Will the Chicago Teacher’s Union survive?
Chicago’s mayor, his school board chief and the governor of Illinois are trying to force a Chicago teacher’s strike this spring. Why? Because they want to drive a wedge into the working class by breaking the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).
After months of negotiations, CTU negotiators on February 1 rejected a “tentative agreement” that had been offered by the unelected Chicago Public School (CPS) Board. On February 2, CPS chief Forrest Claypool fired at least 1,000 teachers and cut teacher salaries 7% by forcing them to pay the full cost of their pensions. On February 4, thousands of teachers, parents, students and allied organizations flooded downtown Chicago in protest of CPS’ draconian retaliation.
Also on February 2, Republican governor Bruce Rauner offered to appoint an emergency manager to take over the public schools and declare them bankrupt, along with the financially strapped city of Chicago. Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel ridiculed him, pointing out that Rauner has been unable to get a state budget passed since he took office a year ago. Here’s the reality: both Rauner and Emanuel oppose benefits and services that workers need. Neither of them is going to bat for those who have fallen off the employment grid.
Both Emanuel and Rauner dance to the tune of Wall Street. Rauner’s call for bankrupting Chicago added tens of millions of dollars in higher interest on a $725 million bank loan to CPS on February 8. Meanwhile, Emanuel considers bank loans sacred, never missing a payment and never challenging loan interest while his obligations to the pension fund have always been discretionary. This is how these stick-up artists rob the working class. Either way, financial corporations and the government become more enmeshed, especially when the head of the school board, appointed by the mayor, comes from the energy giant Exelon Corp.
Emanuel is at his weakest, most unpopular point in his administration. His cover-up of the murder of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police outraged Chicagoans. Almost daily demonstrations call for his resignation. A recent poll showed the public views the Chicago Teachers Union three times more favorably than it does Emanuel. The teachers may never have a more favorable time to fight for their survival and that of public education. However, the threats to take over the public schools are not empty. Michigan has been the testing ground for the “emergency manager” form of dictatorship. The emergency manager of Detroit’s public schools is managing the destruction of public education there. Union contracts, once sacred in Michigan, have now succumbed to “right-to-work” legislation.
The steps the Chicago Teachers Union is taking to unify the fighters for a world-class education are important to a section of society that is losing any hope of education as an end to poverty. The battle is transcending the fight for individual schools. The combatants are forced to engage the political apparatus to achieve their contract goals. This is the beginning of seeing the goal as fully-funded public education for all, guaranteed nationally by a government with abundant resources to accomplish this.