Except for Harold Washington (1983 - 1987), Chicago never had populist mayors. Father (Richard J.) and son (Richard M.) Daley ran the city like their private fiefdom for over 40 years.
In his book "Boss," noted journalist Mike Royko described Richard J. as follows:
"If ever a man reflected a city, it was Richard J. Daley." He was "strong (and) hard-driving." He had Texas-sized ambitions. He was also "arrogant, crude, conniving, ruthless, suspicious, intolerant, raucous, hot-tempered, devious, big and powerful." He was Chicago.
Time magazine said Richard M. "wield(ed) near-imperial power."
Current Mayor Rahm Emanuel matches them and then some. Add war criminal and corporate predator to his credentials. As White House chief of staff, he was part of Obama's war cabinet. As Chicago mayor, he's waging it against labor.
Candidate Emanuel promised draconian anti-worker cuts. Chicago's budget deficit must be attacked, he said. "No sacred cows" are tolerable, he stressed. "Tough choices" must be made.
As mayor, workers struggling to get by are targeted. Slash and burn is policy. Layoffs, wage freezes, and benefit cuts notably affecting healthcare and pensions followed. Teachers were hit hard.
After one month in office, he rescinded a contractual 4% raise owed them. Weeks later, he fired 1,000 summarily. School closings eliminate more jobs. He wants more closed, larger class sizes, longer school days at no extra pay, and other draconian measures creating greater hardships.
He wants Chicago schools privatized and made another business profit center. Richard M. began the process. Emanuel wants it completed. He wants education sacrificed for bottom line priorities.
He wants Chicago schools run by marketplace rules. He wants labor rights abolished. He put bureaucrats in charge of what's best for children. He created a two-tiered, class and income-based system. It favors affluent communities over poor ones.
Teachers have no rights. Poor kids are denied real education. Emanuel's destroying their futures. He's more tyrant than mayor. He reflects the worst of city governance.
On August 30, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) held perhaps its largest ever meeting. Hundreds attended. Presiding officers included president Karen Lewis, vice president Jesse Sharkey, financial secretary Kristine Mayle, and recording secretary Michael Brunson.
A large screen displayed CTU resolve, saying:
"RESOLVED that the House of Delegate shall set a strike date of September 10, 2012. The strike is necessary to achieve a labor contract with acceptable wages, benefits and job protections; and for all other purposes for which a strike is authorized under law. The strike is also necessary to protest unfair labor practices committed by CPS against out membership."
Without a fair and equitable contract, members unanimously approved the resolution. An Executive Board motion requested it. CTU president Lewis called for ayes. The hall roared. She then asked for nays. Silence followed.
Schools were already in session. Over 240 so-called Track E ones operate year round.
A special House of Delegates meeting also approved a resolution calling for other union members to wear red in solidarity with teachers.
Chicago is occupied territory. At midnight Sunday night, teachers walked out. It's their first strike in 25 years. On Monday, the Chicago Tribune headlined "CPS, teachers fail to reach deal to prevent strike," saying:
Despite progress on some issues, both sides remain far apart on others. CPS (Chicago Public Schools) officials have a contingency plan. They'll open 144 schools from 8:30 AM - 12:30PM. At issue is whether state law will be observed. It prohibits CPS from offering classroom instruction without certified teachers.
"Parents are being urged to find alternatives and use the schools only as a last resort."
Charter ones aren't affected. They operate as quasi-private ones. Veteran English teacher/union delegate Jay Rehak spoke for others, saying:
"I think people feel like they've been bullied, so they're (saying) 'OK, let's do this this. Let's dance.' We know a strike is really going to be painful. People will be hurt on both sides. But in the end, it's like saying, 'I'll be bloodied and you'll be bloodied, but at least you'll know not to bully me again.' "
The nation's third largest school system is affected. Picket lines formed in front of City Hall. They're also at school system central and other administrative offices.
Monday morning, they spread across over 600 schools. More than 20,000 teachers were joined by other school employees, parents and students.
School Board president David Vitale and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard never negotiated in good faith. In fact, they weren't directly involved. A highly paid private law firm represented them.
CEO Brizard never appeared at bargaining sessions. His absence showed contempt for teacher rights. He and Vitale reflect top-down Emanuel-imposed diktat authority.
Claims about too little money in the system don't wash. They reflect efforts to divert city resources for corporate interests at the expense of vital services. Chicago schools, teachers, and support staff have been hit hard. They and other city workers bear the brunt of draconian budget cuts.
Negotiations began last November. Dozens of sessions were held. No agreement was reached. At 10PM Sunday, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) president Karen Lewis issued a formal statement. In part it said:
"CPS (Chicago Public Schools) FAILS TO NEGOTIATE FAIR CONTRACT TO PREVENT FIRST LABOR STRIKE IN 25 YEARS"
"More than 29,000 teachers and education professionals will not report to work today 9/10"
"After hours of intense negotiations, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent the first teachers strike in 25 years."
