Tuesday, July 17, 2012

With Chicago Teacher Strike Looming, Will Teach For America Send in Strike Breakers?

The whispering is that there are 5,000 nubile young "idealists" From Teach for America ready to roll into town for Rahm. --- George Schmidt, Substance
I'm heading to Detroit next week for the AFT convention and will be checking out the Chicago crew, many of whom I know. Here are some articles worth reading on the battles in Chicago. The CORE caucus has inspired the new MORE caucus here in NYC which was profiled on Gotham in a great piece by Rachel Cromidas (Teachers union faction wants to shake up electoral status quo). Rachel gave up an entire evening to hang out and listen to Michael's and my presentations followed by an hour of Q and A (not posted yet).

 JOIN MORE ON THE CON ED PICKET LINES TODAY. MEET UP AT 4 IRVING PLACE AT 4 FOR THE MARCH TO UNION SQUARE AT 5:30. Please bring a sign showing MORE’s support for the locked workers and their families

There is a story from The Guardian in Britain, a sign of the international implications of the strike as it compares the upcoming struggle to PATCO, a major event in undermining unions in this country. MORE will try to organize an event to support the Chicago teacher union. Remember that Chicago had corporate ed deform 8 years before we did here so every educator in NYC should see that supporting the CTU is crucial for our own battles to come. Another story was published in June also bringing up the PATCO story.

Here is a link to coverage at Substance. Will TFA make it perfectly clear where it is coming from by sending in the strike breakers? The corporate deformers are counting on it. George writes:
Teach for America doesn't do "boot camp" for this reality. Mercenaries are mercenaries, and scabs are scabs. A mercenary has to have a hole in his soul — but also a little guts. The jobs is not just for a kid with a fancy university degree, a vapid ignorance about reality, and a perfect score on the quiz that followed the most recent airing of "Waiting for Superman". Six viewings of "Waiting for Superman" and a couple of Attaboys from Jonah Edelman, Becky Carroll and Wendy Kopp aren't going to get your through one day scabbing in Chicago. Reality here is as close as the difference between a Latin King and a Latin Dragon, a false flag — crown up or crown down? — that can get you a year in therapy if you are lucky. They don't teach that at Princeton, and by the time Rahm's scabs wake up it will be sadly too late for them.
The full piece it at: SCAB TEACHERS NOT WELCOME: Rahm's Scab Army will be a debacle... Rahm's disinformation campaigns will lead to chaos for a couple of days in scab classrooms until the last TFA or New Teacher Project mercenaries are driven out of our classrooms

