU leadership has kept mum about the White House connection, the CSEW called to “Break labor’s ties to the capitalist Democratic Party, which – as all can see in Chicago today – is leading the assault on the teachers and students of this country.”
Class Struggle Education
Workers supporter and UFT delegate
Marjorie Stamberg in Chicago to
show solidarity with CTU strike,
In Chicago on the first day of the walkout teachers were joined by students and parents on picket lines throughout the city. Opinion polls showed parents of public school students solidly (66%) backing the union. Daily pickets in every neighborhood were followed by big demos downtown. On Saturday, September 15, after a week on strike, thousands filled the Near West Side Union Park to show their determination and solidarity, only to hear a bevy of Democratic “elected officials” mouth empty support. But while Emanuel and CTU president Karen Lewis were talking “compromise” and “fine-tuning” a contract, and as the media went all-out to stampede strikers back to work, the union ranks threw a wrench in the works. On Sunday, when given a bare outline of a tentative agreement, the CTU House of Delegates shocked the mayor and union tops by voting, 350 to 220, to continue the strike. The Chicago Tribune (17 September) reported:
“At one point, Lewis asked: ‘Are we going back to school?’ Delegates shouted back ‘No!’ Afterward, some union leaders were seen in tears, exhausted.”
Faced with this rank-and-file revolt, the union leadership tried to put a positive spin on it, saying the membership just needed more time to study the agreement, and didn’t trust the mayor. On Friday, CTU president Lewis had declared she was “very comfortable” with the proposed settlement. Now she said, “This is not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination.” But instead of going back to the negotiating table, the union tops pushed the same rotten deal on the membership on Tuesday, hoping that by then fear of losing public support (on top of Emanuel’s request for a court injunction) would wear down opposition. On the picket line at Lane Technical High School on Monday, when members voiced concern that school closings could lead to hundreds of layoffs, the captain responded that this was not a “contract issue.” (So make it one!) At another school, a delegate quoted CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey as saying “if you don’t get money, go for power.” “I’m not feeling the power in this contract,” she said.
At the September 18 delegate meeting, Sharkey went on about Chicago labor history while financial secretary Kristine Mayle parsed a 188-page copy of the contract at length. Yet delegates were only given a bare-bones 16-page summary. And according to an account in Substance News by long-time teacher union activist George Schmidt, after all the CTU tops’ talk of union democracy, “with more than 70 delegates lined up at four microphones” to speak, “questions had barely begun” when a motion was raised to suspend the walkout and “the strike, picketing, and job actions will cease.” In a voice vote, which Lewis described as “like 98 percent to 2” (but others said “about 10 percent” voted to continue), the strike was called off. As delegates streamed out, the assembled media horde instantly broadcast that the strike was history.
CTU president Karen Lewis and
vice president Jesse Sharkey speak to
the press on Sunday, September 16, after
members refused to approve tentative
settlement and voted to continue the
The next day, the press trumpeted the mayor’s claim that the contract settlement “means a new day and a new direction for the Chicago public schools.” Emanuel’s supporters saturated the air waves with a TV ad of him touting the deal as a victory, saying that now principals will have the “freedom” to hire the teachers they want, and student test scores would be used in evaluating teachers. The million-dollar ad buy was paid for by an outfit called Education Reform Now that is funded by the notorious Democrats for Education Reform, a group of Wall Street hedge fund operators who are investing in charter schools. At the same time, CTU president Lewis was showcased by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, basking in “her new status as a union rock star,” as the Chicago Sun-Times (20 September) put it in an interview. Lewis declared the strike a “real victory,” while saying that class size was “non-permissible” as a collective bargaining issue, and using student scores on high-stakes tests was “something the law requires now.”
