At a jam-packed rally of striking Chicago Public School teachers at Union Park in Chicago Saturday, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis threw cold water on the much-publicized statements of the capitalist news media to the effect that students would be back in class on Monday: “ ‘A woman came up to me and said she got a text from her principal telling their faculty that they should report to work tomorrow and Monday to prepare their rooms.’ Lewis, displaying a flabbergasted look said, ‘What I want to tell you is[:] we’re on strike!’ ” [Source: “The Dissenter” [Firedoglake blog]: “At Rally, Chicago Teachers Union President Invites City Hall to Turn Off Air Conditioning”, by Kevin Gosztola, 15 September, 2012]
The bourgeois press, which, from coast-to-coast has been attacking the Chicago Teachers Union saw clearly that the teachers in Chicago have not been intimidated by their assaults on the rights of workers to strike in order to better their working conditions, and, in this case, to defend the children of every working-class family in Chicago to a quality public-school education. The teachers turned out in the thousands – well over half of the membership was present at the rally – to show their support for the union negotiating team as it entered the second week of a strike that has shut down the Chicago Public School system, one of the largest in the United States.
The fighting spirit of the members of the Chicago Teachers Union is unshaken by attacks led by the lying news media of capitalist class and the capitalists’ own bought-and-paid-for politicians, particularly those in the Chicago Democratic Party. From Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former consigliere of the warmongering, immigrant-bashing, union-busting Democratic Barack Obama administration all the way down into the sewer of the Chicago City Council, whose lickspittle servants of the Chicago capitalist class have fallen all over themselves to attack the union that is defending Chicago’s children, the Democratic Party has led the assault on the public workers unions from California to New York.
The capitalist press all last week was trying to put pressure on the CTU to shove a tentative agreement down the throats of the CTU members before any of them had a chance to find out what was in the new “framework”.
“While details of the agreement had yet to be formally drafted and leaders in the Chicago Teachers Union still need to vote on whether to lift the strike, schools in the nation’s third-largest school district were expected to reopen as early as Monday.
“ ‘The heavy lifting is over and the framework is in place,” David J. Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education.” [Source: New York Times: “Chicago Forges Outline to End Teacher Strike”, 14 September, 2012]
The New York Times – the bourgeois “newspaper of record” for the United States – in its articles Friday, Saturday and Sunday, continuously fed the public the impression that Chicago’s schoolchildren would be going back to school on Monday. This lie, spread by all the capitalist press in the US and Chicago is undoubtedly intended to cause tremendous pressure on the union to reach an agreement no matter what by Monday. These lies will lead some parents to make plans to send their kids to school on Monday, only to find out that the strike is still underway; this too is intended to create anger against the teachers union. This is what we socialists mean when we talk of the “capitalist press” or the “bourgeois press”. It is not an “objective” source of news. Owned and operated by some of the richest families in the United States, and in many cases by massive news media corporations, the capitalist press seeks to spread pro-capitalist propaganda among the workers, in order to cover up the crimes of the capitalist class and to drive into workers heads that “their” country is the best in the world,and that the capitalist system is “the best of all possible worlds”. While it is valuable to the education of the workers to read the bourgeois press, which does have a lot of important information in it, we must always remember that every news story in the bourgeois press is heavily slanted in favor of the interests of the capitalist class of the nation in which that newspaper is printed. Only by understanding this crucial fact, which is an elementary part of a Marxist education, can workers read the bourgeois press intelligently, quickly separating the nuggets of useful knowledge from the pro-capitalist propaganda.
To her credit, CTU President Karen Lewis made this point very clear in her remarks to the teachers union rally in Union Park on Saturday. She warned the assembled workers that there was in fact no agreement in place, and no contract had yet been produced to vote on. “We don’t have a contract. We have a ‘framework’ for an agreement. We’re on strike!” she told the crowd, which roared its approval.
This is critically important to watch right now – how the CTU leadership proceeds to present this ‘framework’ to its members. It is at this juncture in the strike that the teachers could very easily get sold down the river by their leadership. The CTU has a very undemocratic process for presenting this ‘tentative framework’ to its membership – in fact, it has NO PROCESS TO DO THIS AT ALL before the teachers’ delegates will get to review and possibly vote on the ‘framework’ today (Sunday, September 16). The way the process is set up is this: the teachers elect delegates from their membership. There are approximately 18,000 teachers who elect 700-800 delegates who are supposed to carry out the will of the teachers who elected them. Today, at 3 PM, these delegates will meet to get their first look at the actual language of the “framework for an agreement” that was hammered out between the CTU and its lawyers and the Chicago Public Schools. From what we have been able to learn, it is then that some discussion may – or may not – be held for the delegates, and then they will proceed to vote on whether or not to end the strike WITHOUT EVER HAVING TO INFORM THE MEMBERSHIP ABOUT THE CONTENTS OF THE “FRAMEWORK”! This is where the knife can easily get put into the backs of the teachers. In fact, it is by utilizing completely undemocratic methods like this that the AFL-CIO unions have repeatedly knifed strikes in the back over the past 5 decades. The delegates are presented with a fait accompli upon which they must vote immediately, up or down, without ever having the opportunity to bring the agreement up before those who elected them – only after which presentation would it even be possible for the will of the teachers to be known and carried out by their delegates! There is really no reason at all for this indirect process at all – except that it allows the union leadership the secrecy and bureaucratic arm-twisting it needs to shove rotten contracts down the throats of the members. If the CTU leadership wishes to demonstrate its much-ballyhooed commitment to “union democracy” it could do no better than to present this “tentative framework” to the union delegates, and then give them at least 24 hours to present this information to the members who elected them, at which time the membership could discuss the merits or lack thereof of the “framework” and instruct their delegates as to how they should vote on the matter. Anything less than this isn’t union democracy at all, but an attempt to steamroll the “tentative agreement” through the union. So we wait and watch carefully as the CTU leadership makes its next move to shepherd this process to an actual contract.
