Thursday, September 20, 2012

CTU Strike: PSL Summation

Chicago strike results in victory for the teachers
Strikers show that money can be found to fund education

By John Beacham
September 20, 2012

In a little over a week since their courageous strike began, the Chicago teachers have won a very important victory. By going out, they won a much better contract than the one being forced on them by the Chicago Public School bosses and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The teachers won concessions from the city government and Emanuel, one of the most powerful politicians in the U.S. and a Democratic Party big wig, that seemed impossible to win during the current period of capitalist austerity.

The victory is even more important when you consider that destroying public education and smashing teachers' unions is at the very top of the agenda for both Wall Street and Emanuel, who is a former banker himself. Billionaires are bankrolling the attacks on public education and teachers unions. Penny Pritzker, one of the richest people in the world, sits on the Chicago Public School board.

The strike exposed the lie that there is not enough money to fund public education and pay workers.

The strike also shows that, if we want things to get better for workers, we need to struggle against the policies and schemes of the politicians of the twin capitalist parties instead of helping get them elected.

Thousands of parents, students and allies were drawn to the strike by their shared interests with the teachers. Withholding our labor remains our most potent weapon.

In Chicago, the teachers have provided a concrete example to other workers, inside and outside of education, that instead of taking hit after hit, we can take the struggle to the bosses and win.

According to the Chicago Teachers Union, the 800 member House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly on Sept. 18 to suspend the strike and send the tentative contract to the members for a ratification vote.

The teachers' union has characterized the tentative contract as a victory based on a number of concessions that include the following:

    No increases to health care premiums in return for enrollment in a wellness program.

    Chicago Public Schools must hire over 600 additional teachers in Art, Music, Physical Education and other subjects.

    Limits on class size preserved—pushing back Mayor Emanuel's threats to remove all class size limits and crowd 55 students into a class.

    An increase in pay over what CPS was offering.

    Defeated bogus "merit" pay demanded by CPS, keeping increased pay based on experience.

    Needed textbooks will be available to students on the first day of school instead of six weeks after the start of school.

    Promotion of racial diversity in hiring at CPS—fighting the loss of African American teachers in Chicago's schools.
    Lowering of the focus on standardized testing by beating the percentage of our evaluations from test scores down to the legal minimum. Added an appeal process to the evaluations.Considering that the ruling class is waging war on unions and public education and that our class is only beginning to fight back—even where we are organized we are clearly on the defensive and have been taking loss after loss—all progressive people should support what the teachers have won in this strike.

Is the contract perfect? That's really not the correct question. No union contract under capitalism will meet all the needs of workers. Only a socialist society can do that. A union contract, properly understood, can be compared to a truce between two camps at war with each other. During a labor struggle, the central questions is: How can we get the best deal at this particular time based on the relationship of forces?

The tentative agreement between the CTU and CPS reduces the amount of time teachers will remain in a displaced teacher's pool with pay and benefits from 10 months to 5 months. This is a huge concern for teachers in the district and for the future of public education. CPS is threatening to close up to 100 schools.

The teachers will have to continue fighting to defend and expand the gains in the contract if it becomes reality. We will support them in this struggle—because it is our struggle too. As a class, we will have to continue the fight to defend education from a ruling class that wants establish a for profit apartheid-style education system.

The strike is workers' most powerful weapon against the bosses

Even when we withhold our labor, exercising our greatest collective power in capitalist society, we struggle on an uneven playing field dominated by a repressive state that works in the interests of the capitalist class. It is always better to come away from a conflict with a clear victory if it is possible.

The Chicago teachers have undeniably done that—the strike ended with demonstrable gains. It is not clear whether staying out on strike after Sept. 18 would have led to an expansion of the tentative contract's gains or even to a victory for the teachers.

On Sept. 17 Emanuel threatened the teachers by filing an injunction to declare the strike illegal and force the teachers back to work. The judge delayed hearing the injunction until Sept. 19, after the teachers were scheduled to vote on whether or not to continue the strike.

In order to continue the strike on Sept. 18 and achieve a positive outcome, the teachers must have been prepared to defy the law, had the ability to stay united under those circumstances and a reasonable assurance that other unions and workers would rally to their defense in the great likelihood that the state started jailing the leadership of the union for "breaking the law."

The victory in Chicago should provide great encouragement to workers all across the country to take matters into their hands and fight back. The struggle should be studied and emulated.

The uprising in Madison in 2011 was an important catalyst to the labor movement. It was a real life precursor to the struggle in Chicago. Madison showed that action can get results. The takeover of the Capitol stopped the union busting bill in its tracks and mobilized thousands of workers. But the only path to defeating the bill was not taken. In order to defeat the bill, the workers needed to go out on strike followed by a general strike if necessary.

The Chicago strike has provided the answer to the immediate question of what is to be done to stop the war on workers. We need to make the strike a dominant weapon in our struggle against the bosses.

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