Sep 17, 2012
A week after Labor Day, Chicago teachers went out on strike. They may have had real grievances concerning pay and benefits, but the big issues of this strike turned around the drive of big money to “reform” the schools, that is, to grab a bigger part of the funds that go to public education.
Back in 1996, Lehman Brothers, an important Wall Street bank at the time, organized a meeting for big money investors. “Public schools are ripe for takeover by private management companies,” said one of Lehman’s executives. Another trumpeted: “Wall Street is very interested in any big-spending industry.” You bet!
The last four presidents – George Bush the first, Bill Clinton, George Bush the second and Barack Obama – all passed education “reform” bills opening the door for Wall Street’s “interested,” greedy wolves.
Chicago has been key in the attempt to put public education money into private hands. Chicago politicians – Mayor Richard Daley, and his henchman Arne Duncan, followed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel – aimed, first of all, to reduce the amount of money spent on teachers. Why? Why else? They wanted to free up more public money for big business.
Under various pretexts, they closed public schools, replacing them, directly or indirectly, with charter schools. Numbers of poor children were shoved out of schools in poor areas that Chicago developers were trying to “gentrify,” that is, to take over from the poor, upgrade, and hand over to the rich.
Standing right in the bulls eye were the teachers. “Take down the teachers, take over school funding” – that was the reasoning of big money.
One hundred schools were closed – and those closures were used to push out more experienced, higher-paid teachers, replacing them with newer, lower-paid ones. The push for basing “evaluation” on nearly worthless testing is aimed at getting rid of still more experienced teachers.
Back-up and support staff for teachers have been cut – eliminating janitors, school nurses, librarians, social workers. Physical education, art, music, special needs classes all began to disappear.
When Chicago teachers decided massively to strike, they took on this so-called “reform.” In so doing, they defend not only themselves, but the children.
These issues won’t be settled in one city alone, nor in one single strike. This attack on the public schools comes out of a general offensive organized from the very top of the federal government. But this school privatization steamroller will never stop on its own – not until someone does decide to fight. And Chicago teachers did just that.
Teachers in Chicago, said NO MORE. And they said it with their feet, walking out, picketing, demonstrating, even before the strike started.
The strike was a real slap in the face for Rahm Emanuel – and for Arne Duncan, Obama’s education chief.
Emanuel may have thought, when he ceded wage increases to the teachers and removed merit pay, that he could avoid the strike.
But Chicago teachers “ain’t no fools” – they know they got those wage increases because they foiled Emanuel’s attempt to prevent them from striking. He had contrived to get a bill passed by the Illinois legislature requiring Chicago teachers – and only Chicago teachers – to vote by at least 75% of the whole membership for a strike. He might have thought that teachers couldn’t do the impossible, bringing out that many people to vote.
But in their classrooms every day, Chicago teachers do the impossible. They voted, 90% of them, to strike. And they went on to rub Emanuel’s face in that decision when they went out. By their actions, Chicago teachers said they will not be trifled with.
Whatever settlement finally comes out of this strike will not, in itself, give teachers the way to resist many of the attacks they face. But their readiness to strike gives them worlds of possibilities if they build on it. And they already got more than they would have without striking.
The whole question now is for them to be ready to continue – however they finally vote on this particular contract offer, whatever they do in the next weeks.
What they started could be only the beginning of the fight that so desperately needs to be made – and not just about the schools, but about this whole capitalist society that stands ready today to throw workers’ children to the wolves.