CHICAGO, May 23 — Strike was on the minds of some 6,000 teachers and paraprofessionals, joined by nearly 2,000 supporters, who took over several downtown streets here to demand that city students get better schools and to oppose the rulers’ all-out assault on students and teachers. The march followed simultaneous indoor and outdoor rallies, where, in a show of unity and solidarity, virtually every Chicago Teacher Union (CTU) member wore red CTU shirts.
The CTU contract expires June 30 and the Board of Education wants to increase class size, outsource art and music positions, increase work hours 20 percent for 2 percent more pay, introduce “merit pay,” decrease job security, and close more schools.
During the rally, members spontaneously shouted “Strike” and carried signs reading “YES,” foreshadowing a June 6 strike authorization vote (unannounced at the time of the rally).
The ruling class here has been viciously attacking students and education workers for years. Recently, in Chicago and throughout the U.S., the attacks have ramped up as rulers, faced with trillions in war costs, feel the economic squeeze on their profits. Internationally, public education has been under attack for even longer.
Fighting A Racist School System
The ruling class wants to turn teaching into a revolving-door, lower-paid job. In line with their need to maintain racism that produces super-profits, they don’t want to spend money on educating poor, working-class black and Latino students. Defense of their empire is a more important priority. They’ve closed over 100 schools here, replacing them with charter schools. In what is still the country’s most segregated city, predominantly black schools suffer disproportionately from closures.
Whether through charters or regular public schools, the ruling class wants to more finely craft the schools attended by working-class students so they better serve the rulers’ interests. Penny Pritzer, billionaire owner of Hyatt Hotels and others sit on Chicago’s Board of Education.
Education for Profits
As one rally speaker revealed, Pritzer told an interviewer: “Students are entitled to get the skills in reading, math and science so that they can be productive members of today’s workforce.” She was talking about working-class students, not those in schools attended by her children or other children of the wealthy. “Skills to become productive workers,” she means teaching students the skills and ideology they need to become workers who make lots of profits for the corporations or become soldiers who fight to protect those profits.
Chicago education workers may challenge ruling-class plans by striking next fall. The politicians who serve the rulers thought they were preventing this by passing a law in 2011 requiring a 75 percent vote of the entire membership (not of just those voting) to authorize a strike. Now it seems highly likely that threshold will be met.
A strike opens up the potential for teachers’ union members to feel their power, to build multi-racial unity against the capitalists who control Chicago’s Board of Education. It can be a great opportunity for a militant, united, anti-racist fight against the children’s exploiters who run the school system. Anything less, in fact, will only embolden these fascists and encourage them to quicken the pace of their attacks on students and education workers.
However, a strike is not enough to stop these profit-driven attacks. Only communist revolution accomplish that and allow students to flourish in schools designed in their interests, not the bosses’.
New System, Not New Mayor
The CTU is still hampered by its reformist outlook. At the rally and march, for example, sellouts Jesse Jackson (Operation Push) and Randi Weingarten (American Federation of Teachers president) had front-row seats.
Marchers chanted, “The workers, united, will never be defeated” but also “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Rahm Emanuel has to go.” Replacing the Mayor, electing the school board, or doing anything else short of overturning capitalism only ties workers more to this murderous system. Communist revolution really is the only solution.
PLP’s role in this fight is iadvancing, but still needs improvement. A serious group of teachers who meet regularly with the Party; a PLP flyer and CHALLENGES were distributed at the march; the level of discussion and struggle inside CTU and the numbers reading CHALLENGE have increased, creating the potential for more PLP supporters and members.
If a strike occurs, it will provide an even greater opportunity for PLP to become more deeply involved in this class struggle. We must be in it to win workers to realizing they can and must take power and run society.