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Chicago: the Strike is On

The Chicago school workers’ strike is on. It is a real class war that must be won.

Enrolling about 400,000 students, with about 22,000 school workers, Chicago is the third largest district in the country, segregated as it may be. Chicago schools are the centripetal organizing point of city life–as is true now of most of de-industrialized North American life.

The Chicago Teachers Union is Local One, the first, of the American Federation of Teachers, the smaller and more urban of U.S. teacher unions.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, one of President Obama’s best friends, appoints the school board. He did, anointing some of the richest people in the city along with an army of Broad Foundation mercenaries like a recent transfer from the collapsed Detroit system, Barbara Byrd Bennett.

There is a direct line from the Chicago fight-back to the ruling elites of the US and the competing needs of each side.

History moves faster now. As it does, keeping the social context of this battle is key, if difficult, as the fighting on the ground develops.

This is a mass, class conscious movement, not merely for wages, benefits, and working conditions, but against the combined powers of a united ruling class (the rich, their political poodles from both parties and all their weapons–courts, cops, deceit, hunger and more). This ruling class finalized the emergence of a corporate state, fascism, with the bank and auto bailouts, setting in motion new circumstances which must set up interrogation of strike tactics and strategies–but also grand strategy. In the long run, for what?

This is a fight against barbarism. It is a combat against the destruction of reason itself.

The strike shows it is not only necessary, but right, to rebel. Proof of its necessity can be found in a counter-example: Detroit.

There, the union leadership of the Detroit Federation of Teachers joined the local ruling elites and, over years, so thoroughly demoralized the work force that when given the chance, 86 percent of the members quit the union which they see as essentially defunct. Ruined in parallel are the Detroit schools where the treasury has been looted by developers; class size in high schools may reach 60, in elementary 45. Ever teacher in Detroit was fired in 2012. About 5/6 of them will be rehired, but not by seniority; rather by whim. The remaining sixth appear to be simply out of luck–as are the kids.

It is, more to the point, morally right to rebel. The cause is good. What the strikers are about to do is righteous. That is their great driving source of morale, an important propellant for solidarity.

Who is on the other side? Savages. At the end of the long sticks of the Democrats and Republicans, fully together of the central issues of the USA–bank and auto bailouts with tax money, perpetual war, and full control of thought in schools, add in torture–are horrific results:

*2.3 million color coded people in jail, denied rights on release,

*Deporters of millions of innocents, wall-builders who kill thousands more,

*drone-assassins, murderers of thousands of innocents, warriors promising endless warfare,

*while the barbarized Veterans Administration routinely denies benefits to damaged vets and forces them via an economic draft and Stop Loss rules to return again and again to conflicts even more hopeless than Vietnam,

*owners of private armies of mercenaries and the CIA,

*purveyors of more weaponry to the world’s dictators than anyone else on the planet,

*signers of the brutal Patriot Act and National Defense Authorization Act,

*bosses of Gitmo and other black torture sites,

*the well-protected toughies whose national terror squads coordinated violent attacks, and quasi-legal assaults, on the Occupy Wall Street and activist student movements in the last 24 months, driving them into retreat as intelligence agencies, and unionites, diverted or jailed them,

*pimps for the pharma and insurance lobbies, hustling Obamacare as a step ahead,

*overseers of a real 20% plus unemployment rate who, with an “after me the deluge,” financier outlook, refuse to print money to put people to work,

*Obama as author with Arne Duncan (the National Education Association’s $465,000 a year President Dennis Van Roekel said, during a debate, “we cannot throw Duncan under a bus”) and Rahm Emanuel, of the rotten Race to the Top (RaTT) which is the Bush No Child Left Behind Act on meth,

*Obama, the grinning thug lawyer who ignores the murders of children in his falsified home town of Chicago,

*the Harvard law grad member of the Bar who’s busied himself with destroying privacy laws and whistle-blowers,

*who extends the border fence behind the Border Czar, fascist Alan Bersin, the President who has deported more people than Bush II,

*the bogus Bible banger who couldn’t direct the arrest and trial of Bin Laden, rather the murder, as Obama and the Republicans knew their own promotion of mysticism helped create a nation of irrationalists who could not stand a prosecution that said to OBL, “you’re nuts, have fairies dancing in your head; people make gods, gods do not make people, you murder people for a sham god,” even though only a better idea will defeat the AL Queda Jihad,

*the demagogue with the twinkle-toes patter, who applauded the firing of Rhode Island teachers,

*paymasters of willing American union tops via CIA sponsored operations like the National Endowment for Democracy and Education International,

*patrons of a press that lies about war, bailouts, and schools–creating test score hysteria,

*while his errand boy with the evil middle school child grin, Arne Duncan, declared Detroit the worst school system in the USA, then let the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the only hope the city had, sink in a sea of corruption and incompetence,

*These well dressed slippery little fuhrers over the corporate state and the best hope of the ruling classes to continue their rule without uprisings.

