Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Karen Lewis and CTA leadership help Emanuel out, support cuts in education.

Former IDF soldier and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Rahm Emanuel, friend of Obama and mayor of Chicago is having an easy time destroying public education in the Windy City, made all the easier when the leadership of the teacher’s union is so cooperative when it comes to handing over their members’ wages and benefits and a community resource.

Chicago’s schools and the education of working class children is being devastated by the same forces that are waging a war on the Greeks and a war on Detroit.. "School will start, but our ability to hold the impact of finances away from the classroom, that's going to change," Emanuel is quoted as saying in today’sChicago Tribune.  This is his goal all along.

Tuesday evening his school board agreed to borrow $1 billion from moneylenders in order to pay some $600 million it owes the teachers pension fund.  In order to pay the loan, some 1500 jobs will be eliminated as well as other cuts.  Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said at a press conference last week , “We understand that there is a serious financial problem and we are willing to work within that framework. We accept that there will be a 0 percent raise. But give us something to make that 0 percent feel better.”  (see the CTU press conference on the union’s You tube channel here.)

Of course, in other statements Lewis, like most of the union hierarchy admit that these crises, the lack of social spending and downright cuts are “manufactured”, is austerity amid plenty, or to use their phrase, “Broke on purpose”, but when faced with capitulation or a fight they choose capitulation.  Karen Lewis and the union’s Vice President, Jesse Sharkey, who is a socialist apparently, both accept that the cuts have to be made as do all of them. As we have pointed out on this blog many times in the past, union officials rarely, if ever have to work under contracts that they and the employers impose on union members, contracts that are also extremely detrimental to working class children and communities especially communities of color.

Lewis (left) and Sharkey, Not time for raises.
Think about the language they use, “we accept that there will be a 0% raise.”, WTF, as they say in modern day text speak. Jesse Sharkey said on WGN radio, “When we say ‘broke on purpose,’ both parts are important, including the recognition that CPS is broke. We don’t think it’s a good time to be asking for big raises or really expensive reforms.”  

Haven’t we heard that before?  Now’s not the time. During the 1990’s boom when profits hit a 40-year high and labor was so tight market forces forced fast food employers to pay above the legal minimum the labor hierarchy mobilized no one.  It is never the time for them.  CTA officials also talk of Emanuel and the board “giving us” this or “giving us” that. The bosses’ have never “given” workers anything. Workers have waged heroic struggles against the most brutal opponent in order to bring us this far and it is the present union leadership that is doing the “giving” handing over the results of this struggle without a fight.

The employers, their politicians and the hedge fund managers and other coupon clippers cannot but revel in the glory and how easy it is. The union officials are joining forces with politicians of both capitalist parties in attacking workers and our communities. And this comes after Emanuel was successful in closing 5O schools but there’s more to come as hedge fund owner Ken Griffin, the wealthiest man in Chicago, wants Emanuel to close another 75, while at the same time opening private charter schools. Judging by the leadership’s performance so far this shouldn’t be a problem. The more the union officials give, the more the bosses’ want. The Republican governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner is attempting to ban strikes and from what I understand, my former union, AFSCME, is supporting the legislation.

What lies behind this treachery in the form of open class collaboration on the part of workers’ leaders is the Team Concept ideology that I have written about in the past.  This is the view that workers and bosses have the same interests, that it is in our interest to help the boss compete and win “market share” from their rivals.  In public employment this takes the form of “competitive bidding” or did when I was still working. We were told that we have to compete, have to work more efficiently, which to so-called free market proponents means eliminating benefits and any workplace control’s workers have input in so that our work is not contracted out to the private sector.

This has been disaster for workers as we compete with each other in order to increase the bosses’ welfare.  We cannot build the solidarity and unity necessary to drive back this offensive of the 1% and build an offensive of our own with this philosophy and the concessionary strategy and tactics that flow from it. One Chicago teacher tells Facts For Working People:

“Of course, we can blame Emanuel and Rauner and their backers for what has transpired. But Karen Lewis, Jessie Sharkey and those rank-and-file members who are supporting them have to be held accountable as well. Lewis and Sharkey said they were blindsided by last night's announcement that 1400 teachers would be laid off. Are they really that stupid? What did they expect? They spent $5 million trying to unseat Emanuel. Did they really think that he would not retaliate? While Lewis and Sharkey's jobs and hefty salaries, benefits and salaries will continue to be protected, teachers are losing jobs, working conditions are deteriorating further for those who are left as class sizes increase and excessive standardized testing continues and they continue to pay union dues. For what? At this rate, the teachers unions will be destroyed within 10-15 years. And once they have been picked off the transit workers will be next followed by the firefighters. That will leave a bunch of cops as the only public sector workers who have union jobs.”

