Ever since the Chicago Teachers Union strike last fall, the momentum to protect public education has spread and morphed into something much bigger and beyond what many would have imagined. The strike highlighted the problems of underdeveloped schools which many lack even the most basic services for students and teachers as well as the increase privatization of education by pointing out the increase of charter schools and the discriminatory merit of schools based on test scores from tests designed by private and for-profit companies.
The strike by Chicago Teachers did much more than build the fight to save public education though; it re-inspired the labor movement. When the talks of a strike began to surface, other labor unions such as SEIU and the National Nursed United joined in and played a huge role in the organization of the mass crowds that marched and rallied with the striking teachers. When the strike ended though, the increased fight back from labor didn’t cease; instead, it morphed beyond the Chicago teachers. There is no doubt in my mind that the strike was an influence for the growth of OUR Wal-Mart and the creation of the Fight For 15 campaign.
The Chicago Teachers Union has done a great job of highlighting the racism and classism of the school closings. Local neighborhoods, especially those on the North Side, have already started to link the closings of Chicago’s schools to the increase gentrification of Chicago’s neighborhoods by private real estate developers with the help of city officials.
Now that communities start to see there is more to the situation than school closings, gentrification and the attack on working-class people should be deemed as the struggle while the school closings should be seen as a fight within the shared struggle.
When the Mayor and the Chicago Board of Education listed 129 possible schools to be closed, they expected each neighborhood to push back with their own egoistic interests, but instead the resistance began an altruistic movement with messages like “no school closings” and “every Chicago school is my school.” The Mayor and the Chicago Board of Education’s plan heavily relies on the strategy of divide and conquer especially between Chicago’s poorest and most affluent neighborhoods; but thanks to the forces and outreach of the Chicago Teachers Union, individual neighborhoods began to join as “one Chicago” hindering the mayor’s and board’s plan.
Rallying behind the idea of “one Chicago” is the first step to painting the concept of a wider struggle; and until that concept is embedded into the movement itself, the citizens of Chicago will not win.
As Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teachers Union have already pointed out, the closures target predominantly poor and black neighborhoods. But instead of looking at “poor” and “black” as two separate groups, the citizens must realize that those who are black are more-likely the ones who are poor, and the issue of racism extends beyond city official’s plan to close the schools, but the economic racism that forces so many blacks into poverty exists as well.
Looking at the wider struggle from a historical and geographic perspective, the south and west side are usually the victims of austerity measures and are always pushed more into poverty. As city officials plan to push working-class people on the North Side either into the south side or out of Chicago, they are simply “moving” the problem of poverty and not fixing it.
Poverty and austerity measures are a violent attack on working-class people, and the fight against it must be considered the struggle.
Saving the schools is not going to solve the overall problem and is useless if the other issues are not solved as well. The community must use the momentum of the fight against school closings as the catalyst of the struggle.
Fighting poverty begins with demanding good jobs that pay fair wages. Groups like Fight For 15 and Our Wal-Mart seem to be leading that fight, and the community should be just as involved with these campaigns as they are with the school closings so when fast food workers are marching for $15 per hour, the teachers union, other labor unions, and the community should be marching with them; that being said, the workers who are fighting for 15 should be just as involved in the fight against school closings.
Poverty worsens with austerity and city officials continue to push the lie that the city is broke and needs to cut back. Last spring, the city claimed that it was broke and closed multiple mental-healthcare clinics while at the same time seem to have the money to improve certain aspects of the downtown area for the NATO summit.
Right now, more mental health clinics face closings just like schools; labor groups like the National Nurses United and SEIU should be highlighting these issues as well. The reason given by city officials is the same as it was last spring and has even extended to become the reason why schools are facing closures, the city apparently has a deficit and needs to cut back.
Even though communities have begun to understand that these issues are related and are part of the city’s goal to gentrify the neighborhoods, they haven’t morphed their strategy beyond the rallies to save the schools.
Currently the Chicago Teachers Union and the community have pushed their rallies as a message to city hall which is only one of the perpetrators of this attack on working-class people; it’s time to advance the strategy and direct the anger towards the private industries that are committing these attacks also. The Occupy Movement is a great example of this concept.
Going back to the issue of gentrification with housing, it is necessary to target the private real-estate developers that are pushing out the housing and already have interests in buying out the closed-school buildings whether that be by a simple picket or a boycott of their real estate.
And when the city is pushing the fake austerity crisis while handing out public TIF funds to private companies downtown instead of using the funds to invest in and improve schools and other community services, the citizens must not only direct their anger at city officials, but to the private industries that are taking the TIF funds as well. A good example of this was done last summer when community members protested the Hyatt Hotel.
It just as is important to direct anger to those who don’t just steal money from a city-wide level, but as a nation-wide level as well; so when Bank of America gets $1.3 trillion dollars from taxpayers that could have been used to fund healthcare clinics and education, they must be targeted as well.
Whether one’s fight is with labor, the closings of schools, the closures of mental clinics, housing, or racism, homophobia and sexism, all these fights all related to the city that we want to build. From a metaphysical perspective, we must not only acknowledge that people make cities, but that cities make people. If we allow the private industry to shape our cities and our priorities, we allow the private industry to shape us.
What we do in Chicago is important to those who are looking at Chicago as their inspiration to fight the same crisis where they live. The issue of austerity and poverty is not only a city-wide problem nor is it state-wide or nation-wide, but is a global crisis. When teachers in places Detroit and Mexico are fighting the same fight, it is important that Chicago stands with them.
Until we stand together as one and fight all these issues as one struggle, we will not win. Keeping all the issues separate allows them to use the strategy of divide and conquer. If they cannot divide, they cannot conquer.