Chicago Teachers Stage Mass Marches vs. School Closings

CHICAGO-Outraged by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plans to close 54 public schools, and increase class sizes to up to 40 per classroom, thousands of Chicago Teachers Union members and allies staged mass marches against his scheme for three days, May 18-20.  But Emanuel shoved the closings through the school board May 22.
Faced with that vote, the union is stepping up political action, too.  It’s backing the mass protests with a drive to enroll 100,000 new voters in the Windy City, union President Karen Lewis says.  CTU wants to create a mass of critical voters large enough to defeat both compliant state legislators next year and Emanuel and city council members in 2015.  And it will encourage challengers to Emanuel and others.
The marches attracted parents and other union support, CTU (AFT Local 1) reported.  They’re also the latest saga in the long-running conflict between the union and the often-irascible Emanuel, his hand-picked school board and the school system’s chief executive officers.  CTU represents 30,000 teachers, aides and paraprofessionals.
Emanuel’s insistence on iron control over the schools, and the system’s refusal to help teachers – or even give them books on time – led to a 1-week strike last year after contract negotiations broke down.
Their confrontation even spilled over into national politics.  CTU and Unite Here oppose Democratic President Barack Obama’s nomination of his top fundraiser, fellow Chicagoan Penny Pritzker, as U.S. Commerce Secretary.  Pritzker’s family owns the Hyatt Hotel chain, which mistreats and illegally fires its unionized Unite Here housekeepers.  Emanuel named Pritzker to the Chicago school board, where she backed his closure plans.  Unite Here also represents some Chicago schools workers.
“Hyatt is the worst hotel employer in the United States.  A director of Hyatt should not be leading American businesses in a race to the bottom,” Unite Here’s Hyatt Hurts campaign says, in urging unionists to e-mail senators, demanding they oppose Pritzker.
“Hyatt is leading the hospitality industry in a race to the bottom by aggressively subcontracting good hotel jobs with minimum wage temps,” their message adds.  “Hyatt imposes dangerous workloads on housekeepers, and has fired workers after they speak out about injustices.”
Lewis says Emanuel’s school closings “will put almost 50,000 students at academic and physical risk, put the jobs of thousands of teachers and other school employees in jeopardy and will lead to massive destabilization in predominantly African American neighborhoods…We will go door-to-door in neighborhoods where people’s schools have been shut down and their jobs have been lost.  Since 2001, 88% of students impacted by CPS school actions are African-American.  This is by design.”
By Mark Gruenberg
Press Associates, Inc. (PAI) – 5/24/2013