After one week of being on strike, facing ridicule and attack from politicians and most major news organizations, Chicago teachers voted down the latest contract proposal, and voted to continue their strike. Despite the insults coming from the media, Chicago teachers have seen a lot of support coming from most students and their parents, from workers throughout the city, and from teachers and workers across the country.
In response to the vote, Democratic Mayor and former Chief of Staff for the Obama Administration, Rahm Emanuel, declared the strike illegal, a danger to Chicago’s children, and promised to get a court order forcing the teachers back to work. So far the judge has delayed ruling on the order until Wednesday, hoping teachers will reach an agreement at their next vote Tuesday night.
Every day this strike continues is a huge slap in the face to the mayor and the Obama administration. The strategy of Emanuel, along with major Chicago media and other politicians, has been to try to demonize the teachers. Emanuel pretends to have concern for the kids of Chicago and their working parents who have to find day care during the strike. But his pathetic act isn’t very convincing.
Most schools have made arrangements to help parents with day care. And most parents, at least two-thirds, have said they support the strike. Plus, Emanuel’s comments are pretty hard to believe when he refuses to send his own children to any of Chicago’s public schools, and instead sends them to expensive private schools that have none of the same funding problems.
At the same time, most of the attacks and cutbacks facing the Chicago public school system came during the years of Arne Duncan as the CEO of Chicago’s public schools – Duncan is the current education secretary in the Obama administration. This is a man who said that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.” Duncan has been the leading politician behind slashing funds to public schools, closing them down, opening the doors for for-profit charter schools, firing teachers and weakening their unions. Under the Obama administration, Duncan has made the Chicago model of destruction the official federal policy.
It is no surprise Emanuel is doing everything possible to end this strike quickly, even threatening to have police forcibly break the strike and escort kids back to school. This impatience is not simply because Chicago is the headquarters of the Obama re-election campaign – although, it doesn’t look good for Obama to have a city with a strike against the very policies of the administration.
The main reason Emanuel is under extreme pressure to settle this strike as soon as possible is because of what it can represent. It doesn’t take much for other workers to see their own situation in this Chicago strike. Everywhere workers are being asked to take pay cuts, health care cuts, pension cuts, do more work for less. And at the same time, the attacks on education and social services are happening across the country.
And each day this strike continues, a question is being raised: what would happen if more workers in Chicago join in? What if the transit workers, the garbage workers, the hospital workers, the airport workers, the millions of undocumented workers – what if the working class of Chicago decided to wage a struggle together? This is why Emanuel is willing to use the force of the police to try to end this strike quickly. This is what bosses and politicians across the country are afraid of.
At this point, with the final details still undecided, what is clear is that by going on strike, the Chicago teachers have most likely won a better contract. But more importantly, Chicago teachers have reminded workers across the country that we don’t have to accept every cutback being shoved down our throats. Chicago teachers have reminded us that together we have other options.