The Chicago Teachers Union has gotten permission from its membership to strike. If it comes to that, the local union’s progressive leadership will also “confront the national leadership of their own union, the American Federation of Teachers, who are in President Obama’s and Mayor Emanuel’s pockets.” Chicago’s teachers understand that they can only win if the community views the teachers' cause as their own.
“Lewis and her team believe the only way to save teachers' jobs and public education is to make common cause with the surrounding community.”
Chicago teachers have voted overwhelming to empower their union to go on strike. Almost 9 out of 10 of the local membership supported the strike authorization – far more than the 75 percent required under a new Illinois state law. This means the Chicago Teachers Union leadership has the legal and moral authority to confront Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s and the Obama administration’s relentless campaign to privatize education, de-professionalize teachers, and destroy any vestiges of community control of public schools.
The Chicago teachers must also confront the national leadership of their own union, the American Federation of Teachers, who are in President Obama’s and Mayor Emanuel’s pockets. The same goes for the other big teachers union, the National Education Association. Both the NEA and the AFT rushed to endorse Obama’s reelection, even though his administration has done more damage to teachers, as employees and as professionals, than any of his recent predecessors.
It is as if the national teacher’s unions are in a love affair with their executioners. ABC News certainly got that impression, when American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten heaped praise on Mayor Emanuel, her local members' nemesis. “Mayor Emanuel is in a love fest with the American Federation of Teachers,” said ABC.
Weingarten sounded like any corporate politician when she said that good things happen “when labor and business start working together.” In Chicago and throughout the nation, so-called “public-private partnerships” in education have had disastrous results for teachers, students, parents and entire communities. Barack Obama’s basketball buddy Arne Duncan fired 1,300 teachers, most of them Black, during the eight years when he was Chicago schools chief.
“Community control is anathema to school privatizers, especially when those communities are Black and brown.”
Duncan’s anti-Black, anti-union policies impressed Barack Obama so much, he made Duncan his Secretary of Education. When Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, won the mayor’s office, he promptly fired 1,000 more teachers, a disproportionate share of them African Americans.
Chicago once boasted a system of community control of schools that was the envy of the nation, with thousands of neighborhood activists elected to Local School Councils that exercised real power at the schoolhouse level. Today, these councils still exist, but the mayor calls most of the shots – just like in corporate America. Community control is anathema to school privatizers, especially when those communities are Black and brown. Black unionized teachers who actually live in the community are the most despised of all – which is why Obama’s friends Arne Duncan and Rahm Emanuel are so anxious to get rid of them.
Karen Lewis is one of those Black teachers. She’s also head of the Chicago Teachers Union, the leader of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators that threw out the old, collaborationist leadership, two years ago. Lewis and her team believe the only way to save teachers' jobs and public education is to make common cause with the surrounding community. When and if the Chicago teachers go on strike, it will be in close collaboration with the communities that are served by the public schools.
For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Glen For. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].