Those are the bad people on the other side. Bad people.

Examine roots of the causes of this strike:

*an economy reeling because of lost wars and the socialization of elites’ losses, matched by the privatization of their gains–as the banks still don’t loan but the bonuses pour forth,

*a desperate effort to noose schooling under the full control of the corporate state via the series of post Vietnam maneuvers of America At Risk, the NCLB, and RaTT,

*a nationally regimented curricula to corral knowledge, to promote witless nationalism and hide the abject failure of the capitalist system as the empire desperately decays,

*racist and anti-working class high stakes exams which deepen segregation under a counterfeit rubric of science,

*relentless press assaults on schools and teachers as failures and the causes of financial collapse,

*merit pay attached to the Big Tests producing pay differentials along lines of parental income, dividing the teaching force materially,

*militarization of all schooling at every level, turning schools into human munition mills,

*200,000 and more teacher layoffs,

*attacks on seniority and tenure k-12 through universities,

*demands for pay, benefit, and pension concessions in even rich areas like San Diego and Palm Beach, Florida, when concessions never save jobs,

*booming class size–in Detroit a new contract could allow 65 students in a high school room, 45 in an elementary,

*the deterioration of facilities in poorer ares,

*shocking tuition hikes–32% in the University of California system, and massive student debt.

All this sums up to a beastly attack which has, in my research of the last 20 years, an atmosphere of fear that pervades all of schooling in the US.

Clearly, the Obama administration has had a hand in the potential of a strike. Perhaps they read the farcical union defeat in Wisconsin, which put something never won on the ballot, but the streets–collective bargaining–on the ballot and lost. Maybe Obama wants to be the teacher-union busting president. Or not. Teacher unions will give tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousand of expert volunteer hours to his campaign. Or not. Can the national union tops keep the rank and file so thoroughly deceived that Obama’s role goes unnoticed and they remain loyal subjects?

The core issue of our time is the reality of the promise of perpetual war and booming color coded inequality met by the potential of a mass, class conscious, organized movement that grasps the relationship of capital, empire, and what it takes to resist.

These are, simply, capital’s school deeply imbued with the expansionist empire. They always have been; never a truly public system but a segregated branch of government that has, as anyone would expect, shifted with the fortunes of that empire. Now, with the empire in crisis, rapidly decomposing, the rot hits the schools where, in California, each kid is worth about $5,000 a year.

Schools, assuredly, produce the next generation of workers, best if loyal, docile, and obedient, if able to adapt. They also, however, produce reason in contradiction to the needs of capital, critical literacy or Howard Zinn’s history–results of long struggles for freedom in schooling.

The right to resist, now demonstrated in practice in Chicago, will be a lesson thousands of teachers and students will never forget–the best kind.

Again, this strike must win. It cannot be allowed to be demolished as with the many strike of the past 40 years: PATCO, the Detroit Newspaper Strike, the California Grocery Strike, two Detroit Teacher wildcats, etc.

Part of what it takes is parsing friends from enemies.

Jesse Jackson, the lifelong poverty procurer, already denounced the strike as a threat to destroy Chicago.

NEA president Van Roekel and the Chicago Teachers’ Union national affiliate president, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers already promised to back the strike. Clinging to their Quisling relationship with the corporate-political class, they will seek to demolish it.

Their role is, after all, to sell the pacified labor of their members to corporate state bosses in exchange for dues income. That is precisely what is exchanged for the check-off , what they deceptively mean when they say, “collective bargaining.”

Quislings in the ranks deserve the same treatment as scabs.

Chicago, which will offer example upon example from real life, also shows the nature of American unionism which does not unite people but divides them. Already, the Service Employees International Union says they will tell their members to cross picket lines because, “we have a contract,” that is, labor peace, sold out. Their president showed his solidarity by telling members to wear red shirts–not enough.

The Chicago Teachers Union led by the CORE caucus has organized an entire community to revolt against grotesque injustice, in schools and out. For the strike to sustain, they will need help.

Every thinking person should offer financial, moral, and practical support. The entire array of elite methods of rule–lies, divide and rule, carrot and stick, spectacles, violence, hierarchy–will be employed against this strike.

Solidarity, a grasp that this is class war and a just cause, can defeat them.

Rich Gibson is an emeritus professor of education at San Diego State University.  He can be reached at: rgibson@pipeline.com

The Chicago Teachers Union.

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