Teacher Strike sheds light on a Public sector that's not doing fine at all.

Teacher Strike sheds light on a Public sector that’s not doing fine at all.

As the government is forced to shrink, so is the opportunity for social mobility.

Op-ED by: Joey Grant

Like most political issues that face modern Americans, the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike has caused us to become divided. Looking at recent polls, we see a city taking sides, with both ends of the spectrum having strong feelings on their position. It’s noteworthy that 55% of Chicagoans support the teachers; the numbers fare even higher with Latinos and Africans Americans.There should be no surprise that minorities are more aware of negative impact of the recession. Considering that Latino and African American household income has plummeted by 53% to 65% since 2005. (Pew 2009). Despite these numbers, we haven’t yet seen a national conversation on how education or the continued disregard for our lower income to middle class households. In the meantime the private sector consisting of large banks and private industries have been bailed out. Jobs and the economy being on the forefront of most voters’ minds, education and public sector jobs seem to be getting ignored. Even though we have a sitting President that supports moving forwards and investing across the board, he is consistently blocked by both sides of the aisle. Then culturally we have a huge chunk of media and politicians demonizing not only teachers but all working class people, as if they created this complex financial meltdown. There are no clear solutions, but bringing multiple communities and income levels together in solidarity has to be start and an investment for a future for all Americans, not just the most privileged.

Obama has repeatedly demonstrated support for education, but his democratic allies are lacking in action. The President made a clear reference to supporting the public sector which includes education in which he announced “The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government.” Again instead of sparking national outrage over the lack of public investment over private, Obama was forced to retreat from that statement. Repeatedly the current administration has attempted to create more jobs, invest in new energy and put more money into education, but they are being obstructed by a Republican majority house. That’s not to say the Democrats are guilt-free of obstructing this change as well, A close friend and major fundraiser for Obama, Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in the center of this epic Chicago battle for education fairness, and he’s not on education’s side. To the dismay of many Dems, especially during a presidential election, Rahm is getting support from none other than the Romney/Ryan campaign.

This puts to question, why are a majority of Americans hurting badly by this recession and not demanding the Republicans either move out of the way or come up with a compromise. If no money goes to the state to help the funding of his growth, then how can we move out of this economic disaster. Obviously the economy and jobs continued to be pegged as the leading issue for voters, yet the complexity of an inclusive national plan is lacking major support. If not, the opposite is happening with libertarian and tea-party movements, demanding to not only lower the deficit, but cut taxes, and somehow create growth in little government spending. While ignoring that every government cut is creating fewer jobs and more unemployment, which is something you can ask the thousands of laid off teachers, we can assume that investing in public sector could spur a recovery and create more balance for class and race. Ignoring this obvious connection and categorizing it as “big government” is becoming the most dangerous rallying cry from conservatives abroad.

Historically, teaching has been considered a respectful and selfless job, but apparently this is changing. This idea was touched upon in a recent article in the New Yorker addressing a national push to not only demonize teacher unions, but to break them apart. The article sheds light on many concerning statistics, including this one: 80% of students live very close or below the poverty line, and qualify for much needed services provided by their schools. It’s reasonable to think that these students also lack other resources like access to the internet. Local paper The Chicago Reader made a point to address the controversial decisions made by Emmanuel’s predecessor Richard Daley to get rid of teachers’ tenure. Then Rahm “increased their hours, cut their pay, portrayed them as money-grubbers, closed unionized schools, and opened more nonunion charters, thus depleting the union’s power through attrition.” (Reader 2012). No wonder there’s a strike. Even though the media, conservatives and Rahm Emmanuel, want to portray the strike as strictly about selfish teachers worried about pay and job security, that view ignores the complicated economics that led to the strike, and the decline of funding for public services.

One might say this view, this attack on labor unions, is part of an overall plan to continue the war on class, poverty and race. That may sound extreme, but the cause and effect can’t be denied. When you cut funds for public services like education and healthcare, it only affects those with the least social mobility, making our most vulnerable more vulnerable. Add to that the numerous jurisdictions trying to create a barrier for those same people to vote, and we have a domino effect of oppression. If you don’t find that classist and essentially racist,, then your life must be pretty sweet. Republicans will continue to force us into a government so small, it will only benefit the most wealthy and the most white. Reflecting on the words from 1981 of Lee Atawter, one-time chair of the Republican National Committee and member of the Reagan administration, “So you say stuff like forced busing [and] states’ rights. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.” This is a clear embedding of classism and racism that is become law of the land, and therefore creating an unfavorable view of all those most negatively affected.

It’s all connected — we cannot have a conversation about Chicago Education without also talking about national health and public services. These teachers are standing up for more than just their own jobs, they’re standing up for the public. The strike is a symbol for the growing needs of our entire nation, not just Chicago’s educational system, but our entire public service system. Our country needs to invest in the future: public institutions as well as private. We need to stop closing union schools, we need to repair the programs we have and add the programs the students need. We need our teachers to be paid fairly and we need to increase healthcare. Continuing to use the broken theory that standardized testing and all high-stakes testing should determine merit pay and job security is similar to the idea that climate change is a hoax. There’s no data to back that claim up. Many of the issues that the Chicago Teacher’s Union is taking to the streets and in front Chicago’s Mayor mirror the major issues standing in the way of our nation’s economic recovery. We cannot just vote for change, we have to stand in solidarity with our teachers to ensure a future that gives us a fighting chance, and, finally, dismembers the embedded societal injustice that affects so many of us all.

Numbers that should be a game changer:

98 schools have NO playground.
160 schools have NO libraries (140 of which are south of North Avenue).
40% have little to no arts and sciences programs.
The 16% pay increase is actually 4% over the next four years after an extended pay-freeze, during which the day and year became longer.
More than 100 schools have been closed, displacing thousands of workers.

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