Chicago Teachers Strike

Chicago School Strike is Against Obama’s “Race To The Top”

By Bruce A. Dixon

Despite what CNN, MSNBC and other national news outlets, and the Obama re-election campaign want you to believe, Chicago’s public school teachers are not out on strike against Republican education policies. There have been practically no elected Republican officials in Chicago in more than sixty years. Chicago’s mayor and the U.S. Secretary of Education are both Democrats, picked by a Democratic president, also from Chicago. When it gets close to election time, Barack Obama is known to say a soothing word about respecting teachers and protecting public education, to keep from driving away traditional Democratic voters. But four years of Obama’s corporate-style school reform speak louder than a little timely campaign rhetoric.

From day one, the Obama administration joined and has helped co-ordinate the all-out assault on public education. Obama’s campaign pockets are flush with contributions from what Glen Ford called the “charter school sugar daddies,” at whose behest he and Arne Duncan

“...spent their first year and a half in office coercing states to expand charters or lose out on more than $4 billion in federal education monies. Obama’s allies on Wall Street invest heavily in charter schools, tapping into the public money stream to build their own vision of corporate education.”

Obama’s Race to the Top program awards federal funds to states and school districts based upon how many teachers they fire or replace with Teach For America or similar temp agencies, how many teacher pensions are eliminated, how many teachers are subjected to evaluation on test scores and other spurious criteria, and how many public schools are replaced with charters. The Eli Broad and Walton Family Foundations, along with the Bill and Melinda Gates and Heritage Foundations actually wrote Race To The Top, and under President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan, school districts and states have felt themselves obliged to utilize their consultants to help them qualify under its guidelines for federal education funding.

The first day of the strike, according to the authoritative Substance News, 50,000 Chicagoans surrounded the downtown city block housing the Chicago Board of Education. Teacher’s union leaders have staked their future on aggressively reaching out for alliances with community and parent groups. They know they’ve got no strike fund to fall back on, and no radio or TV stations to combat the flood of lies and disinformation about them. Polls taken by the Chicago Sun-Times, a local newspaper vigorously opposed to public school teachers, show 47 percent of those questioned supporting the teachers at the strike’s outset. Across the country, not just in Chicago, President Obama’s education policies are deeply and widely unpopular among the constituencies he needs to win the election. But fortunately for the president, corporations have for some time failed to fund much in the way of journalism; so many Democratic voters don’t necessarily connect him with those policies.

Hence Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is able to muddy the water for his boss by declaring his neutrality in the strike. Mitt Romney on the other hand is free to paint some imaginary distance between the two parties by embracing Rahm Emanuel and accusing Obama of siding with Chicago teachers. But it’s all campaign smoke and mirrors. Chicago Democrat Rahm Emanuel isn’t coloring outside the lines of his president’s policies on public education. He’s been carrying them out to the letter, trying his level best to make Chicago into Providence Rhode Island, where school officials simply fired ALL the teachers, or Detroit, which largely dismantled its public schools, or New Orleans, where Arne Duncan’s predecessor as Chicago schools CEO Paul Vallas closed more than a hundred public schools after laying waste to public education in Philadelphia.

The truth might be hard to face, but it’s not hard to understand. Many of Chicago’s twenty thousand plus teachers are beginning to realize this, and so are many more of their supporters among parents, Chicago residents, and large numbers of observers around the country. The Chicago school strike is, Rick Perlstein observers in a article titled “Stand Up To Rahm,” is the biggest U.S. mass actions since Wisconsin and the Occupy Movement, and at least as deeply threatening to the authorities as either of these. But Perlstein too succumbs to a delusional attachment to the president, who along with Arne Duncan, also from Chicago, he manages never to mention. Another author, David Sirota remembers to say Obama’s name a few times in his article about the Chicago strike, and blasts the policies of privatization and charters, but fails to attribute any of Obama’s dis-education policies to the president. Amazing.

Sure, Rahm is a reprehensible liar and bully. Soon after assuming office, he told teachers union president Karen Lewis that a quarter of the city’s public school children would never amount to anything, and that he was determined not to throw money at them. Rahm is only the mayor. His education policies are those of Arne Duncan, and of the Democratic president to whom they both owe their current jobs. Perlstein, Sirota and many others are still too stoned on Obama-laid, or too invested in passing the stuff out, to admit this. Their delusion is useful. With millions of likely Democratic voters kept away from the polls by a wave of voter ID laws, and the known selective reliability of our voting system, the November election may depend on keeping the illusion of difference between Democrats and Republicans on this issue intact. But it is just that. An illusion.

The truth is that everything Chicago’s mayor is doing today was set in motion under the regimes of Arne Duncan and his predecessor, and continues around the country with the blessings of President Obama. Four years of action, key appointments and programs speak louder than a few coy words. Everything Rahm Emanuel does to destroy public education in Chicago has the absolute bipartisan backing of Republican Mitt Romney as well as Democrat Barack Obama. And whenever corporate Republicans and corporate Democrats agree on something, it’s bad news for the rest of us.

In the end, as Depression-era novelist B. Traven once said, all strikes are against the state. In capitalist society, employers hold all the legal cards. The rest of us are obliged to sell our labor or starve and freeze by the roadside. Workplaces are never democracies, even when your working conditions are our children’s learning conditions, even when your employer is the city or the state, the supposed small-d democratic public itself. The only power ordinary people have, when they have it at all, is to organize and combine and withhold their labor and their cooperation until somebody comes to the table and promises things will change starting right now. That’s what a strike is—the first and last vestige of real democratic peoples power in action.

Whether they know it or not, and many more do than declare it openly, Chicago’s teachers and parents are defending their children and their communities against the coordinated assault on public education, coming from both parties, but mainly from the one in power locally and nationally right now—the Democrats—with Barack Obama large, in charge and carrying the spear for his charter school sugar daddies.

Black Agenda Report, September 12. 2012