The Guardian

Chicago's teachers could strike a blow for organised labour globally

If the fight to halt school budget cuts in Obama's Democratic heartland succeeds it would be a huge boost for unions
Demonstrators Protest The NATO Summit In Chicago
'Some Chicago unions found that reaching out to Occupy [such as at this protest against the Nato sumit in May] helped them resist rightwing attacks.' Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Last month, approximately 90% of Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members voted for strike action. Only 1.82% voted against. This was a shock to the local administration.
Not only is this the heart of Obama country, where unions are expected to play ball with the Democrats in an election year. It is also a city where, thanks to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, teachers are not allowed to strike unless more than 75% of union members vote for it.
Yet it is not just the local establishment that will be unsettled here. This is getting national attention in the US, and a strike could be an embarrassment to President Obama. Moreover, it could re-ignite the American labour movement at a time of global unrest.
The basis of this dispute is what is innocuously termed "school reform". This is a process of privatisation and union-busting. Since the 1990s, Chicago has been a laboratory for such reforms, which have been rolled out across the country. The programme enjoys the support of the Democratic leadership as well as leading pro-Obama liberals such as Davis Guggenheim, whose film Waiting for Superman was a lengthy attack on teaching unions and a tribute to private schools.
Chicago intends to open 60 new privatised, non-union "charter" schools in the next five years. Public schools are being closed to make way for this change and capital spending has been slashed. The CTU's new leadership has been driving a campaign to tackle chronic underfunding in Chicago schools, and broaden the curriculum. They describe the system as one of "educational apartheid", and demand an elected school board which reflects the needs of the city's population.
But the final provocation was when the "reformers" increased teachers' working hours by 20%, while cutting a promised 4% pay rise in half. They falsely imagined that the CTU would be a pushover, having recently elected a bunch of "rookie" candidates to the leadership.
In fact, the victory of these "rookies", from the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE), demonstrated two things. First, it showed the unwillingness of members to be as compliant as the leadership has been in the past. Second, it proved the new leadership's ability as grassroots organisers. They showed the same skill in building support among teachers for strike action in a series of mock ballots and mass public meetings.
The administration and local media are now running with the story that this is purely a fiscal problem. The government, they say, is trying to close a £700m deficit. But the teachers' union has obtained, through a Freedom of Information Act request, evidence that the money that was to pay for teachers' salaries has been spent on paying police officers to patrol public schools. This is typical of reform in the neoliberal era: budgets are cut, but just as significant is the shift in the balance of state intervention away from welfare and toward coercion and discipline.
Having effectively built support among teachers, much now hinges on the union's ability to win over parents' groups , who have been alienated by the budget cuts. Parents are a key target of the administration's propaganda. Rahm Emanuel has tried to appear above this dispute, but his mayoral campaign in 2010 was led by education "reform", and his allies are running campaign ads attacking the teachers, and encouraging parents to pressure them into dropping their campaign.
But this is just one aspect of a general problem facing the union. Unions in America have been so diminished over the years that membership is concentrated in a public sector rump. Their struggles can thus appear as sectional, even where they have much wider significance. Union members in Madison, Wisconsin won widespread support. In the end, however, they lost the initiative by falling back on a narrow client relationship with the Democratic party. Pushing a recall vote against Governor Scott Walker, they haemorrhaged members while the new anti-union laws were passed, then lost the recall vote.
Chicago teachers don't even have the option of appealing to the Democrats, who are their antagonists in this case. But if they are to succeed, they will need allies. The unions have strategic power, but they are too small to fight in isolation. Some Chicago unions found that reaching out to Occupy last year helped them resist rightwing attacks.
If this strike goes ahead, it will be the first such strike since 1987. But the stakes are much higher. Teaching activists say this struggle recalls the Patco dispute. When the airline workers union failed in that battle with the Reagan administration, it was a setback for the whole American labour movement for decades.
A failure in this case would potentially be much worse than Patco. On the other hand, a success would partially redeem the heavy defeat inflicted on unions in Wisconsin, and signal a fundamental shift in American politics. And more than this: from Sichuan in China to Asturias in Spain, labour protests are growing in scale and militancy. America's influence is such that a return of the labour movement in the US would tilt the balance in favour of workers globally.
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Ghosts of PATCO and the Coming Battle for Teachers

