Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Deborah Lynch came to the House of Delegates on October 29 with a motion for strike authorization and a fiery speech. Lynch’s new militant pose is quite a sudden about-face: the contract offer she is now railing against, is the same one she herself tried to slam through just two weeks before.
On October 16, CTU members rejected the leadership’s sellout deal with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Board of Education by a margin of 61% against (16,765 to 10,723). This came on the heels of a similar vote at the House of Delegates on October 1 which rejected the tentative agreement by a 58% margin (402-289). This occurred despite Lynch’s undemocratic attempt to ram the contract through by arrogantly trampling over a standing resolution that the delegates receive copies of the contract five days prior to any vote.
Prior to the house and membership votes, Lynch had tried to insure ratification by claiming that she would not return to the bargaining table and that a “no vote” was essentially a vote to strike. But the ranks didn’t buckle, and Lynch was quickly singing a different tune. After the ratification, she did indeed return to the table, but the CPS has remained intransigent.
The massive rejection of the proposed contract shows that the union members have lost confidence in the leadership’s strategy of collaboration with the very powers who are attacking the entire working class.
Lynch’s militant posturing may have more to do with her reelection bid than it does with her determination to build a serious, all-out fight-back. It is instructive that she refused to allow any discussion of the strike plan at the October 29 meeting.
CTU members must continue to hold their vacillating leadership’s feet to the fire, and not allow Lynch to come back to the ranks with anything less than a contract offer that meets the following absolutely essential demands:
CTU members need to demand that President Lynch turn the announced mid-day picket at the Board of Education on November 19 into a mass rally after school hours that tens of thousands can get to. The CTU should call on all other unions and labor bodies to support such a rally and mobilize their members for it. The CTU should take out full page ads in the daily and weekly papers calling on the working class public to join the rally, explaining why it is in the interest of all working people.
To accomplish this, we cannot sit back and let Lynch and her board run another top-down meeting like they do at the House of Delegates. We should use this meeting to debate strike strategy. We should vote to organize a regional strike committee and we should demand that the CTU build for a mass rally on November 19.
The CTU has not struck since 1989, but its willingness to fight can have a ripple effect on the class struggle. And with solid preparations for a strike, the CPS will see that the CTU is putting muscle behind its contract demands.
As well, a militant CTU strike could be a powerful blow in defense of public education. CTU members’ struggle for a decent contract must be welded to a campaign to smash the infamous Article 4.5 of the 1995 Amendatory Act which gave the state and city unilateral control over class size and other conditions .... and then blamed teachers for the results! This attack has been supplemented on the federal level by the demagogically misnamed “No Child Left Behind Act” – the first volley in a ruling class offensive intended to reduce public education to a token existence, at best.
Ruling class efforts to “discipline” municipal workers’ unions like the CTU and others are only one aspect of a broader program of austerity attacks against public services. In turn, this offensive stems from a severe crisis in the capitalist profit system. To make the working class pay, public services are being slashed. The cuts in municipal jobs and services disproportionately target Black and Latino workers and youth, the most oppressed layers of the working class.
The defense of public education is an issue of both class and race. The student body is overwhelmingly working class, and the vast majority of CPS students are Black or Latino – doubly oppressed under the racist, capitalist system. The CTU can and must mobilize the youth and their parents to demand the resources necessary to provide a quality education for all. The ruling class has its own vision of our children’s futures: unemployment and temporary jobs, police brutality and a mushrooming prison “industry”, the opportunity to kill or be killed in US imperialism’s adventures in Iraq or Afghanistan.
A fighting leadership would draw on the growing mass anger over the racist, capitalist attacks and would build a serious, mass mobilization of students, parents, immigrants and workers from every community.
CTU members were right to vote down this rotten sellout agreement. Now, we turn to a discussion of what it will take to win. Supporters of the LRP have been candid from the start. It will take mass action to smash 4.5 and beat back the corresponding offensive on the federal level. And, it will take a strike to win a decent contract and force changes in class sizes and other working conditions which teachers, staff and students demand.
