[Marxism] Letter from the US: Chicago teachers beat off attack, show way forward

Ralph Johansen mdriscollrj at charter.net
Sat Sep 22 20:29:44 MDT 2012

Stuart Munckton wrote

By Barry Sheppard

Chicago's teachers successfully fought off an assault on their union, 
the school children and public education launched by Democratic Chicago 
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and even pushed him back in some respects.

The strike and mass mobilisations of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) 
ended on September 19 when the teachers went back to work.

The evening before, the elected House of Delegates, which represents 
teachers throughout the system, voted by 98% to end the strike.
full article: http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/52326
This was sent to me this morning 

Some contrast...

Unlike most regulars here I haven't paid much attention to what seemed 
to me the Byzantine ins and outs of Trotskist sects I now know that the 
author of the above "Letter", Barry Sheppard, is a longtime leader in 
the SWP and the Fourth International. His evaluation of the outcome, 
while conceding shortcomings, is largely positive, unlike this "Lessons" 
article from WSWS. I also now know that there's acrimony between these 
groups, to which I hadn't paid any mind.

Sheppard writes that "Union democracy was practised from the beginning, 
from the 98% vote to authorise a strike to the final votes ending it," 
and "the teachers also went on a huge campaign to expose the deplorable 
conditions in most Chicago public schools, from unsafe physical 
conditions and bloated class sizes, to lack of libraries in 160 schools 
and lack of air conditioning, even though these weren't "strikable 
issues" under the reactionary law....A recent poll showed overwhelming 
support for the teachers' battle among parents of children in the public 

"The CPS had sought to abolish raises based on teachers' experience and 
educational attainment, in a scheme it called "merit pay". This 
cornerstone of Emanuel's "reform" package is gone from the settlement. 
The basic pay structure is preserved."

"The CTU also managed to blunt the CPS's drive to foist teacher 
evaluations to be 50% based on student performance on standardised 
tests. The contract pushed that back to 25%, followed by an increase to 
30% in the third year of the contract. This is the minimum allowed under 
reactionary state laws.

"The CTU gained ground with new contract language that gives laid-off 
teachers the chance to enter the hiring pool for job openings. Emanuel 
had to back down from his demand for total principal authority on hiring.

"Teachers who are laid off when their positions are closed can return to 
those posts if they are reopened within 10 months. Pay rises can no 
longer be cancelled because of budget shortfalls --- the pretext used 
last year when the CPS cancelled a 4% pay increase previously agreed to.

"The new contract does contain concessions by the union. It forces 
teachers to take part in a "wellness" health care plan in return for a 
freeze on health costs borne by teachers.

"Many teachers feel this discriminates against those who are older or 
have long-term health problems, are deemed "too fat" and so forth.

The new evaluation scheme contains a "needs improvement" category that 
leaves teachers classified as such vulnerable to layoffs. However, 
midyear evaluations, used by principals to fast-track dismissals, are 

"The biggest weakness was the union's failure to win more on its 
"non-strikable" demands, such as smaller class sizes that benefit 
students and teachers. The CPS did agree to hire more social workers, 
nurses and councillors, but only when more funds become available. It 
did agree to hire 600 teachers for art, music and language classes, 
previously cut by the board.

"School closures and privatisations will continue."

. . . .

In contrast, the WSWS's Socialist Equality Party, which lists itself as 
"Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International 
(ICFI)", writes, "The greatest block to carrying out a determined 
struggle was, and is, the organization that claimed to represent the 
interests of teachers, the CTU. The logic of the teachers' struggle 
poses the necessity for a broader mobilization of the entire working 
class in a political struggle against the representatives of the 
corporate and financial elite---and the social system, capitalism, they 
defend....Its [CTU's] primary function was to contain the anger of 
teachers and prevent it from developing into a political struggle 
against the Obama administration and the Democratic Party. The role of 
the union was all the more significant, and revealing, in that it is led 
by a nominally "left" and opposition faction, the Caucus of 
Rank-and-File Educators (CORE).

"CORE was elected in 2010, after a decade of open collaboration with 
Duncan [Obama's Secretary of Education] had deeply discredited the old 
leadership. Karen Lewis took over the presidency, backed by the 
International Socialist Organization, whose member Jesse Sharkey became 
vice-president. CORE presented itself as a more militant leadership 
dedicated to "social justice unionism" and a fight against school 

"In fact, CORE had no significant political differences with the faction 
it deposed. The new leadership endorsed Pat Quinn for governor, accepted 
mass layoffs and firings and worked with Democratic legislators to draft 
Senate Bill 7, which severely limited teachers' right to strike, allowed 
for a longer school day and year without compensation and expanded the 
use of standardized tests to fire teachers.

"The timing of the strike revealed the CTU's political commitments, as 
its beginning was deliberately delayed until after the Democratic Party 
convention that renominated Obama---a convention where American 
Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten got up to insist, in 
relation to the Chicago contract dispute, that 'we are all Democrats.'

"The contract upon which the strike was concluded is an unambiguous 
victory for Emanuel. It contains the mayor's most essential 
demands---including the expansion of test-based evaluation systems, the 
extension of the school day without compensation, and the granting of 
principals broad authority to hire and fire teachers.

"Facing the angry opposition of teachers to Obama's reactionary "school 
reform" agenda, the CTU launched the strike on September 10, largely to 
let off steam, while behind the scenes it worked out a deal that 
contained all of Mayor Emanuel's demands.

"Throughout the nine-day strike, the CTU did everything to downplay the 
political issues at stake. At a September 10 rally of thousands of 
teachers, the word "Obama" was never mentioned by the assorted speakers, 
which included Jesse Jackson and other Democratic Party politicians, as 
well as officials from the AFT.

"Meanwhile, according to a union source cited by the NBC-TV affiliate in 
Chicago, the AFT "leaned on the CTU' to settle the contract," concerned 
that the strike "could backfire'' and negatively impact the Obama 

"After only a few days on strike, Lewis, who had previously announced 
that the sides were far apart, reported that the union had reached a 
"framework" for a deal to end the walkout. Keeping the membership in the 
dark as much and for as long as possible, the CTU sought to stampede 
representatives in the House of Delegates to rubber stamp the agreement.

"The effort to ram through the sellout, however, encountered a hurdle 
when delegates overwhelmingly voted on September 16 to continue the 
strike. Having been rebuffed, the CTU leadership went into high gear to 
pressure delegates to end the strike at the next meeting on September 18."

. . . .

How much of what WSWS contends here is based in fact, and how much is 
faction-bashing? They also quote this: "The /Chicago Tribune/, a vicious 
enemy of the teachers, made it clear that Lewis and Sharkey's task was 
'curbing the vitriol enough to seal a deal'"

...made it clear? Among conclusions that appear clear to me is that the 
strikers did a helluva job in mobilizing the community. WSWS also 
recognizes the extent of the outreach, attributing it to the rank and 
file. Another conclusion evident to me is that this strike has been a 
very important milestone, harbinger maybe, in a long fight ahead to move 
from the defense to the offense. Although it seems clear that the 
teachers themselves were more involved than usual, I question the extent 
to which union leadership may have been too committed to the Obama 
election in pushing this settlement to get all the counter-offensive out 
of it that was latent. Is there another evaluation of the lessons 
learned by which to measure this? It'd be helpful to hear more from the 
delegates, the rank and file and the community.

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