I've been there.
Your ears ring so badly the sound of a spoon stirring coffee hurts. You can't sleep past dawn, but you can't prop your lids open through dusk. Your exhaustion runs so deep the next 75 days seem over before they start...filled as they'll be with summer jobs to pay bills, workshops to stay certified, planning for the fall---and dare I say it?---family.
You love your work, though it's the hardest thing you've ever done and never gets easier...and you won't get rich on what they pay you...yet those who've never done it are actually jealous of you in June.
Teachers use these bittersweet first days of summer both to get a life and find new energy to live it.
So it hardly seems time to add one more thing to teachers' plates...
After giving up teaching more by circumstance than choice, I served about a dozen of the past 18 years on my school board.  Since 1994, I've watched schools remodel themselves after corporations, de-professionalize teaching, gut local control by rendering boards nearly powerless and alienating parents, and squeeze budgets past the breaking point while funneling resources out of communities.
For the past quarter century we have been frogs slowly boiled by corporate interests, and we have yet to jump out of the water. Next fall may be our do-or-die moment.
This is the mess that gets slopped on your plate this summer: It's an approaching showdown for parents, teachers, and all who care about kids, not to mention policemen, firemen, and other union workers: ignore it at your own peril because you're next.
If it comes to a strike, the CTU will need help from teachers across the country, so the smart money says be ready. This will not be a time for a timid response. The CTU will need solid moral support, possibly including cash and sympathetic job actions to draw attention to their cause.
The first years of this decade saw the highest highs and the lowest lows for unions. Public sector unions were gutted in Wisconsin, inspiring union busters everywhere yet kindling the largest, loudest united backlash in the memory of all but our oldest. The attack was so outrageous it brought those slated by Walker for “divide and conquer” together and brought him nearly to his knees.
Nearly, but obscene piles of money plus one heartbreaking Tuesday all but crushed that rebellion, puffing up dozens more would-be Walkers across the country. Both sides know that was a watershed.
Union-busting currents flow deep in most of our communities, and I saw that clearly from the school board. As a board member in Maine, I received mailings from the state school boards/school management association barely containing its glee supporting ALEC-inspired initiatives from a tea-party governor. The superintendent himself, every time the door closed, bashed away: belittling union activities and openly plotting the union's demise, all with barely a peep of opposition.
I yelled myself silly, but unions have precious little support in our conservative towns, where even teachers' salaries look good and every benefit seems stolen from citizens' pockets. Any talk of parents and unions joining forces for better schools meets polite silence.
Yet that is exactly what the good folks in Chicago---parents and union activists---are trying to do right now, and if they fail we will face a moment this fall which will combine the worst of Walker's Wisconsin sleeze with Reagan's PATCO orgasm while shredding teachers' unions for our generation.
A short crib-note on Chicago school politics might be in order. Remember Arne Duncan? His twisted logic for “school reform” was first tested in Chicago. Now he's running the Department of Charter Education and Teacher Bashing in DC. Barack Obama? FOA (Friend of Arne). His national agenda for schools?---'nuf said. How about Rahm Emanuel? FOB, FOA...now strangling Chicago schools with closures, arrogance, and promises to sell kids to the highest corporate bidders.
The Chicago Teachers' Union (CTU)? Once a compliant bunch, but recently taken over by the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) in a stunning victory for grassroots organizing.
Those are the actors. The plot thickened last week when the CTU authorized a strike vote if contract negotiations break down. The vote was not close: nearly 90% in favor and less than 2% of membership opposed.
Chicago teachers threw down the gauntlet for nothing less than a good-faith, fairly negotiated contract, but Emanuel's minions were surely emboldened by Walker's victory. If it comes to a strike, the CTU will need help from teachers across the country, so the smart money says be ready. This will not be a time for a timid response. The CTU will need solid moral support, possibly including cash and sympathetic job actions to draw attention to their cause.
Chicago is a front-line skirmish in Washington's drive to dismantle public education across the country, and should be considered no less. If we can't draw a line there, don't bother to wait for the fight to come to your neighborhood.
Do your research this summer while you have breathing room. Sleep on what this means to you while you have time to sleep. Talk with your friends and colleagues around the country about what this means to you...while you have time and energy to talk.
Next fall, be refreshed and ready with your summer reading done, your homework completed, and your mind made up to fill the trenches in solidarity with your colleagues...and ultimately for your own students and schools. Big money will be throwing all they have at the CTU, and the negative effects of their PR smears will find you wherever you live, so better get a head start.
Nobody will lead you into battle in 75 days, but if you do your work in July and August, nobody will have to.
Alan Morse
Alan Morse is a parent, once a teacher, and more recently a school board director living in western Maine. He can be joined or harangued at alanmorse@gmail.com


  1. Rahm is slime and Leach from America seeks to create baby scabs out of terrified shittily trained suckers who are still gobbling up all the fake do good pablum their handlers can spoonfeed them in their little crash course training camps. There's a reason they call it a crash course kids. My fist day in BPS I learned the guy who made the coffee in the faculty room had scabbed in the strike 12 years previous. By the end of the week I also knew who the other 2 were. Teachers made sure I knew who they were and I was advised to keep my distance. Go ahead and cross that line kids and when the strike is settled you'll be wishing you never heard of the Broad shouldered butcher of hogs public schools to borrow a phrase from Sandburg. But the fault lies not in the starry eyed dupes who are being snookered but with the corporate scum who seek to pit them against their mentors.


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