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Administration takes hard line in Chicago City College strike
Time to step up the fight

By Eric Ruder | October 29, 2004 | Page 11

CHICAGO--About 775 members of the Cook County College Teachers Union (CCCTU) walked out on strike October 19, bringing the City Colleges of Chicago to a standstill.

The City Colleges administration tried bluffs and intimidation to get its 60,000 students to come to class, telling students that they would fail or have their financial aid packages canceled if they didn't show up for class. But the administration's threats failed.

Administrators boasted that school would be open as usual because 70 percent of classes are taught by part-time faculty whose union contract states that they must teach during a strike by full-time faculty. But part-time teachers refused to scab and wouldn't teach the classes of full-time professors, who are represented by Local 1600 of the American Federation of Teachers.

"The picket lines have increased every day, the number of classes being taught has decreased every day, and what's really winning this is the lies coming out of central administration," union president Perry Buckley told Socialist Worker on the picket line. "They say school is open, and the students at first believe this, but then they walk into the classroom, see there are no teachers, and that the halls are empty." Buckley also pledged that the union's lawyers would defend--free of charge--any students targeted by the administration for honoring the picket line.

After refusing to negotiate until October 27, Chancellor Wayne Watson reversed himself, agreeing to a bargaining session on Sunday, October 24. Unfortunately, CCCTU leaders canceled a membership meeting set for that day--and when negotiations collapsed, members returned to the picket lines the following day without sufficient information and direction.

Meanwhile, the administration ordered adult education teachers, who are members of AFSCME Local 3506, to return to work or risk being fired. The adjuncts--part-time teachers--are members of the Illinois Education Association, and are also required to cross the picket line under terms of their contract, which was won following an organizing drive last year. And since former CCCTU president Norm Swenson presided over concessions that have cut the number of full-time faculty in half, part-timers now teach about 50 percent of the classes.

The administration aims to use such divisions to run a classic strikebreaking operation. That's why it's urgent that the union hold solidarity rallies with labor and community supporters and step up the action against Watson and his backer, Mayor Richard Daley.

The highly successful picketing in the first week of the strike shows the potential to build this support. Picketers at Harold Washington College turned away deliveries by Teamsters drivers and persuaded building trades workers to honor their picket line.

Watson hit back by telling the media that the walkout was an action solely benefiting senior faculty. In a previous contract, the union conceded that new hires must teach 27 or 30 credit hours per year while existing faculty kept their workload at 24 credit hours per year.

Watson hoped that his spin would divide the union, pitting senior faculty against everyone else--junior faculty, professionals, part-time professionals and security guards. "Watson said that if the senior faculty give [him] the 15-hour workload that [they] want, [he'd] give them anything they want," said Mike Ruggeri, a union rep at Harold Washington College. "So we called them on it. We gave them the workload they wanted for senior faculty--along with a long list of our demands for the other workers."

Watson also hoped to turn the students against teachers. So when the Student Government Association (SGA) at Malcolm X College called for a rally that was anti-teacher, he showed up, expecting a friendly audience. But students quickly succeeded in shifting the message and persuading the SGA president that the teachers were fighting for quality education and deserved the support of students. It turned out later that professionally printed signs that appeared at the rally site calling on teachers to "stop walking" and "start talking" had been produced by the administration.

The administration has the money to meet the union's proposal for a modest raise. Watson's salary is $216,000 per year--and he gets a car and housing allowance and health care benefits for him and his family for life.

The Chicago City Colleges has $96 million in unrestricted funds and a budget of $250 million--yet just 12 percent of the budget goes to faculty pay and benefits. Why? Because for every two faculty members, there is one administrator--the highest ratio in Illinois.

But Watson is still pushing for a slew of concessions--no raise, a 400 percent increase in health care co-pays and an increase in workload and class sizes. "Administrators are making Enron money and giving our workers Wal-Mart money," said Buckley.

It's time to get that message across the city--and build the kind of action that can win.

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