Supporters of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), which since June 2010 has led the CTU, also claimed victory. The International Socialist Organization (ISO), whose supporters – including CTU vice president Sharkey – are prominent in CORE, declared the outcome “A victory for solidarity and struggle” (Socialist Worker, 19 September). The ISO quoted CTU staff coordinator Jackson Potter saying “Some elements of the contract weren't entirely what we wanted on the economic issues, but we won some important non-economic improvements.” Education theorist Diane Ravitch declared on her blog, “Regardless of the terms of the contract, the teachers won.” In New York, supporters the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), modeled on Chicago CORE, were euphoric in their praise, highlighting a clause against bullying by principals and requirements that textbooks be ready by the first week of class. Important as these issues are, this is all dancing around the huge givebacks and gaping holes in the contract.
Money, or the
alleged lack of it, was not the issue in
Chicago, and never is. The supposed $650
million “budget shortfall” is totally phony.
For starters, every year the city takes in
around half a billion dollars in Tax Increment
Financing, which is supposed to be earmarked
for public works (like schools). Instead, city
rulers hand over big bucks to private
developers, like the $5.2 million funneled to
the Hyatt Hotel Corp. of billionaire Penny
Pritzker, an Emanuel appointee to the School
Board whose children go to the elite Lab
School and who is a top financier of the Stand
for Children outfit whose CEO Josh Edelman
bragged about hoodwinking union leaders into
backing the anti-union SB7 law. Or there is
the $70 million a year to put cops in the
schools. Or the $300+ million in public funds
going to privately run charter schools.
Liberal and reformist calls to “tax the rich”
feed into the lie that there isn’t enough
money to go around. For imperialist wars,
police repression or luxury skyboxes in
stadiums, they find the dough. This issue is
power, class power.
On vital issues of school closings, teacher evaluations, seniority, layoffs, class size, pensions and salaries, the contract negotiated by the CORE leadership either does nothing, or accepts huge cuts and givebacks of vital union rights. The CTU’s emphasis on these issues was important in winning parent support, mobilizing younger teachers and countering ruling-class propaganda that the strike was just about “greedy” teachers only out for themselves. Yet none of these key issues were reflected in the settlement. While the CTU reform leadership claims to be fighting the privatization and teacher-bashing plan pushed by Washington and Wall Street, in fact they have caved in to the corporate education “reformers.” The strike was a definite plus, but the terms they negotiated they are no better than those of mainline business unionists such as AFT president Randi Weingarten and her replacement at the head of the UFT, Michael Mulgrew.
And sometimes worse: in New York, teachers who lose their positions due to school closings are placed in an “Absent Teacher Reserve” (ATR) pool, that has at times swelled to over 2,000 teachers who are prevented from teaching. Class Struggle Education Workers has campaigned to demand that all ATRs be given positions, pointing out that this situation is used by right-wing forces to complain about “freeloading” union members. Still, in New York ATRs cannot be fired (so far). In Chicago, under the deal agreed to by the CORE leadership, most teachers from closing schools will be out of a job in less than half a year. And while the AFT/UFT tops routinely capitulate to or even embrace the demands of the privatizers and corporatizers – then claiming “victory” when they only give up two-thirds of the givebacks being demanded – New York teachers still (for now) have seniority job protection.
The giveback contract negotiated by the CTU leadership is a sellout of the strike: it should be voted down. Those who proclaim this rotten deal a victory only show that they don’t believe real victories are possible. Go back to the negotiating table to demand smaller class sizes; oppose racist school closures – no closing without a democratic vote of teachers, students, parents and workers affected; fully fund teachers’ pensions and health care; uphold seniority, oppose all layoffs and teacher evaluations based on student scores on computer-graded exams. Elect a delegated strike/bargaining committee to carry out negotiations and examine the full text of any tentative agreement. If a new walkout is necessary, organize strike schools like the freedom schools during the civil rights struggle in the South.
Don’t let our kids’ education be held hostage by thugs with state power like Rahm Emanuel!
