As school districts and universities across the country are being pressured into opening by Trump, and even liberal ally Anthony Fauci, teachers in Chicago have already begun to fight back, and win, against school administrators and reckless reopening. The Chicago Public School system announced today that it will now be fully remote at the beginning of the fall semester, after the CTU threatened to strike for the second time within the calendar year. In October 2019, the CTU struck for a record 11 days against democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s austerity and disproportionate funding of policing over education and services. The struggle over education and job safety has been compounded by the abuse of Chicago activists by police throughout the George Floyd movement, and Lightfoot’s refusal to defund the Chicago Police, even in a token fashion, the only city of “the big three” (New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago) to refuse to do so.
The Mayor has been quick to villainize teachers for being selfish, hoping to play on the anger of parents for having to organize childcare for their children as in-person school is cancelled. Alex Forgue, a science teacher in the CTU, disputed this claim, saying that “Only 20% of CPS families said they were willing to send their children back into school. Don’t believe the narrative pushed by the mayor that the fight to go remote was the result of ‘selfish teachers…The union fought to represent the wishes and concerns from families and not our own interests.”
“Only 20% of CPS families said they were willing to send their children back into school. Don’t believe the narrative pushed by the mayor that the fight to go remote was the result of ‘selfish teachers.’” // Alex Forgue, CTU Member
Popular conservative narratives have also rendered teachers as lazy, or a coddled elite, which Forgue rejected explicitly: “Teaching remote is harder than teaching in person. We want to go back, we want to see our students again, but we cannot risk the lives of our students and families. Closing schools is not an easy decision nor is it ideal. This pandemic is not ideal and the closings of schools is required to get us back in the classroom sooner than later.” Indeed, initial re-openings have already faced infections, one on the first day, and unmasked, packed hallways and classrooms.
Teachers outside K-12 have also faced unprecedented exploitation and uncertainty during the pandemic and are statistically less likely to have a union. As a university teacher, I have been offered a free living will should I be incapacitated by the virus, and a discount on regular wills should I die. Enrollments have plummeted, endangering the livelihoods of contingent teachers, and some schools have even kept teachers out of closing plans—The University of Texas, Austin, for example, will only close down if a student dies, not a faculty member. At one school, I will not receive my contract until weeks into the semester, an exploitative practice that creates perpetual job insecurity.
Yet, of course, teachers are just the latest group of workers to be forced into dangerous situations for capitalist profit. Workers around the country in the service industries, predominantly people of color, have long been endangered, causing higher rates of infections in those populations. These battles cannot be won exclusively within the spaces of organized labor, as millions of teachers, and hundreds of millions of workers across the country, are not unionized. Yet, as we have seen with the wildcat teachers strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and elsewhere, organized labor can be an inspiration and a model for workers of all kinds across the country and outside the traditional “red-blue” boundary.
The CTU has set a strong example in their swift victory over unsafe working conditions, one workers across the country can look to as the fight against trading human lives for profit continues in the second wave of the Coronavirus. As we approach a contested election, the intensification of the COVID-19 crisis, and Washington’s continued inability to deliver basic pandemic coverage like $600 unemployment boosts and universal healthcare, this example of struggle and organization should figured strongly into our thinking as workers and organizers. When workers stand together, and put each other before profit margins, we are stronger than any other political force in the country.
Categories: U.S. News