To prevent schools from reopening, Chicago educators must organize independently from CTU by forming an Illinois Educator Safety Committee that brings together educators, parents, students, and the wider working class to prepare for the strike action to close all schools and not essential jobs. We urge all who wish to join this fight to attend this public meeting on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. CST and contribute to form a Safety Committee for Illinois Educators and send us your contact information today.
On December 31, Chicago news broadcaster WGN released social media posts from Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union Area, Sarah Chambers, who was enjoying a vacation in Puerto Rico just days before thousands of teachers as part of Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s reopening plan dangerous school buildings were pushed back.
The incident revealed the essence of CTU, which falsely claims to “represent” more than 30,000 educators in the country’s third largest school district. It’s an outfit worn by upper-middle-class functionaries who are completely isolated from the disastrous consequences of their actions and continue to produce for simple teachers and working-class families in the city.
In addition to poolside selfies from her Caribbean vacation, Chambers posted news of the restaurant meals she was looking forward to in Old San Juan, the tourist district of the impoverished island capital. In Puerto Rico, 127,000 people contracted COVID-19 and 1,200 died. Using the account name Sarah4Justice, Chambers, who was in attendance with CTU Complaints Coordinator Sara Echevarria, created posts that failed to address these conditions, let alone the Puerto Rican teachers’ struggle against the effects of hurricanes, earthquakes and savage austerity.
In Chicago, district officials returned all pre-K through eighth grade teachers to buildings with no approved medical exemptions this month regardless of their family’s health conditions, threatening those who do not return with firing. This despite a city-wide infection rate of over 10 percent. In working-class neighborhoods where low-wage workers are forced to work, rely on local transport, and live in large multi-generational households, the infection rate is closer to 20 percent.
To make matters worse, public health experts believe the new, more virulent strain of the virus, which is spreading particularly quickly among young people, is already in Chicago, triggering the recent surge in cases. On Sunday, 19-year-old Chicago-born Arnold Herrera, who had no health problems, died of the disease.
Under these circumstances there is immense opposition from educators and parents to the deadly reopening policy. More than half of the 2,100 teachers and 40 percent of support workers who were ordered to return to work on Monday did not return, according to district officials. On Sunday evening, CPS CEO Janice Jackson admitted in her letter to Chicago city councilors that only 37 percent of parents of pre-K through eighth grade students and special needs education students have expressed an intention to return to face-to-face learning.
Chambers’ social media posts have further undermined the already ragged credibility of CTU, which continues to position itself as opponents of the forced reopening of Lightfoot despite blocking collective actions by teachers against the policies of murder. In an effort to control the damage, Chambers, who initially defended her actions, issued a declaration of repentance and announced that she would resign from the CTU board, at least temporarily.
Chambers in Puerto Rico
“I understand that it was insensitive and wrong of me to take this winter break trip and share photos of it at a time when thousands of my union sisters and brothers – and the families we serve – are not traveling or only make essential plans outside the home. I deeply regret my actions and fully understand why many are upset, ”her Facebook said. She added, “In order to show my remorse and not be distracting, I will disable all of my social media accounts and step down from the board of directors of the Chicago Teachers Union.”
Corporate and far-right news media predictably hijacked Chambers in an attempt to smear teachers by equating them with the smug and corrupt CTU officials. According to right-wing gutter press, teachers’ resistance to a return to personal learning is not due to concerns for the well-being of educators, children and their parents, but rather to a desire for more free time. However, the right-wing campaign has failed to undermine support for teachers who, along with parents, struggle with inadequate resources for online learning, the dangers of the pandemic, and the indifference of school and city officials.
The right-wing efforts to equate teachers with CTU are just as grotesquely false as the claims by Chambers and the rest of the CTU leaders that “membership controls the union.” In reality, the Chambers incident is just the latest example of the huge class gap that exists between CTU and ordinary teachers.
It has been more than a decade since the CORE (Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators) faction comprised members of the defunct International Socialist Organization (ISO), the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and other pseudo-left groups took over CTU based on rhetoric about “social justice unionism” and “union democracy”. Chambers, a longtime co-chair of CORE, calls herself a “socialist,” traveled to Venezuela with a delegation of Chicago teachers in 2019 and is regularly interviewed on Labor Notes and Jacobin, the DSA’s semi-official publication.
The installation of Chambers, former ISO leader and current CTU President Jesse Sharkey, and other pseudo-left middle-class elements did nothing to change the anti-working-class nature of CTU. For the past decade, it has played a pivotal role in restructuring public education in Chicago, assisting the Democratic Party in suppressing opposition to school closings and expanding for-profit charter schools, as well as in the explosion of social inequality and police killings. CTU pioneered the career opportunities of other “left union reformers” in Los Angeles, New York and other cities.
In any event, they have waged a war, not against the Democratic Party and the privatizers of corporate schools, but against the class consciousness of the working class, in line with Democrats’ claims that the essential division in America is race, not class. Like CTU, the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the Oakland Education Association (OEA), and other unions have betrayed strikes, participated in attacks on teachers and public education, and contributed to the murderous back-to-school policy. In December, Sharkey, the presidents of the UTLA, the OEA and other unions wrote a love letter to President-elect Joe Biden covering up support for teachers to return to unsafe schools.
While faking Lightfoot’s plans, CTU refused any strike action and left the teachers to fight alone. She has filed impotent legal complaints, urging teachers to sign a petition against unsafe terms, and asking individual teachers to call absent, leaving them vulnerable to management retaliation.
At a news conference Tuesday, CTU President Sharkey said nothing about the district’s threats to fire teachers for unexcused absenteeism. The reopening, he said, would not work if “the district just continues to dictate us,” admitting the city was unwilling to commit to a public health metric such as a COVID-19 positivity threshold to reopen.
He then said CTU had made three additional offers to the city for a return to work plan for sale to teachers, including late starting classes until teachers received a first dose of the vaccine, with an extension of the school year until the summer; the return only of teachers and students who volunteer for personal study; or resuming face-to-face learning with mass testing of all teachers and students, all of which pose unacceptable public health risks.
This is the same mode that teacher unions in New York City, Washington DC, and other cities use to reopen dangerous schools. Regardless of the false rhetoric, CTU and other unions are on the other side of the barricade when it comes to sending teachers back to infected schools. They agree with Biden who has refused any bans and insisted that all schools be open for the next few months so that schoolchildren’s parents can be sent back to work for business profits.
It is for this reason that educators must take matters into their own hands by joining the national network of educators’ safety committees, which are organized independently of the corporatist unions to protect their lives. These committees, already established in New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, Texas and other states, are struggling to unite teachers with broadest sections of the working class to close schools and unnecessary production, and to fully compensate workers and small businesses Owner.
The teachers are faced with a political battle against the Democratic Party, which speaks no less than the Republican Party for Wall Street. After handing trillions over to the big corporations, both parties plan to improve public education and other vital services. The struggle to close unsafe schools and defend life must be linked to a political struggle against corporate-controlled parties and a socialist alternative to the capitalist profit system. To fight for this, we urge teachers to get more information and join the Socialist Equality Party.
All educators, school staff, parents and students who support this initiative should join our Facebook group and contact us today to set up local simple committees in your school and neighborhood. We urge you to attend an online meeting on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. CST to set up a safety committee for Illinois Educators. We will be hosting a national call-in meeting this Saturday, January 9th at 1:00 p.m. EST. We urge you to send us your contact information today and make plans to attend this important meeting.