By: Mark Glennon*
Some objectives and motives of the Chicago Teachers Union strike are overt and some are less visible, but consider them together and one conclusion is inescapable: The CTU is attempting an end run around ordinary democratic process to impose a radical political agenda. What they cannot accomplish legislatively or at the ballot box they seek to implement by holding students hostage.
Bargaining for the common good
Start with the Bargaining for the Common Good Network, in which the CTU has a major role. It has broad national and local policy goals commonly favored by the far left on topics like rent control, taxation, climate, race, housing, homelessness and more.
But note the first “key principle” of what they are about — “Expand the scope of bargaining beyond wages and benefits.” That’s their top priority because it arms them with power to shut down schools if their political agenda isn’t accepted. It’s the overarching issue that has deadlocked negotiations in Chicago. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has repeatedly complained that bargaining is being held up by issues not appropriate for union collective bargaining, particularly housing and homelessness.
In other words, if you think voters and their elected representatives should make policy decisions, you have opponents. The CTU wants to make them for you and will enforce its choices by closing schools.
The CTU is a member of that bargaining network. Its Advisory Committee includes CTU Vice President Stacy Davis-Gates, profiled in the Chicago Sun-Times, which said she is “unapologetically demanding solutions to city problems that many — including the mayor — say don’t belong in a labor contract.”
She recently attributed a misspelling of her name to racism and sexism. “My name is misspelled. So pay attention to what’s being said here,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “There’s something to this. The city has a legacy, a culture, of putting black women in the position where life is harder, where they have to be silenced, to take the backseat, and this is an element of it.”
The CTU’s picket lines are the new firing line, as the most far left elements of the media see things, which undoubtedly is helping fuel CTU’s resolve and ego. A few examples:
• Jacobin, a socialist publication, is positively ecstatic about the strike, with multiple articles. “The Chicago teachers’ strike is about who will shape Chicago: billionaires who buy politicians to privatize schools, or working-class communities who want affordable housing, decent jobs, good schools, and justice.”
• In These Times has devoted a special section to the strike, the solution to which is taxing the rich, they say. The CTU has “helped galvanize a new wave of teacher militancy that’s seen unions in red states use unauthorized strikes,” they’ve written. “It’s true that CPS has no legal obligation to bargain with the union over affordable housing policy,” they admitted. Evidently, the law shouldn’t matter when your goals are just.
• And from Vox: “Teacher strikes are changing. The Chicago walkout proves it. They’re about much more than pay raises.” But maybe we should just pity this author. She wrote that the strike makes sense now because “Illinois’ finances are doing much better than they were in 2012 when the teachers last went on strike.” (The state has in fact plummeted nearly $100 billion further into the red since then.)
There’s reason to think voices like that are particularly important to CTU’s socialist President Jesse Sharkey. Sharkey was heavily criticized in the past by some of his fellow socialists for supposedly selling out the movement and abandoning other radicals. Maybe he needs to restore his cred if CTU is to be at the vanguard of a national movement. And you can’t be the champion of a national insurrection if you’re narrowly confined by laws that limit your influence, like those that prohibit collective bargaining on some of the CTU’s demands.
Control over the Chicago School District
Power over Chicago schools ultimately resides in the mayoral-controlled Chicago Board of Education. That has been state law for decades.
Changing it should likewise be a matter of state law, but the CTU is also trying to sidestep that process to seize control of the schools. Crain’s reported the details:
From the outside looking in, the CTU’s strike talk may seem a head-scratcher. Lightfoot has offered a raise and other concessions, after all. But that’s missing the big point: This is a power battle—a fight to determine who calls the shots at CPS… The CTU, meanwhile, wants a rewrite… But in the end, it’s all about who’s the boss.
That assessment is consistent with what we’ve heard about the negotiations from reliable sources – that CTU is attempting a takeover of the school district.
Will that be accomplished by changing the law? No, the CTU seeks to do it by locking kids out of school.
A new strategy that circumvents democratic process is probably also attractive to the CTU because of their failed effort in April’s mayoral election. Before the election, the union confidently predicted a win by Toni Preckwinkle, whom it heavily supported while deriding Lori Lightfoot, and the union bragged about its electoral power. “I feel like we have already won,” said the CTU’s Davis-Gates. “Our movement continues to transform the electorate in Chicago.” Though recent poll results show popular support for the strike, the election indicated they didn’t transform the electorate, so why take the risk on them again?
Finally – and this one is too obvious – there’s the CTU delegation’s solidarity trip to Venezuela earlier this year, which was ridiculed by national media on the right and the left.
Let’s just say the trip should make one question the union’s respect for democratic process. The delegation blogged about their wonderment with the glories of one of the most repressive regimes on the planet. Jonathan Turley wrote, “The naiveté of the teachers was breathtaking and reminded many of the propaganda trips behind the Iron Curtain in the Cold War by American ”communists.”
Sharkey later claimed the trip wasn’t CTU-sponsored, but the blog remains up where the travelers, which include a CTU Executive Committee member, call themselves a CTU delegation. They also raised money in the union’s name, met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in union’s name and spoke with media in the union’s name. And the CTU Executive Board and House of Delegates each unanimously passed a resolution opposing “the invasion of Venezuela” and criticizing the United States and its allies for harassing the regime.
Some demands being made by the Chicago Teachers Union relate to salaries, working conditions and other matters traditionally covered by collective bargaining.
But as it sees itself, and its many allies see it, the Chicago Teachers Union is on the front line of a national struggle for their vision of social justice that goes far beyond Chicago and schools. Submit to that vision or the kids don’t go to school. That’s their leverage. That’s their method. That’s what’s most significant about the strike.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints*
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