CTU strikers march at Marshall High School on September 12. (Photo: Chicago Teachers Union)
With this rotten settlement, the CORE leadership of the CTU and similar union opposition groups elsewhere have shown that they are not one whit better than the sellout leadership of the AFT and UFT, as well as the NEA. Both the union tops and would-be reformers are part of a union bureaucracy that serves as a transmission belt for the bosses, regimenting public education to serve the needs of capital. Right-wingers red-bait the ISO and other leftists in CORE as some kind of fire-breathing Bolsheviks. This is the kind of idiocy that comes from delusional Tea Partyers who say Obama is a card-carrying communist born in Kenya. The ISO are pale pink social democrats, nothing more. As one CORE founder remarked, these tame reformists play by the rules of the system: legal, economic and political. They may bring the union ranks into the streets to protest, and even strike on occasion, but they will not and cannot defeat the union-busters because they do not challenge, and ultimately they support, capitalism.
ISO/CORE supporters argue that the Chicago teachers strike will spawn more struggles against the education deformers, because it showed it is possible to fight back. Maybe, hopefully so. Wisconsin also showed it was possible to fight, and union members there fought hard, until they were sold out by a labor bureaucracy beholden to the Democrats. But at the same time, the Chicago settlement is likely to open the flood gates to the imposition of test-score-based teacher evals, elimination of seniority in layoffs, massive closing of schools, etc., since even the activists in Chicago couldn’t stop them. As the New York Times (18 September) editorialized in telling teachers to vote for the settlement which the reformists hail, “If the members approve the contract, Chicago will move into the age of school reform.” And that corporate/capitalist “reform” will be very, very bad for teachers, students and public education generally.
The Internationalist Group and CSEW have repeatedly noted that union “reform” caucuses such as CORE, MORE, etc. based on simple labor militancy and “union democracy” cannot defeat the onslaught by reactionary forces seeking to privatize as much of public education as they can and “reform” the remnants to serve corporate interests. (See “Lessons of Chicago CORE,” The Internationalist No. 33, Summer 2011.) As Leon Trotsky noted during the last big depression, in this imperialist epoch of capitalist decay, as the bourgeois rulers systematically rip past union gains, “apolitical,” reformist trade unionism is no longer possible. The reformist opposition groups in reality are vehicles to replace the present layer of calcified sellout bureaucrats with more activist union leaders who once in power will become part of the bureaucracy and will be constrained by capitalist legality and politics to toe the line laid out by the ruling class. Proof? The outcome of the Chicago teacher strike of 2012 is Exhibit A
Class Struggle Education Workers supporters at solidarity demonstration with striking Chicago teachers, New York City, September 10. (Internationalist photo)
The question of the Democratic Party is key, and one that CORE and its reformist pseudo-socialist supporters try to duck. They took refuge in the fact that Obama didn’t publically endorse the Chicago mayor’s hard line stance against the union whereas Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney attacked the strike and his running mate Paul Ryan backed Emanuel. One sign in CTU strike demonstrations read, “Voted for Obama, Got Rahmney.” But Obama, Romney and Rahm Emanuel all have virtually identical policies on education, policies that come straight from the capitalist ruling class: from the heads of corporations like Microsoft and Wal-Mart, the Wall Street speculators who triggered the 2008 financial collapse, groups like the Business Roundtable and the National Center on Education and the Economy, which wants to end universal schooling at the tenth grade. These bosses want job training, not education.
Teacher union leaders are up to their necks in Democratic politics and deeply enmeshed in the machinations of U.S. imperialism: Randi Weingarten is an active member of the Democratic National Committee and board member of the International Democratic Institute, part of the National Endowment for Democracy, a notorious conduit for CIA subversion. But the leftists involved in reformist opposition groups at best don’t oppose Obama’s Democratic Party in their union work, and ally with those who actively support the ruling capitalist party. On Democracy Now, Lewis repeatedly refused to criticize the Democrats, and under CORE the CTU endorsed Democratic Illinois governor Pat Quinn, despite his backing for a devastating pension “reform” bill and support for privatizing public education. Not only did Karen Lewis support the union-busting SB7 bill, CTU, IFT and IEA leaders met secretly with the Democrats in preparing it.
