The following leaflet was distributed at the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates meeting on May 4, 2011 at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399 Union Hall on the South Side of Chicago.
The Chicago Teachers Union is on the front line of the assault on public workers across the country. Democratic politicians in Illinois, Massachusetts, California and New York are joining the Republicans in many states in scapegoating public-sector workers. Both parties want to make workers pay for the crisis of the capitalist economy and their multi-trillion dollar bailout of Wall Street – by slashing jobs, wages, benefits, and hard-earned union rights.
The SB 7 bill passed unanimously by the Illinois Senate does exactly that. The bill drastically curbs teachers’ seniority and collective bargaining rights, it effectively takes away the CTU’s right to strike, and it even provides for the lengthening of teaching hours without any necessary increase in pay.
CTU President Karen Lewis undermined the union by agreeing to the deal to support SB 7 the night of April 12. Then Lewis disrespected the delegates and conspired to hide the truth from the House of Delegates meeting on April 13. She came out in support of SB 7 on April 14 when it passed the Senate.
In the weeks since, the rest of the CTU leadership, from Vice President Jesse Sharkey on down, have refused to come out against SB 7 and have instead conspired to cover up Lewis’s betrayal. At the CORE meeting on April 25, Sharkey advised that the bill shouldn’t be opposed outright, but only be amended to remove the union-busting elements and keep the good parts – though he could not actually name anything good that the bill offers. He even continued Lewis’s policy of keeping the broader ranks of CTU members in the dark by urging CORE members not to say anything about this publicly in order to “give cover” to Democratic Party politicians who had stabbed the union in the back.
A wave of outrage among rank-and-file teachers at the SB 7 deal, most recently expressed at CTU Members Regional Meetings, has forced the CTU leadership to back off its support for the bill. Of course the leadership continues to keep the members in the dark: for example the leadership has not posted on the CTU website its regular “Delegate Packet” of documents, including an agenda, for this meeting, nor has it circulated even a brief a statement to the members on the latest developments. But so far as we understand, at the CTU’s Executive Board meeting on May 2, after a long debate, a majority repudiated President Lewis and agreed to submit a motion against SB 7 to today’s House of Delegates meeting.
Voting for a motion to reject SB 7 at today’s meeting will be a step forward. But if it is not accompanied by a clear call for action, it will only pave the way to more of the sort of lobbying and backroom deals with Democratic Party politicians that got teachers into this mess in the first place. Delegates should fight to commit the union to action. Make sure the motion, via amendment if necessary, calls on the CTU to organize a massive protest against SB7 and all the other budget cuts and attacks on the working class that are making workers pay for the capitalist crisis and bailout of Wall Street. The CTU should call on every other union in the city and state to mobilize for it.
In short, we believe that delegates should pass a motion to:
The CTU leadership now says that president Lewis was tricked into supporting SB 7 by some “fine print” inserted into the bill. But two days after privately agreeing to the bill, Lewis published a letter to the members endorsing the deal and calling on them to “please take the time to read the actual bill.” In fact, along with Lewis’s letter the union even published its own handy summary of the bill’s “fine print” on the CTU website (see www.ctunet.com/blog/sb7letter.) What they are saying now is just an excuse to cover for the rotten deal they made.
Their behavior does not come out of the blue. The CTU leaders have paved the way for such a retreat ever since they were elected last year. The union voted them into office to lead a militant struggle and reject the policy of collaboration with management carried out by Marilyn Stewart’s United Progressive Caucus. But Lewis and the rest of the new leadership have offered only more of the same.
Last summer Lewis joined the slate of AFT President Randi Weingarten, who is leading the drive to accept concessions. Last fall the CTU leadership endorsed and donated to Democratic Party politicians led by Gov. Pat Quinn. Predictably, the Democrats turned around and demanded more and more concessions from teachers’ unions. In January, militants in the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) fought to mobilize the union to defend seniority rights, but Lewis and the leadership shot the effort down and said they may have to give up seniority to keep the right to strike. Then they supported the final SB 7 bill that effectively gives up the right to strike too.
The leadership’s retreat has put the union and its members in a difficult position. But it is not too late to fight back. If the delegates can force the union to build mass protests against SB 7, that can be the start of a movement that forces the legislature to back off from their attacks on teachers and all workers. Mass action can succeed where lobbying has clearly failed. The politicians will only back off their attacks if they fear the power of the unions, not if they like us.
As socialists, we believe that mass action can start to show the working class the power it has when united in struggle. It can point to the need for workers to break from this country’s two capitalist parties and from the capitalist system itself.
For further details on the maneuvers behind the CTU leadership’s capitulation over SB7, see our statement, “Socialists Cover for Chicago Teachers Union Sellout, Democratic Politicians.”