"Pickets are expected to begin Monday at 675 schools and the Board of Education as early as 6:30 a.m. Teachers, paraprofessionals and school clinicians have been without a labor agreement since June of this year."
"Union leaders expressed disappointment in the District's refusal to concede on issues involving compensation, job security and resources for their students."
"We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve."
"We want job security." Thousands of teachers' jobs are at stake. "As we continue to bargain in good faith, we stand in solidarity with parents, clergy and community-based organizations who are advocating for smaller class sizes, a better school day and an elected school board. Class size matters."
"...(W)e do not intend to sign an agreement until (all key) matters are addressed."
"...(W)e are committed to staying at the table until a contract is in place. However, in the morning no CTU member will be inside our schools. We will walk the picket lines. We will talk to parents."
"We will talk to clergy. We will talk to the community. We will talk to anyone who will listen. We demand a fair contract today. We demand a fair contract now. And, until there is one in place that our members accept, we will on the line."
"We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters throughout the state and country who are currently bargaining for their own fair contracts. We stand with those who have already declared they too are prepared to strike, in the best interests of their students."
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) represents 30,000 teachers and educational support staff. They serve more than 400,000 students and families. They reject Emanuel's diktats. They want equity and justice.
Last May, teachers and Occupy Chicago members staged school sit-ins. They picketed school board meetings. They chanted "fight" and "strike." Outside the downtown Auditorium Theater, they rallied for rights Emanuel wants destroyed.
Over 90% of union members endorsed striking. A new state law requires 75%. Legislators thought tough rules would prevent them. They guessed wrong.
Major issues are at stake. They include unfair reduced education funding, job security, draconian teacher evaluation standards, tying their pay to testing, weakened seniority rights, recall procedures for those laid off from school closings, equitable pay and benefits, class size, longer unpaid school days, inadequately heated and cooled classrooms, and key wrap around services.
They include psychologists, social workers, nurses, no library facilities in many schools, standardized testing, loss of experienced teachers, abandonment of arts, drama, music and language classes, and school privatization plans.
Throughout negotiations, CTU officials were flexible. They remain so. They'll bend on some issues, but not key ones too important to lose. School Board/CPS negotiators are hardline. Emanuel demands it.
A Final Comment
On September 9, Women's Media Center co-founder Gloria Steinem issued the following statement:
"Tonight, I proudly wear a red t-shirt in support of the Chicago Teachers Union strike. They have been forced to strike for the first time in 25 years - by the false economy of firing and penalizing the experienced teachers most needed by the students and by new teachers; by lengthening the school day as warehousing without educational services, healthy school buildings, and paid teachers; by what they have the knowledge to call the 'apartheid-like system' of differential discipline policies; and by what seems to be a national tactic of demonizing teachers in order to turn public schools into corporate profit centers."
She cited a Stanford Study. It found public school students outperform charter ones. A 1994 Money magazine report concluded that:
"students who attend the best public schools outperform most private school students, that the best public schools offer a more challenging curriculum than most private schools, and that the private school advantage in test scores is due to their selective admission policies."
Nonetheless, public education in Chicago and across America is on the chopping block for elimination. So-called education reform facilitates it.
George Bush's 2001 No Child Left Behind Act took direct aim. On January 8, 2002, it became law. It's long on testing, school choice, and market-based reforms.
It's short on real achievement. It's built around rote learning, standardized tests, requiring teachers to "teach to the test," assessing results by Average Yearly Progress (AYP) scores, and punishing failure harshly.
Teachers and principles are fired. Schools are closed. Others become charter or for-profit ones. Total privatization is planned. A 377 year tradition is being destroyed.
Diogenes called education "the foundation of every state." Horace Mann said "(t)he common (public) school is the greatest discovery ever made by man." He called it the "great equalizer common" to all. It's fast disappearing in America.
Obama's Race to the Top follows the same destructive path. It pits one state against another, promotes school closures, endorses mass teacher/staff layoffs, and mandates wage and benefit cuts. It's a draconian scheme to qualify for federal funding.
It force-feeds its mandates on states. It's a dagger at public education's heart. It denies millions of American children an educational foundation to build on.
Chicago schools alone have been wrecked by closures, teacher firings, budget cuts, militarized high schools, growing numbers of quasi-private charter schools, and kids hung out to dry for bottom line priorities.
Emanuel demands more. He wants city schools privatized. He wants kids cheated out of futures. His world isn't fit to live in. How can it be under marketplace inequality.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled "How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War"
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.