The situation is no doubt bleak. But we have been here before, much worse in fact.  By the early 1930’s the AFL was down to a couple million members.  The bosses were on the offensive in the wake of the Great Depression.  Great textile strikes covering hundreds of thousand of workers were defeated. Then in 1934 we saw three general strikes in Toledo, Minneapolis and San Francisco, led by the Mustieites, Trotskyists and the Communist Party respectively.  In the Toledo strike the unemployed join the battle, in Minneapolis,  the strike drew in many other workers other than those directly involved and local farmers as well.  In San Francisco, the Hiring Hall job list was won liberating the worker from the absolute power of the dock bosses. Soon after, thousand of auto-workers occupied factories culminating in the historic 44-day Flint occupation in 1936-37.  The AFL-CIO was formed and some 10 million workers flocked in to the unions in this period.

There are differences today but this is our history. The bosses’ gave us nothing.  Coming on the heels a victory over the UAW rank and file, it is the public sector that is next. Some 35% of us are organized in unions compared to under 7% of our private sector brothers and sisters---bringing that down is the goal of Rahm Emanuel and his class.  At some point the bosses will not need the present union officials at all and the members certainly don’t.

Despite the setbacks, the labor movement in Chicago is potentially the most powerful force in that city. The Chicago Labor Council has some 300 affiliated locals. This body has the potential to shut down this major US city.  We know the present labor leadership will not mobilize this power; in fact they suppress it. In the Waste Management strike here in San Leandro Calif. we had Teamster officials and the management escorting Teamster drivers across the waste material sorter’s picket lines. This is how bad it is.

But beyond Emanuel and the likes of Lewis and Sharkey we have to say that the rank and file also has a responsibility. We cannot continue to sit back.  We cannot continue to complain about the present situation and avoid a political confrontation with the stifling bureaucracy that sits atop organized labor.  We cannot avoid a fight any longer. Opposition caucuses must be built at the rank and file level that openly challenge and campaigns against the present leadership and its policies. Yes, the obscene salaries and jobs for life in many cases are a problem. But it their ideological bankruptcy that is at the root of their betrayals.  Opposition caucuses that we build must also reach in to our communities and draw them in to the battle. We must take positions on international affairs and build links there.  We must openly discuss and take on sexism, racism and other divisions that weaken working class unity. The absence of the voice of organized labor in the increased murder and terrorist attacks on African Americans is criminal. 

We must avoid being overly optimistic. We are in a struggle against a powerful enemy and, as Warren Buffet said, his class is winning. The influence of radical forces that were around in the 30’s are not yet present today but there are struggles taking place throughout the country and at some point these struggles will come together. We cannot manufacture a movement. But despite the confusions, defeats and victories we will see in the period ahead, increased resistance to the austerity being imposed by the 1% and their representatives in Washington and the White House.


Jack Gerson said...

The Chicago Teachers Union strike in September 2012 received considerable national attention, and has been hailed as a model. CTU leaders traveled around the country taking bows. But the strike was not a smashing victory. Before, during, and after that strike, Rahm Emmanuel and Chicago Public Schools administration threatened to close at least 50 schools. And six months after the strike ended, they did. CTU warned that they would stage militant sit-ins at numerous schools in the event of closures -- but they did not. Nor have they responded in any other way. Now, Karen Lewis is apparently buying in fully to the idea that "There's just no money". Well, we know the money's there -- and so does Ms. Lewis -- it's in the coffers of the big banks and corporations, and in the hoardings of the super-rich. But getting that monehy will require a protracted and militant fight. Instead, it appears that Karen Lewis and her collaborators are throwing in the towel without fighting at all. No doubt, they will be proclaiming that they are "social justice unionists". Let's be clear: it's crucial to champion social justice causes. But not as an excuse for not fighting to defend the living standards of the union's own members. If CTU accepts this deal, what will come next? Because Rahm Emmanuel and company will come back, year after year, claiming that there's no money. What then? A permanent pay freeze? Dozens of more schools closed? More program cuts? Very disheartening.

Chicago Teacher said...

This is not an usual position for the CTU to take Jack Gerson. They have been very strategic in messaging o their membership. As a former CTU organizer under Lewis, I knew this was going to happen when Lewis undercut her teachers and her caucus CORE, by going to Springfield and secretly signing the union busting bill Senate Bill 7. Actually i was over then. The strategy after that became how can we, THE CTU survive? In a CORE meeting after Lewis returned from a trip to Hawaii to escape the pressures of the fallout from SB7, Lewis broke down admitted she had "F' up and was literally in tears after the CORE people wanted to remove her as CORE president for signing the union busting bill. That's when the great idea to mobilize members to go on strike was hatched. Even though Lewis had gave up the right to strike by allowing the Senate to change the threshold from getting 51% of the voting members to 75% of the entire membership to approve a strike wit SB7. The CTU managed to get a group of retired Black teachers to sign onto this strike that would later erode the Black teachers population. Almost 7,000 African American teachers lost their jobs under Lewis. As Vice Chair of the SS CAC, I would go to the House of Delegates meeting and try to explain to Black Teachers that any concessions the CTU made would cost underutilized schools to be closed. Those schools were all on the South and Wets sides. The schools were half empty due the loss of almost 300,000 African American residents under Mayor Daley. So after the strike, which gained nothing for teachers and made Karen Lewis a media star, 5o schools were closed. This is exactly what CPS wanted to do. And YES, Lewis helped to accomplish their goal.