Chicago Teachers Strike: A critical fight for labor and our next generation

Durham campaigning at a mass teacher’s rally on September 12, 2012.

The Freedom Socialist 2012 Presidential Campaign of Stephen Durham and Christina López stands in solidarity with the 25,000 fighting members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in their struggle to defend public education.

Presidential candidate Durham arrived in Chicago on September 11 to support the strike. He reports: “Chicago is turning into solidarity city, with thousands of students, parents, red-clad teachers and community members mobilizing massively for quality education and the rights of labor. It is electrifying to be part of such an engaging movement sweeping everyone into animated discussion and collective action.”

Durham and López urge working people throughout the country to see the CTU battle as their own and show their support. The strike is a major showdown between corporate greed and workers’ needs. It will have ramifications far beyond Chicago, Illinois.

More than a year ago, Wisconsin teachers confronted Republican Governor Scott Walker’s bid to eliminate collective bargaining from public workers’ contract negotiations. Democrats pretended to distance themselves from this typical Republican anti-labor action. But now, Chicago teachers are looking down the muzzle of the Democratic Party, which stretches all the way from Mayor Rahm Emanuel to President Barack Obama.

Emanuel, of course, has hardly been shy about where he stands. He favors the corporate agenda of punitive “high stakes testing” and using student test scores to evaluate teachers. Freedom Socialist candidate Durham notes, “It is a joke to read in the big business press that President Obama is not taking sides in this fight. In fact, he has supported corporate education ‘reform’ all along. His ‘Race to the Top’ program makes federal funding of public schools also dependent on test scores.”

Obama’s policies, and the policies of his party, have led to the situation that has forced the teachers in Chicago to go on strike.

Punitive testing and test-based teacher evaluations are policies developed by corporate-funded think tanks. Big business insists on these measures as the best way to discipline or get rid of students and teachers who deviate from the corporate model. Big business does not care about quality education for working-class kids. It cares about one thing only — profits. It needs a docile, low-paid workforce that can keep profit margins high. It views public schools as factories to manufacture that workforce. And it regards teachers as tools for turning students into 21st century labor operatives.

But the CTU is spoiling corporate America’s party, making opposition to test-based teacher evaluations one of its chief demands.

A public school curriculum filled with art, music, and physical education plays no role in corporate America’s education reform. There’s an urgent emphasis on science and technology in the classroom, at the expense of a well-rounded curriculum. Big business certainly doesn’t want working-class children to become independent, critical thinkers. Translating corporate America’s workforce needs into instructional policy creates a disfigured caricature of education. That is precisely why both Emanuel and Obama send their children to private schools or semi-private elitist schools that offer far more than a narrow, test-driven curriculum. These schools are exempt from No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and other corporate-drafted laws. There is no clearer evidence of their class nature.

Students support Chicago teachers.

The corporate reform model has also opened the door to education profiteers. Capitalists are drooling over how much money they can make from investments in the testing industry. Equally ominous is Obama’s vigorous support of charter schools, which are anti-union and publicly funded but privately owned.

The CTU opposition to test-driven teacher evaluation is not only a challenge to corporate hijacking of the public school system. It is a first step in the fight to defend quality education. It is also in the interests of the poor and people of color, since the testing culture in the United States has historically discriminated against these groups.

The Democratic Party is no friend of the brave Chicago teachers. They will do whatever it takes to villainize the teachers’ union in the eyes of public opinion. Both Democrats and Republicans, as capitalist parties, want the teachers to lose this fight against corporate education policies.

On the scene in Chicago, Durham has found “a palpable disgust that runs deep among Chicago teachers and their supporters: disgust with the Emanuel machine and both parties of big business. The strikers are fed up with slashed educational resources, inadequate infrastructures, anti-strike legislation, and a selling off of public schools to privately run charter schools. These determined strikers, primarily women and people of color, are on the front lines of the battle across the U.S. that is needed to save a whole generation of students–especially poor students and students of color– who are taking the brunt of this capitalist juggernaut. Black and Latino students make up over 80% of the Chicago public schools.”

The Freedom Socialist 2012 Presidential Campaign calls on workers, parents and students across the country to defend this largest of the public sector unions. The campaign urges labor to create its own party, one that will organize in the streets and through the ballot box for workers’ rights, quality education and equitable funding for all schools.

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September 13, 2012