This bulletin will look at the kind of strategy it will take to defeat the ruling class’ relentless attacks on education and other services, municipal unions like the CTU and the working class as a whole.
Unfortunately, the brief history of this contract “struggle” has been a textbook lesson in how not to win.
After a summer of highly secretive negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Public Schools, the two sides suddenly announced that they had reached a tentative deal to be voted on at the October 1 meeting of the CTU House of Delegates. The executive board of the CTU recommended passage of the tentative agreement by a margin of 11-1.
The proposed five year agreement was a rotten deal for the entire bargaining unit and an outright betrayal of the CTU’s duty to defend public education against the bipartisan “No Child Left Behind Act.”
And Lynch openly lied to the members when she claimed to have won the full restoration of CTU bargaining rights: Article 4.5 was never repealed, and so the CPS retains the unilateral right to violate class sizes, etc.
Our contract struggle must be rooted in the defense of public education. Daley and Duncan want to portray the CTU as greedy teachers who want big raises in bad times. And Lynch’s pocketbook presentation of the issues plays right into their hands. Her speech at the October 29 house meeting carefully avoided any mention of the so-called “permissive” items which are at the heart of the bi-partisan attacks on our public schools.
Lynch now talks about “reaching out” to students and parents, but she does not have in mind mobilizing them around these vicious, racist attacks on public education. Rather, her outreach plan amounts to doing public relations work focusing narrowly on teachers’ economic demands. This approach will undercut the potential to build the kind of mass mobilization it will take to win anything for anybody.
As well, the Lynch / PACT leaderships’ ratification push completely abandoned the interest of lower-paid members of the bargaining unit. Lynch’s “pragmatism” and her arrogant contempt for the non-faculty CTU members were transparently displayed in an exchange at the October 1 delegates meeting. In the Q&A, an ESP asked Lynch point blank: “How can you stand up there and tell me that after 34 years of service, I top out at under $30,000 a year, and there’s nothing you can do for me?” Lynch’s smirking response? “So, what’s your question?”
On the plus side, Lynch’s autocratic style of functioning at the October 1 meeting was certainly one of the factors which turned the room against her, but it must have been disillusioning for delegates who still imagined that she and PACT represented any kind of a break with the bureaucratic legacy of Thomas Reese and the UPC.
Indeed, at every turn, Lynch and the PACT apparatus have done everything they could to marginalize the ranks and cripple the clear potential for a real fight-back:
In the last CTU election, we noted that there were no meaningful differences between the UPC and PACT except for the latter’s ostensible commitment to union democracy, and we warned that the pressure of the class struggle would inevitably prove this claim to be a fraud as well. Lynch’s conduct has confirmed this projection time and time again.
The two main caucuses are united in their common hostility to mass action and their unswerving obedience to the Democratic Party. Lynch has even gone so as to thank Daley, Duncan and others for “restoring our bargaining rights” even though 4.5 remains in force – giving the state and city unilateral power on key issues like classroom size, restructuring, etc.
The sellouts and capitulations to the bosses flow directly from the role the union bureaucracy serves under capitalism: Their function is to act as brokers for the sale of workers’ labor power to the capitalists. It is not in workers’ interest to in any way preserve the capitalist system which exploits us, but it is in the bureaucrats’ interest. Thus they inevitably bow to capitalism’s needs.
Workers cannot afford to have any illusions in the Democratic Party. The Democrats and Republicans are both parties of the capitalist ruling class. That should be crystal clear here in Chicago, Illinois where state and local Democrats are leading the one-sided class war on municipal workers’ unions.
Last month, two Chicago area Teamsters locals struck against and defeated the main association of private garbage haulers. The difference? The bosses offered a raise of 65 cents an hour over five years, but the Teamsters won hourly increases of $7.65 over five years. It is possible that the Teamsters might have done even better if they had stayed out longer, but we count this as a clear victory and a valuable lesson. Our power is on the picket line and in the streets, not in some oak-paneled conference room.
