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The Rebirth of the Chicago Teachers Union and Possibilities for a Counter-Hegemonic Education Movement

For nine days in September, Chicago belonged to the teachers, school paraprofessionals, and clinicians. On September 10, 2012, 26,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went on strike. It was the first teachers’ strike in Chicago in twenty-five years. While public and private sector unions have taken concessions and capitulated to cuts in wages, benefits, seniority rights, job protections, and much of what was won by the labor movement in the twentieth century, the CTU stood up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Commercial Club of Chicago, and the billionaire hedge-fund managers who have set out to break teachers’ unions and dismantle public education.… | more…

Creating a New Model of a Social Union

CORE and the Chicago Teachers Union

The success of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike in September 2012 was a stunning rebuke to the forces of privatization and corporate education reform.… Three years ago when the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) ran for leadership of the CTU, few would have predicted their ability to turn the union around from six years of do-little leadership into a force capable of taking on a nationally funded, bipartisan “education reform” movement that seemed likely to achieve its goal of weakening and possibly destroying the largest remaining union sector in the United States—public education unions. CORE and the CTU’s success was not due to replacing a weak leadership with a militant one willing to strike, but rather to the creation of a layer of union members in the CTU who saw the struggle as one for what CTU president Karen Lewis calls “the soul of public education.”… | more…

Beating the Neoliberal Blame Game

Teacher and Parent Solidarity and the 2012 Chicago Teachers' Strike

As Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis made her Sunday late-night announcement that the city’s teachers and paraprofessionals would stage their first strike in twenty-five years, my husband and I were waiting to be interviewed by a local television station to capture our live reaction.… The reporter asked us what were going to do with our kids during the strike. We said that we were bringing our children to our school’s strike line the next day to support our teachers and to teach our children what it means to stand up for yourself in a democracy. We criticized the mayor for supporting test-based pay since tying teachers’ performance to high-stakes tests forces them to narrow the curriculum and teach to the test. We also trashed the mayor’s assertion that class size doesn’t matter and asked if the mayor would want classes of thirty-five or more for his own children.… The interview was absolutely nerve-racking, but when it was over, we were happy that we were able to send that message. As soon as the camera was turned off, the reporter got word from his producer that he “blew it.” Apparently, we were supposed to portray the inconvenienced parents upset with striking teachers. The news producer wanted us to blame the teachers for this impasse in this contract fight, but we did not. We did not play by the rules of their blame game.… | more…

The Chicago Teachers’ Strike and Beyond

Strategic Considerations

Last September’s Chicago teachers’ strike raises critical strategic questions for all progressives and socialists seeking to resist the relentless neoliberal austerity attacks against working people and their communities.… [While in many ways it was a success,] it must be frankly recognized that the CTU’s contract campaign, which culminated in the seven day strike, fell short of achieving its ambitious goals at the contract table. In particular, it was unable to: significantly slow the mayor’s crusade to close scores of schools; halt district funding for mostly non-union, privately run charter schools; stop the lengthening of the school day and year without adequate employee compensation; or prevent the establishment of a teacher evaluation system based to an important degree on unreliable student scores on standardized tests. These less-than-optimal results deserve serious analysis, especially in light of the local’s herculean efforts to transform CTU from a classic, conservative business union to a progressive, even radical, organizing union. Could the strike have achieved more if other strategic choices had been made? Were some demands simply unwinnable?… | more…

When “Teachers Want What Children Need”

Reconciling Tensions in Teachers’ Work and Teacher Unionism

“Teachers want what children need—or do they?” Questioning—and rejecting—the slogan used by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to fight for collective bargaining in the 1960s, David K. Cohen, a contributor to Socialist Revolution, in 1969 dismissed the progressive potential of teachers’ unions.  This article revisits the AFT’s slogan and Cohen’s question, examining tensions between “what teachers want” and “what children need.” The history of U.S. teacher unionism supports the argument that when teachers’ unions adopt a “social movement” orientation and press against the confines of the scope of bargaining embedded in collective-bargaining agreements, the unions minimize tensions between teachers’ rights to organize as workers in defense of their material interests and the unique political and social responsibilities of their work.… | more…

