Chicago Teachers Build a Movement
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“Chicago’s teachers are attempting to build a community fight-back coalition.”
Thousands of Chicago teachers and their community allies marched and rallied for three days in opposition to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked school board’s plans to close 54 public schools, almost all of them in Black neighborhoods – the biggest round of closings anywhere in the country, to date. Parents and teachers say the plan puts children at greater risk as they cross the boundaries of different gangs’ turf; destabilizes neighborhoods that will lose their schools; and is part of a larger scheme to further decimate the teaching ranks and convert more schools to charters. Teachers Union president Karen Lewis says “study after study” has shown that shuffling children around from school to school accomplishes nothing unless the new schools are significantly better – yet, most of the cross-city movement in the mayor’s plan is from one poor neighborhood to another.
The mayor claims that the closings are necessary cost-cutting measures. But a report by the Chicago Tribune, which is no friend of the teachers, shows that Emanuel’s minions have fudged the numbers. For example, a school was marked for closing because it lacked adequate air conditioning, but students were then slated to be transferred to another school that also lacks sufficient air conditioning. Another school was put on the shut-down list because it would cost almost $10 million to fix. But the students’ new school requires nearly as much money for repairs. The report concludes that it would cost millions more to renovate the schools where the displaced students would be assigned, than to fix the old schools.
“The teachers union is engaged in a political battle royal.”
So, this is not about costs; that’s just a cover story. It’s about further privatizing the public schools, destroying the union, and destabilizing neighborhoods full of people that the mayor and his big business cronies would, ultimately, like to expel from the city, entirely. The teachers know it, and so does a growing portion of the community, who have joined in common cause.
The teachers have filed two class action suits against the closings, and the mayor’s school board appointees were set to take a pro-forma vote on the matter, on Wednesday. However, the teachers union fully understands that they are engaged in a political battle royal with forces that are bigger than the mayor’s office. Philadelphia and cities across the country face near-identical assaults on their public schools, part of a full-fledged austerity offensive by corporate America. The Lords of Capital are privatizing, financializing, monetizing and de-unionizing everything.
American racism makes inner city public schools an easier target, and the privatizers have a great ally in President Barack Obama. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is best known as Obama’s former chief of staff, but he also made millions as an investment banker. Wall Street hedge funders and other speculators are betting heavily on school privatization as the next great investment frontier. Chicago’s teachers are attempting to build a community fight-back coalition that can break the stranglehold of corporate rule, and serve as an example to teachers unions and Black and brown communities across the nation. In the fight against austerity, and for community control of schools, the Chicago Teachers Union is on front line.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.