In order to win, the CTU must prepare to strike, and in order to do this we need a mass meeting to discuss strike strategy and to show our ruling class enemies that we mean business. Such an event would also broadcast a serious message to our many potential allies in the working class.
At this mass meeting, the members must have the right to debate the issues and pass binding resolutions on how to take the struggle forward.
In the meantime, the rank and file must now initiate the formation of strike committees on each campus. These would oversee the election of picket captains and would begin a systematic campaign to rally youth and parents behind the CTU.
The CTU was once noted for its militancy. In the past, its successes often set the pace for other unions’ struggles. A determined, well-organized CTU strike could galvanize the anger of other unions under the gun.
Mayor Daley and the City of Chicago are in simultaneous negotiations with many of the larger municipal unions. In addition to the CTU, the city is negotiating with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and other unions represented by AFSCME, SEIU, etc. This points to the need and clear potential for a class-wide fight-back uniting all of the unions in Daley’s crosshairs.
A militant, well-organized strike by the CTU could become the spark of an all-out fightback by all of the other major municipal unions. Like the CTU, most of these unions are currently in negotiations with the city. Imagine the power of a joint struggle of all of these unions against the austerity attacks.
In addition to forming their own strike committees, CTU members should initiate city-wide committees of militant workers to build a campaign of mass action. Such committees could kick off the campaign with a mass rally to protest the austerity cuts against public services and attacks on city unions. As always, militant workers will have to guard against the danger of the union bureaucrats betraying the struggle by seizing control of such bodies and using them to pacify the struggle rather than to build it.
Such a united movement could build toward a general strike to defeat the ruling class austerity measures and turn around the one-sided class war in Chicago.
A general strike would mobilize not just union workers but also non-union workers and the unemployed. It would forge unity between labor’s struggles and the fight against police brutality and other racist attacks. And a general strike would also show the working class the power that we have not just to defeat the ruling class austerity measures but also to run society in the interests of the vast majority of society, the working class and oppressed masses.
But “our” labor leaders recoil in horror and scorn at the idea of an all-out fightback. Instead, they cringe before every legalistic dictate of the capitalist state and treat capitalist property relations as if they were sacrosanct – no matter what the cost to our class. Instead of seeking to build the working class unity and militancy necessary to defend our class, the labor leaders talk about the need to be “reasonable” in “hard times.” Reasonable for whom?
Did you know that the ATU bus drivers have been working without a contract for three years?! That is a scandalous indictment of the ATU union leadership, and it is an extreme example of the labor misleaders’ bottom-line willingness to bow before the needs of the capitalist system and sacrifice the needs of the ranks.
That is why supporters of the LRP fight inside major unions like the CTU for a revolutionary party leadership alternative to the cynical outlook of the labor bureaucracy which chains our vision of what is possible to the sinking horizon of the rotting capitalist system.
To make the capitalists pay for the economic crisis, we must fight to force the state to renounce the debts that are squeezing our livelihood – with no compensation to the capitalists. A united general strike would have the power to raise such a demand along with more immediate demands to stop the budget cuts, lay-offs and other anti-union attacks.
We do not hide our view that life under capitalism is only going to get grimmer. We believe that depression is on the horizon, and that workers in the relatively near future will be asked to accept vastly higher levels of unemployment, even lower wages, no pensions and little health care. Alongside the economic attacks, the racist and anti-immigrant attacks will escalate. On the world scene, the deepening capitalist crisis is decimating humanity with poverty, famine and war.
In our view, the only real solution is a proletarian socialist revolution. Under a workers’ state, the vast wealth created through our labor and suffering will be wrenched from the grasp of our rulers and harnessed to build a new kind of society based on human solidarity and equality .... socialism.
In the course of this and other struggles, we seek to convince our fellow workers of the need to build a revolutionary working class party.