By: John Palameda, Red Phoenix Correspondent Illinois
The Chicago Teachers Union, for many years one of the strongest and most active remaining unions in the country, is once again in the crosshairs of the corporate media and moderate democrats led by Chicago Mayor, Lori Lightfoot. This week, the CTU voted to continue working remotely while the omicron surge, that saw over 800,000 positive COVID cases on January 4th, runs its course. For this basic safety measure, the CTU has been attacked by some parents and the corporate media. It is not the first time the CTU has been at the forefront of the war on workers rights and safety. In early 2021, right before the massive summer surge, the CTU fought to remain remote for teacher and student safety.
To justify her push to force teachers back to work, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been relying on the guidance of Dr. Awardy, a lone voice in support of large gatherings despite the highly contagious nature of the omicron variant. Alex Forgue, a science teacher in Chicago, told the Phoenix that Awardy is simply misrepresenting information: “Dr. Awardy went on the news last night and continued to say that schools are not a source of covid-19 spread or exposure. Meanwhile, the latest data released from the Illinois Department of Health list schools as the #1 source of potential covid-19 exposure, the data doesn’t lie!”
While anti-worker and anti-union voices attack the CTU for “failing our children” and being selfish bureaucrats, Lightfoot locked teachers out of their google accounts, preventing them from teaching remotely. At the end of the day, this is not about science or effective pedagogy, but breaking one of the strongest unions in the US. Forgue elaborated, “The latest CPS proposal to the union asks for 50% of students to be in quarantine and actively sick for a school to go to remote learning,” yet, interestingly, he continued, “Lightfoot has her own kid learning remotely, and the CPS administrators are working remotely.”
As always, the anti-worker forces in the US throw a drapery of rhetoric over the core issue—their opposition to a workers’ right to judge, based on their expertise in their craft, the best and safest practice. It is a developing theme as the pandemic increases in intensity—the middle and ruling classes can and do shelter away from the danger, while demanding working class people face the virus. As workers, we receive no meaningful guidance or help from the CDC or the Biden administration, who has, instead, suggested five days is enough to recover from the highly mutated omicron variant. The primary goal, as always, is profit, but it has never been clearer how essential workers are to propping that system up.
For challenging the idea that profit should come before human life, the CTU will continue to be branded “radical” and “out of control,” but as workers they show us the way. With strong organization, workers can shake and challenge the highest power, no matter what political party—it was in democratic cities where police shot tear gas, beat, and arrested thousands during the George Floyd movement. Trapped between reformist democratic politics and open right wing terror, organized workers continue to lead the way for safety and equality.