As Susie wrote yesterday, Chicago teachers are on strike. The right wing is already jumping on this as another excuse to claim that teachers are greedy people who just want to be lazy while milking the system.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. What is happening in Chicago has been brewing for a very, very long time, and it's not about what teachers are paid, though the prevailing wisdom about that is wrong, too.
Chicago teachers are striking to prevent a corporate takeover of public education. The line is drawn right here. This is not about pay but it is about job security. It is about children, and the right of every child in this nation to receive an education without corporate influence.
Kenzo Shibata names the corporate and astroturf organizations trying to break the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in order to open the door wide open.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been quoted in the past as using a certain four-letter word to express his disdain for the United Auto Workers. He may have learned from that experience and now saves that language for union leaders behind closed doors.
It would not be acceptable for Mayor Emanuel to say, "I'm turning over public schools to the wealthiest 1% of Chicagoans and cutting middle-class jobs by busting the Chicago Teachers Union." That's why he has Juan Rangel, well-clouted CEO of the United Neighborhood Organization -- a profitable charter school chain -- at his side.
At a recent speech to the City Club of Chicago, Rangel went on a tirade about the CTU and defended Chicago's billionaire elites in the face of criticism by Chicago's hardworking taxpayers:
[CEO Rangel] praised the work of wealthy charter school supporters -- and mayoral allies -- like Bruce Rauner and the Pritzker family. "Do we have the resolve to embrace Chicago's wealthy community... and support them as a focal source of energy that fuels the school reform movement with their money? Or will we shy away from them and allow the silly talk that currently passes for debate about the so-called one-percenters privatizing our schools?"
This is the same Chicago where Stand for Children's president Jonah Edelman bragged to donors about how he was going to break the teachers' union in order to swing the door wide open for charter schools.
The billionaires standing on the sidelines with their money in the bank are counting on reaping very large profits from charter schools as part of their disaster capitalism strategy, which Mayor Rahm is playing into quite well. Even the networks are cooperating. I noted this morning that while MSNBC was reporting on the strike and school closures as a result, their chyron had this note: "All Chicago charter schools are open today."
Of course they are! This is their chance, and Rahm has positioned all of the players quite strategically. Kenzo explains:
But how does Chicago Teachers Union play into Rangel's game?
Unions require management transparency. If Rangel's staff were unionized and could negotiate over wages, benefits, and resources he would have to show the budgets of his schools to counter their proposals. Without the pressure of an organized workforce , he could do whatever he wants with that money like line his own pockets and the pockets of his connected friends.
When CTU started its push for smaller class sizes in 2010, Rangel called the move "racist."I'm not sure what was racist about wanting all children in Chicago to receive smaller class sizes -- a proven reform that improves student learning, but he did his job of smearing the CTU for more clout points.
Rahm was shrewd to make Rangel his campaign co-chair mere days after meeting the man. In Chicago-machine fashion, Emanuel later appointed Rangel to the Public Buildings Commission. What get-rich-quick scheme needs public buildings to operate? Charter schools.
What is at stake here goes far beyond Chicago. Just like the Reagan-era union-busting of air traffic controllers, this is the battleground for public employees everywhere, and especially teachers. Teachers are being shamed, subjected to ridiculous meaningless evaluations, demonized as lazy greedy leeches, and worse. The only hope any of us really have for jobs with respect, security, and professionalism rests with unions. If they break the unions, they break our collective voice.
Here are some ways you can help the CTU:
- Wear red on Wednesday to stand in solidarity with Chicago teachers.
- Stay up to date with the latest from the CTU at their Strike Central
- Talk to people you know and explain what's at stake. Whenever you see someone saying teachers are greedy, or that they aren’t helping kids, ask them how fewer teachers and larger classes helps kids. Help them fight for all of us.
All of the momentum of the Wisconsin union movement, all of the effort to fight for universal public schools for all children comes to Chicago. It's not paychecks at stake. It's our children's education.