Teacher activists seeking to defend public education are not just facing corrupt bureaucrats like Lewis’ predecessor at the helm of the CTU, Marilyn Stewart, or a bureaucratic machine like the “Unity Caucus” that runs the UFT in New York. The present union bureaucracy is a product of the post-World War II “red purge” of the unions at the beginning of the anti-Soviet Cold War. The AFT played a key role in overthrowing elected “progressive” capitalist governments from El Salvador to Salvador Allende’s Chile. The UFT was a main backer of the anti-Communist Polish nationalist Solidarność, the favorite “union” of Ronald Reagan, in promoting counterrevolution in East Europe. To fight the teacher union bashers and education deformers such as the billionaire hedge fund operators of Democrats for Education Reform, it’s necessary to oust the bureaucrats, break with the Democrats and fight U.S. imperialism tooth and nail.
Equally important is the attitude toward “the law.” The CTU leadership says it can’t strike over school closings because by law that is not subject to collective bargaining. This is accepting the kind of limitations on union action that Governor Walker legislated in Wisconsin, where public sector unions were restricted to negotiating wages and hours. The law is an instrument of the capitalist ruling class to keep down those it exploits and oppresses. The actual content of the law depends on the balance of class forces in struggle. As the head of the PATCO air traffic controllers union noted during its 1981 strike, “The only illegal strike is an unsuccessful strike.” (Thanks to betrayal by the AFL-CIO bureaucracy, the PATCO strike lost.) Since the CTU managed to overcome the 75 percent strike authorization hurdle, no doubt we will soon see a bill to outlaw all teachers strikes in Illinois. In New York, under the state’s Taylor Law, any strike or job action by public sector workers is already illegal.
Does that mean teachers can’t strike? Not at all. The AFT/UFT and the rest of the labor bureaucracy hide behind such bans as they subjugate the unions to the capitalist laws. So do reformist oppositions, who in an act of class treachery often sue the unions in order to get into office. But class-struggle unionists oppose all interference by the bosses’ courts and government in union affairs, and say it is necessary to defy anti-labor laws. Ever since World War II, the U.S. ruling class has been intent on outlawing every effective form of labor struggle. This was the purpose of the Taft-Hartley Act (1947) and the Landrum-Griffin Act (1959). Any trade union leader who is not prepared to go to jail to defend the workers interests, who flinches in the face of cops, courts and capitalist politicians out of fear of losing their offices or having bank accounts seized or depleted by million-dollar-a-day fines, can only produce defeats.
Playing by the bosses’ rules is a losing game. Shred anti-labor laws by mass militant workers action!
racist thug doing around our kids? Rahm
Emanuel should be persona non grata in
Chicago schools. (Photo: José M.
In order to defeat the “reign of Rahm,” teachers will have to join with the oppressed population of black Chicago and Latino neighborhoods to occupy closing schools. Area unions including transit, rail and Teamsters should be called upon to join in paralyzing the downtown Loop, day after day, so that nothing moves. Can it be done? Certainly. The Republic Windows and Doors workers organized by the United Electrical Workers galvanized the U.S. working class with their December 2008 occupation of the Goose Island factory and warehouse. Was it legal? Hardly. Did the workers let that stop them? Hell no. The sit-down strikes that built the industrial unions in the 1930s were met with anti-strike injunctions and the National Guard, but the workers stood their ground. On May Day 2008, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union struck all 29 ports on the U.S. West Coast to stop the war on Iraq and Afghanistan. The maritime bosses charged them with violating the Taft-Hartley ban on secondary boycotts. But the union won, because the ranks showed they were prepared to mobilize their power.
Only class-struggle unionism that openly fights against capitalism can defeat the class war on workers and the oppressed. The unions were built by “reds” who relied on the working class not the employers and their government. The Democrats who pose as “friends of labor” are in fact waging a war on working people here even as they pursue imperialist war from Afghanistan to Syria. In the upcoming elections, trade unionists, African American, Latino, Asian and white poor and working people should oppose both Democrat Obama and Republican Romney and all capitalist parties and candidates. Join in building a class-struggle workers party to fight for a workers government. ■
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