Class War and Labor’s Declining Share

Given [the] background of high unemployment, lower-wage jobs, and smaller portions of the pie going to workers, it should come as no surprise that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 50 million people in the United States live in poverty (with income in 2011 below $23,021 for a family of four) while another 50 million live between the poverty level and twice the poverty level—one paycheck away from economic disaster. Thus, the poor (those in poverty or near poverty), most of whom belong to the working poor, account for approximately 100 million people, fully one-third of the entire U.S. population.… Wage repression and high unemployment are the dominant realities of our time. A vast redistribution of income—Robin Hood in reverse—is occurring that is boosting the share of income to capital, even in a stagnating economy. Is it any wonder, then, that for years on end polls have shown a majority of the population agreeing with the statement that the United States is on the wrong track and not headed in the right direction?… | more…

Ghosts

Marge Piercy is the author of eighteen poetry books, most recently The Hunger Moon: New & Selected Poems, 1980–2010 from Knopf. Her most recent novel is Sex Wars (Harper Perennial) and PM Press has republished Vida and Dance the Eagle to Sleep with new introductions.… | more…

The Migration and Labor Question Today: Imperialism, Unequal Development, and Forced Migration

It is impossible to disentangle the migration and labor question today without a deep understanding of the nature of contemporary capitalism, namely, neoliberal globalization. One of the main features of the new global architecture…is the assault on the labor and living conditions of the majority of the global working class, and in particular the migrant workforce, which is among the most vulnerable segments of this class. This essay will analyze some key aspects of the system that contemporary migration is embedded in, with emphasis on the process of segmentation and the growing precariousness (precarization) of labor markets worldwide.… | more…

Lenin and the “Aristocracy of Labor”

Eric Hobsbawm, who died last October 1, aged ninety-five, has been much celebrated as one of the twentieth century’s greatest English-language historians despite his steadfast advocacy of socialism and use of the tools of Marxian analysis. But, if asked, the founding editors of Monthly Review, Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy, his lifelong colleagues and comrades, would have differed a bit. They would have said that it was precisely because Marxism was intrinsic to his theory, understanding, and action that he gained his preeminence.

What Makes the Working Class a Revolutionary Subject?

Those who conclude that the working class is not a revolutionary subject because capitalism has changed the working class reveal that they do not understand the ABCs of Marxism. The working class makes itself a revolutionary subject through its struggles—it transforms itself. That was always the position of Marx—his concept of “revolutionary practice,” which is the simultaneous changing of circumstances and self-change. The working class changes itself through its struggles. It makes itself fit to create the new world.… | more…

The GDP Illusion

Value Added versus Value Capture

The ’GDP Illusion” is a fault in perception caused by defects in the construction and interpretation of standard economic data. Its main symptom is a systematic underestimation of the real contribution of low-wage workers in the global South to global wealth, and a corresponding exaggerated measure of the domestic product of the United States and other imperialist countries. These defects and distorted perceptions spring from the neoclassical concepts of price, value, and value added which inform how GDP, trade, and productivity statistics are devised and comprehended. The result is that supposedly objective and untarnished raw data on GDP, productivity, and trade are anything but; and standard interpretations conceal at least as much as they reveal about the sources of value and profit in the global economy.… | more…

Women, Labor, and Capital Accumulation in Asia

One of the enduring myths about capitalism that continues to be perpetuated in mainstream economic textbooks and other pedagogic strategies is that labor supply is somehow exogenous to the economic system. The supply of labor is typically assumed, especially in standard growth theories, to be determined by the rate of population growth, which in turn is also seen as “outside” the economic system rather than in interplay with it. The reality is, of course, very different: the supply of labor has been very much a result of economic processes, not something extraneous to it. Throughout its history, capitalism has proved adept at causing patterns of labor supply to change in accordance with demand…. But nowhere has this particular capacity of capitalism to generate its own labor been more evident than in the case of female labor.… | more…

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