Chicago Teachers Aim to Shut Down City With One-Day Strike

Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: It is being called a fight against austerity, low wages, and something more. As picket lines, rallies, and marches unfolded across Chicago on Friday April 1, some 50 allied organizations staged a day of action they say is long overdue and part of broader effort to demand economic equity in a city that has little.

ZERLINA SMITH: Our schools are being underfunded because they refuse to tax the wealthy, the 1%, who get everything. And children of color are the main ones who are affected. Look at this school and this community. The murder rates are at the highest in the city of Chicago in most impoverished color communities. So I’m out here to make sure that if our children can’t get the basic necessities, that they get the quality of education that they deserve.

NOOR: Members of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Fight for $15 joined public school teachers, parents, and students as they took to the street to demand change. The day began with the nearly 30,000 strong Chicago Teachers Union walking off the job during a precarious moment for city schools. Officials say the system faces over a $1 billion dollar budget deficit. Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, a fierce opponent of public unions, has rejected calls to bail out the city. Instead he is pushing for bankruptcy and state takeover, a move the union opposes..

SARAH CHAMBERS: There is money in the state, it’s just flowing to the wealthy people, to the top 1%. What we need is actually progressive revenue. We need taxes on millionaires. We need a progressive interim tax. We’re only one of nine states that has a flat tax, so the poor people are paying the same as the rich people, and that is not fair. We also need a tax on trades, on financial transactions. A La Salle Street tax. If we had a one cent tax on every trade that would bring millions of dollars to our schools.

NOOR: Union leadership overwhelmingly approved the strike last week, but not all members agree. Two teachers penned an editorial in the Chicago Tribune, saying the strike is a mistake and will hurt students. The union says strike breakers could get kicked out of the union. The strike also comes in the midst of contract negotiations with the city, which if unresolved could result in another prolonged walkout in May. The city’s embattled mayor Rahm Emanuel has criticized the strike, saying the union should focus its anger against the state.

CHAMBERS: We are striking here to protect our students. We keep having massive funding cuts. At my school we had $180,000 cut just in the past two months. They’ve cut almost all our before and after-school programs. They’ve cut hundreds of millions of dollars around the city for special education services. A lot of these cuts are, frankly, are illegal.

NOOR: The day of protests also focused on the school to prison pipeline, including a march from school picket lines to the the Cook County Jail.

CHAMBERS: Well, they keep cutting services. Not only in the schools, but in the whole neighborhood. They’re closing down mental health facilities, libraries, a lot of clinics around the city. And what ends up happening, if these services are cut, then a lot of our students could end up going to jail. It promotes the school-to-prison pipeline. And now the jail right over here, a few blocks away, is the biggest mental health service provider. And that is horrifying.

NOOR: But the main concern of protesters was unity, and staying power. Unlike the historic 2012 teacher’s strike which lasted eight days, today Chicago’s union movement is more broad based, supporters say. And some fast food workers with the Fight for $15 are joining teachers on the picket lines to broaden that support a day of action they believe is becoming a movement that will not stop until their demands for economic justice are not just heard, but seen.

CHAMBERS: Unions across the country that are collaborationist. They just collaborate with the boss, they settle bad contracts, and they aren’t fighters. And a lot of unions have really gone away from striking. They don’t threaten to strike. And striking, withholding our labor, is the biggest weapon we have.

NOOR: The Chicago Teachers Union hopes their brand of militant unionism, inaugurated with the election of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, or CORE, takes hold nationwide.

CHAMBERS: And if you look at the consequences of not fighting back, look at districts around the country. Look at Detroit, where they have about 60 students in a classroom. You know, look at LA, where they didn’t have raises for six to seven years. Look at New Orleans, with no public schools left, all charter schools. Those are the consequences of not fighting back.

NOOR: For the Real News, from Chicago, this is Jaisal Noor.

End

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