“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Jan 9, 2022
For three days last week, the Chicago public school system was effectively shut down. Declaring that the rapid increase in Covid infections made schools unsafe, the teachers’ union announced on Tuesday evening that teachers would not be in the classroom on Wednesday morning, offering to carry on remote instruction instead. Chicago’s mayor, who heads the schools, declared there would be no instruction unless teachers were in the classroom. Teachers’ school Emails and remote learning accounts were blocked.
Parents were left at the last moment to find a way their children would be cared for.
As in many other big city school systems, Chicago schools were shut down starting in March 2020, when the first lockdowns were imposed on the country, in a failed attempt to stop the virus. Excepting a few periods, when schools sporadically went back to in-person instruction, instruction was “remote” until the beginning of fall, 2021.
In other words, children had a very large chunk ripped out of their educational lives in Chicago and all over the country. Academically, many children regressed. Cut off from their friends, cut off from social activities, many also suffered in their psychological and social well-being.
Now, it’s 2022, and classrooms were once again shut. As of this Sunday morning, it appeared that Chicago schools will still be shut Monday.
The union is right: the schools are unsafe, just as large parts of society today are unsafe. But it’s also true that children have suffered under the nearly year and a half of so-called remote learning which Chicago’s mayor tries to play on.
Ask the right questions. Why can’t the schools be organized to provide both for the students’ education and for everyone’s safety? Or this one: why, nearly two years into this pandemic are there still not enough masks, still not enough tests so that everyone in the whole society can have what is needed? Why aren’t the masks and tests completely free?
The mayor certainly doesn’t raise the underlying issues. Like Democrats and Republicans elsewhere, she’s too busy siphoning money from schools and public health, handing it over to expand profits of big corporations.
For money to be put into measures for the population’s health and for the education of its youngest generation, the public-money faucet that flows directly into the accounts of big corporations has to be shut off.
For the schools to be made safe and enabled to provide an adequate education to all children, public money must be used for public purposes.
The teachers have every reason not to let their interests seem to be counterposed to those of the children. The teachers, in fact, are the only ones who really can have the same interests as the parents and as the children do.
A fight for a decent education, carried on in safe schools, is a fight that could mobilize a large part of the working class: all those parents and grandparents worried about their kids’ health and education; all those teachers worried about their own health and the health of their own families.
The problem that Covid raises in the schools is one of the big problems of our day. It will be addressed only by a social mobilization of all those concerned.
The unions today could play a role to bring about a wider social fight, not restricted only to the narrow interests of their own members. But they won’t be able to do that if like the Chicago teachers’ union they are ready to sacrifice the interests of others, each one thinking foolishly that it can thus protect the well-being of its own members. That’s not possible in a capitalist system that sinks from one crisis into another.
Teachers who face problems of working conditions in the schools can be a nexus between the problems workers face in their own workplace and the problems workers’ kids face in the schools.
"Solidarity” should not be only a word. It is both a vital necessity and a real possibility.