There is a reason why many eyes are on the Chicago city schools Friday, June 11. Chicago teachers will be voting in a hotly contested runoff election which pits the Caucus Of Rank and file Educators (CORE), led by Karen Lewis, challenging the incumbent UPC caucus of Marilyn Stewart. What is at stake is certainly the direction of the union, but much more.
CORE represents a vision rather than business as usual — an effort to include the interests of all the “stakeholders” to resolve an ongoing problem facing public education: increasing privatization of our schools. CORE represents an innovative and dynamic way of confronting the
Commercial Club of Chicago’s plan for closing public schools and turning them into charter schools or “turning them around.”
CORE has led the opposition to solutions that call for firing most — if not all — of the teachers and replacing them with non-union and lower paid teachers. In Chicago, this program was designed in conjunction with the Democratic administration of Mayor Daley and implemented by his hand-picked CEO of the city school system Arne Duncan. Duncan, from his office as Secretary of Education in the current administration, has taken this plan nationwide, spurring it on with stimulus money for school districts that carry out the plan (the “Race To The Top” program).
From my perspective, CORE and the teachers’ union are in a unique position. While the incumbent leadership of the union declares that experience is needed in the tough negotiations ahead with the city and in the face of anticipated layoffs, CORE has demonstrated their ability to lead and has pointed out that “experienced leadership” has led the union to the weak position it finds itself in. The Chicago public school teachers are in a position analogous to unionized workers all over the country, forced into concessionary contracts; CORE has led the formation of a coalition that ignores the traditional trade boundary and, instead, seeks a connection with other sections of the working class. Not just any section: in this case a section whose rights to public education is being discarded. One should not underestimate the importance of the union workers, whose history of organization is crucial to building these connections.
This lesson will not be lost on other cities, where government is dismantling public education and turning what remains of education over to the private sector. That is why public school teachers have a historic opportunity Friday, June 11: vote for CORE in BOTH parts of the ballot. That’s why the rest of us have a lot at stake in this election as well.