24,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union are on strike against the dictates of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his corporate backers. In June, 90 percent of the membership voted to authorize a strike at the beginning of the school year, and contract negotiations have been at a near-standstill all summer. Emanuel unilaterally canceled a planned pay raise for the teachers this year, blatantly disregarded the union contract by lengthening the school day to seven hours, and has long advocated an expansion of for-profit charter schools in the City of Chicago, the country’s third-largest school district. This strike is the first by the CTU in 25 years, and marks a new chapter in the nationwide struggle between public sector unions and the Democratic Party.
Aware that Emanuel’s actions would provoke the teachers into action, the Democrat-dominated Illinois General Assembly passed a law—which required 75 percent of the union to vote “yes” for a strike, with all those members not voting counting as “no”—aimed at preventing the teachers from striking. This measure only served to galvanize the union’s resolve, which resulted in massive turnout in favor of the strike, and several schools reported 100 percent support for strike action.
Prior to becoming Mayor of Chicago, Emanuel served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations (most recently as White House Chief of Staff), was the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and was an influential member of the U.S. Congress from 2003 to 2009. He spent several years in the private banking sector, and capped off his career in finance with a scandal-filled tenure on Freddie Mac’s Board of Directors. During his time in Congress, Emanuel was an outspoken supporter of the invasion of Iraq, and has unwaveringly backed the murderous Israeli government in its war against the people of Palestine.
Since becoming mayor of Chicago, Emanuel oversaw the brutal suppression of the anti-NATO summit demonstrations in May, undertook a campaign against the city’s cab drivers, and has now provoked the CTU—a key longtime supporter of the Democratic Party in Chicago—into a strike. Given his extraordinarily high profile in the Democratic Party, and the fact that his policies are a “model” for other Democrats nationwide, it is clear that he represents the anti-worker, anti-union reality of that party, despite their “worker-friendly” hypocrisy.
Chicago has deep and militant traditions in both the labor and socialist movements. Even today, union density in the Chicago area stands well above the national average, and the heroic struggle of the workers who occupied Republic Windows and Doors in late 2008 stands as a shining beacon to today’s labor movement.
The Democratic Party has long counted Chicago and its organized workers as a guaranteed bastion of support. However, given the overtly anti-labor policies of Democratic politicians like Emanuel and his supporters in the General Assembly, union members would do well to ask, “why do we still back these people?”
Every election cycle, unions across the country give millions upon millions of dollars to the Democrats, only to receive nothing but abuse and neglect in return. Chicago’s unions are large, powerful, and influential—they could easily field an independent labor candidate against Emanuel in the next mayoral election, which would receive a major echo from the city’s large and diverse working class. If this candidate won, or even mounted a competitive race against Emanuel in Chicago—Barack Obama’s back yard—it would serve as a clarion call to organized labor all over the country. Rahm Emanuel has certainly done nothing to deserve the support of Chicago’s unions, and an alternative must be prepared by the labor leadership there.
The Workers International League calls for organized labor all over the country to support the CTU in its struggle against Rahm Emanuel and the Democratic Party, and to build a labor party that can provide a real alternative for workers!