Children at Center of Chicago Teachers Strike
The last thing teachers want to do is not to be in the classroom with their students. The Chicago teachers and school support staff went out on strike in October for more than better pay for themselves. They demanded that class sizes for children be smaller, that nurses, counselors, librarians, and other support staff be considered as a part of the educational environment for youngsters. They demanded that the lack of affordable housing be seen for what it is – a stumbling block to education. Teachers know first-hand that homeless and near homeless children are at a great disadvantage to succeeding in school. The strike really was a strike for and by the entire community against the inequalities of Chicago’s schools and the city itself.
The movement to save public education is contending with a wall of State power protecting the interests of the ruling class. During her campaign, Chicago Mayor Lightfoot and her allies stole from the militant teachers’ union demands and made them a centerpiece of her vision for equity in Chicago. During the strike, teachers and the community demanded that she come through on her promises.
Yet she, along with the CPS (Chicago Public Schools), made the excuse that the city simply did not have the money. The city has somehow found the money to subsidize huge real estate developments in Chicago. As one teacher stated, “Equity centers around the most marginalized in our society and if we believe in it, then there must be a cost to the most privileged in our society.”
Mayor Lightfoot and the CPS continue to protect the rich and most privileged interests of our city. If we can subsidize developers to the tune of $2.1 billion to build real estate projects like Lincoln Yards and ‘The 78,’ if we can come up with $2.3 billions in tax incentives and subsidies to lure Amazon’s second headquarters, then we can fully fund our schools. We need leadership that is willing to do this by taxing the rich and by not subsidizing developers.
The strikers drew our attention to the fact that there are billions of taxpayer dollars for private property developments. So why can’t we have nurses and counselors in every school, and class sizes small enough to allow our teachers to truly teach? Schools really are community centers where teachers and staff are on the front lines of dealing with all of the issues that are affecting the children, including austerity and the privatization of public schools. Many educators opened their eyes to the fact that the city is making decisions that directly impact the well-being of the children they are with every day. A remarkable quality of the strike is that it took up the demands of those support workers in the school system who work at poverty wages. These workers have to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table. It represents a real awakening on the part of many teachers and others who are beginning to realize the city is turning its back on homeless children, children threatened with deportation and the breaking apart of families, destitute workers, and underpaid teachers, while it pours billions of dollars into private real estate development.
The struggle rested on things not typically fought for in a contract. It took up broad demands that are essential to bring students and families the schools they deserve. The picket line and public pressure were used to secure things that will affect students and families on the ground, in their neighborhoods. They addressed sanctuary protection in the schools, affordable housing assistance, rent control, and sustainable community schools.
Chicago teachers learned from the Oakland and Los Angeles strikes which used their contract negotiations to win bigger and broader demands at the bargaining table and out in the streets.
And this fight is far bigger than a strike of teachers — this strike is also special because of the environment of today’s world. During the height of the industrial age millions of workers were needed in manufacturing and related jobs. Public schools were seen as important to ensure that qualified workers could perform these jobs. In today’s world of the electronic revolution, most of those old jobs have disappeared. And despite what “experts” keep telling us, they are not being replaced with enough other types of good jobs for all.
It isn’t a question of money. It’s a question of political will. Many of the jobs that do open up require advanced education, but even those are being replaced through the use of robotics and Artificial Intelligence. Even though working class youth incur tens of thousands of dollars of debt to go to college, they are not guaranteed a job.
The growing contradiction of students being told to get educated, while a shrinking job market requires fewer “educated” applicants, is why all battles for education today face steep resistance. It has become harder and harder to “win” anything for Chicago’s students. Under Mayor Rahm Emmanuel there were massive school closures, even though the majority of Chicagoans protested that this meant gutting neighborhood communities.
Privatizing the schools and selling off public education to charters continue unabated even though charters have not produced better results than public schools. This was done to undercut the teachers’ union, but also to transfer taxpayer money away from improving the public schools into the pockets of corporations and administrators running the charters.
Strikes like this, which involve the entire community, will continue and are part of the fight to transform society to take care of all of us. Educating children should not be looked at as a benefit for corporations. The education of the up and coming generation is important to the progress of human society.
The movement that is arising will continue to develop and grow in consciousness and power. The Chicago teachers’ strike is notable for helping develop the understanding that classes exist in America, and that the interests of each class are coming into sharp conflict. That is the most important achievement of the strike. In the past, teachers may have seen their sphere of influence as being limited to the classroom and school system. Now, many see this strike as so important because they are shining a light on the role the huge real estate and other corporations are playing in the destruction of public education. This was also evident in the statewide teacher strikes in Arizona, Oklahoma, and the wildcat strike in West Virginia. In Indiana, at least 147 school districts canceled classes for the “Red for Ed Action Day” in November.
A new vision is necessary to move forward. It is clear that hunger and destitution resulting from the destruction of a wage-based economy is not due to a lack of food, clothing, or homes. There is an abundance of those things. Distribution of the basic necessities of life and the real development of a cultured life requires the transformation from society organized to protect private property to one that makes that property public and controlled by our working class. We have to engage in revolutionary transformation to build a system that allows every person to contribute to society, and that distributes the necessaries of life according to need. A tremendous effort to unite our class practically and intellectually is necessary to bring this vision to fruition. RC
January/February 2020. Vol30.Ed1
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011