Among the slogans displayed by the Independent Workers Party of Chicago at the union rally on Saturday was the following demand: “No Contract, No Work! Keep the Picket Lines UP Until a New Contract is Ratified by the Membership”. If we were directing the process using the indirect method that is unfortunately probably part of the CTU’s constitution, we would call the meeting of delegates in order to present to them what we had negotiated so far, at which time we would give them 24-48 hours to call a meeting of the membership in order that they could inform everyone of what the “tentative framework” contains. Then, the membership could discuss the “framework” and instruct their delegates as to how to vote. Another delegates’ meeting would then be called to vote on whether or not to accept the “framework”. THIS WOULD NOT BE A VOTE TO END THE STRIKE OR TAKE DOWN THE PICKET LINES. The picket lines must not be taken down until the MEMBERSHIP – not a mere vote by delegates representing less than 4% of the union membership – votes to approve a new contract.
This unwieldy and bureaucratic method of the CTU should be replaced by a much more democratic system, in which every union member would be involved in a series of mass meetings at which the union members could openly discuss the CPS proposals and vote on whether to accept them and end the strike or vote them down. The membership should be kept informed on a daily basis as to what is happening in those negotiating sessions. Only the capitalist class and its servants benefit from keeping these negotiations secret from the union members and the working class in general.open to the public This indirect method of voting strengthens the hands of the elements of the CTU bureaucracy who wish to further their careers by acting as the “responsible labor statesmen” inside the workers movement who keep the union membership in line and class struggle well within the limits of what is acceptable to the capitalist class.
Up to this point we have no real quarrel with how CTU President Karen Lewis has run this strike. She seems to be a relatively straightforward pro-capitalist Democratic Pat Camden fop CTUParty-supporting trade union leader – with all the massive political limitations that implies. She and her team seem to have done a masterful job in winning the support of the members for a strike and have also managed to win widespread support from the working class of Chicago, whose childrens’ welfare is at the heart of this union struggle. But she is, after all, a Democrat. She has repeatedly asserted her support for US war criminal Barack Obama, whose attacks on immigrant workers deeply affects an enormous percentage of the immigrant Hispanic families whose children attend the Chicago public schools. She also has a distinct fondness for the Fraternal Order of Police, whose members in the Chicago Police Department viciously attack black workers in Chicago at every opportunity, and who treat black schoolchildren – particularly teenagers – as if they were “the enemy”, beating, tasering, and imprisoning them by the thousands each year. Every week black and Hispanic youths are assaulted and shot dead by the Chicago Police, who then plant guns on their victims and invariably claim that the youth “turned around and pointed a gun” at the cops. Even at Saturday’s rally in Union Park, the CTU saw fit to have the disgusting, lying spokesman for the racist Chicago Police Department, Pat Camden address the crowd. Support for the FOP, a vicious, racist Chicago Police “union” is an excellent way for the CTU to alienate itself from the largely black and Hispanic working class, who are daily made victims of this racist police gang.
Once again, we wish to impress upon the workers of the world this indisputable fact, taught to the workers movement over the past centuries through literally millions of experiences of bloody police attacks on the labor movement in every capitalist country in the world: the police – unionized or not – are not members of the working class: they are one of the “special bodies of armed men”
“special bodies of armed men” who the tiny minority capitalist class deploys to defend itself from the rage of the oppressed working class. The police are the front rank of the repressive apparatus that every capitalist class puts in place in every capitalist country in order to protect itself from the threat of workers revolution. This repressive apparatus includes the police, courts, prisons, and ultimately the secret police agencies and the military. It is critically important for the workers to understand this basic tenet of revolutionary Marxism – workers lives depend on understanding this! Mistaking the police and the US military for the “friends of the workers” sets up the workers movement for the murder of scores – or even millions – of workers.
The moment the order is given by the capitalist class of Chicago to Mayor Rahm Emanuel to smash the CTU strike by any means necessary, the members of the Fraternal Order of Police will be sent to attack the CTU picket lines, beating, macing, tasering and if necessary, shooting dead the teachers who dare to defend themselves from the police assault. The cops are the front line of the capitalist class’ armed forces used to defend the capitalists’ bloody class rule by smashing the workers movement. Believing that the cops are friends of the working class and accepting them into the workers movement – as the leaders of the Teamsters Union and the Chicago Teachers Union and the entire AFL-CIO leadership does – is similar to placing rattlesnakes in your baby’s crib! COPS OUT OF THE UNIONS!
We are watching Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teachers Union leadership very carefully at this point. Any attempt by them to broker a new contract that includes even a single cut in teachers’ pensions, seniority rules, pay or any other benefits in the wake of this hugely popular and so far successful strike would be nothing less than a complete sellout of the union members. Experience shows that you can only trust a Democrat as far as you can throw him – or her. Their allegiance to the capitalist class and the continuance of the capitalist system of greed, exploitation, racism, unemployment and war in almost all cases far outstrips their allegiance to the working class. What is needed is a class-struggle leadership in the unions that is dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement with a socialist workers government in which those who labor rule. Any union led by a pro-capitalist leadership is destined to be sold out over and over again until the workers learn these basic lessons of history. Wishing that, this time, the rattlesnakes will not bite the baby is an exercise in futility in which the workers will – once again – pay dearly for electing and trusting pro-capitalist union and political leaders.