Saturday, April 16, 2011

Walkerville, Illinois

With all the shenanigans going on here in Wisconsin, it's easy to overlook the bigger picture. Nationwide, there is an assault on working people. Ohio and Indiana have launched similar attacks on public sector unions. In New Hampshire, they're pushing forward an all out "right to work (for less)" law that would effectively abolish all unions, not just the public sector ones. In Michigan, they've established a "financial martial law" bill that would allow the Governor to unilaterally dissolve any local government he deemed to be spending too much on public services.

And then there's Illinois.

Recently, the Illinois State Senate unanimously passed SB 7, an assault on the teachers union. This bill makes it nearly impossible for teachers to strike (you know, for the children), forces teachers to work extra hours with no extra pay (you know, for the children), makes it easier to lay off teachers (you know, for the children), and makes teacher's pay based on their centering their entire curriculum around standardized tests (you know, for the children).

Oddly enough, this was presented by the Chicago Teachers Union leadership as a "victory". This is because Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel was initially pushing for an even more Draconian form of education deform. Emanuel wanted to introduce Walker-style measures that would make it so that teachers couldn't bargain over anything other than pay. He also wanted to out-Walker Walker by insisting that any Teachers Union local that went on strike would automatically be decertified.

And that's Illinois, Democratic stronghold, bluest of all the blue states, with the possible exception of Massachusetts. This is the place that brought us such "progressive" luminaries as Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, Rahm Emanuel and Rod Blagojevich.

But here's the strange thing about Illinois, and Chicago in particular. It's politicians tend to be Democrats. Rahm Emanuel was Obama's Chief of Staff before buying the title of Mayor. Supposedly, the Democrats are friends of labor and all that, so some might find it odd for them to be attacking the unions.

On closer inspection, however, the Democrats have been in the forefront of attacking public sector workers, teachers in particular. Wisconsin Republicans may have been the straw that broke the camel's back, but the Illinois Democrats are the ones who gave them the straw in the first place.

Back in 2001, in the Bush days, Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley, an Illinois Democrat, launched the first major assault on Chicago teachers. This was through a process called "mayoral control". This says that, rather than having school districts controlled democratically by the parents, teachers and students in those districts, the entire school system is run by a CEO appointed by the Mayor (you know, for the children).

In 2004, Daley appointed businessman Arne Duncan, an Illinois Democrat, as the CEO of the Chicago school system. Duncan launched an education deform program called "Renaissance 2010", which shut down schools in poor minority neighborhoods (you know, for the children), selling public schools to private corporations, (you know, for the children), and setting up highly militarized charter schools (you know, for the children). And of course, busting the Teachers Unions (you know, for the children). Duncan was later appointed Secretary of Education by Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat, where the two of them praised the mass firing of every single teacher at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island (you know, for the children).

This may not be as extreme as Walker's attacks, which also went after snow-plow drivers and prison guards, and which tried to bust all the public sector unions at once rather than through a gradual process. However, the Democrats and Republicans, as the two main political parties in the US, are setting the terms of the debate, and they agree on all the fundamentals.

In a world dominated by reason, someone like Walker would never be taken seriously. The idea that a candidate funded by bankers and real estate agents would claim that public sector workers are responsible for the countries financial troubles is pretty blatant scapegoating. But the scapegoating of public-sector workers was legitimized by Obama, Emanuel, Daley and Duncan. When even the director of @An Inconvenient Truth@ says that public-sector workers are responsible for everything bad that ever happened in the universe, it’s a lot easier to take someone like Walker seriously.

In fact the Democrats perfected the Orwellian double-speak that Walker would later adopt. Once upon a time, the term “education reform” referred to the @reform@ of education. You know, things like increasing student participation, democratizing the schools, reducing class sizes. But thanks to the Chicago democrats, education “reform” now means, increasing reliance on standardized tests, mayoral control and laying off teachers. So people who @actually@ want to reform public education are now enemies of education “reform” and are therefore deemed reactionaries. Daley’s plan to turn the clock back to the middle ages was even called “Renaissance 2010”.

So when Walker supporters refer to public school teachers as “government bureaucrats” and the Koch brothers as “real America”, they’re just following a grand, bipartisan tradition.

Unfortunately, the labor movement is completely tied to the Democratic party, which is the primary reason for its decline. Throughout Chicago’s education deform process, AFT president Randi Weingarten negotiated away her members jobs in order to make nice with the Obama administration. During the struggle in Wisconsin, the showed up to a GMM of my union local to proclaim that Arne Duncan was on his side, based on the fact that he had a meeting with Walker. When Walker’s bill passed, rather than fight for the continued existence, the AFT-Wisconsin halted all activity to campaign for the party that kept them suck in fifteen-month contract negotiations.

In Chicago it looked like this was going to change, when the Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators broke Weingarten’s stranglehold over the Chicago Teachers Union. But when SB 7 passed, the new CTU president, Karen Lewis, treated the assault on worker’s rights as a “compromise victory”, arguing “We decided to have a Springfield strategy and that's how the game is played.”

That may be how the game is played, but it’s not how it should be played. If you’re going to truly oppose the Republican war on workers, you have to oppose the Democratic war on workers as well. If you're want to defend the workers in Wisconsin, you have to defend the workers in Illinois.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely put, George. I especially agree with the point about how calling charter schools, expanded testing, merit pay and union busting "education reform" deviously manages to put those of us fighting for real community-based education reform on the defense as supposedly anti-progress. It's a dirty game out there right now, but thanks for thanks for writing something that cuts through at least some of the BS.