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Mayor Daley attacks faculty union at Chicago City Colleges
"We won't be intimidated"

By Elizabeth Schulte | November 5, 2004 | Page 11

CHICAGO—"Wayne, Wayne, go away! We want education not intimidation!" That was the message students had for Chicago City Colleges Chancellor Wayne Watson at their protest October 28 at City Hall in support of their striking teachers.

Some 775 faculty and staff, members of Cook Country College Teachers Union (CCCTU), went on strike October 19 for fair class sizes and workloads, affordable health care—and the future of their union.

"I encourage other students to take a stand and let the message be known that we will not put down our signs until our demands are met," Alma Montes, a Harold Washington student who has been picketing with her 4-year-old son, told Socialist Worker. "We don't want our tuition to increase, and we want our teachers to get paid a decent wage."

As protesters picketed outside City Hall, about 50 students held a sit-in for several hours on the fifth floor outside Mayor Richard Daley's office. The amazing show of solidarity was completely unreported in the local media, although they did report Daley's attack on strikers at his "principal for a day" appearance that day at a local high school.

"I wish I could work 15 hours per week. It would be a great job,'' Daley told reporters, taking a shot at teachers' opposition to the administration's demand to increase classroom time from 12 to 15 credit hours per semester. What our dimwitted mayor doesn't understand is that City College teachers work far more than 15 hours a week.

"We think the students deserve a quality education and we don't think that the contract the administration is giving us will allow us to do that," said Tom Higgins, who has been teaching at Harold Washington for seven years. "If you look at what they're proposing—the increased teaching load plus the increased class sizes—what that means is less face time with students. We have the highest attrition in the state and a lot of that can be attributed to overfilled classrooms. Community colleges are becoming a more and more important segment of how the American public gets educated, and we need to act right now to preserve the quality of education."

If they want to save money, administrators could trim the fat at the top. "There is no other college system in the entire country that has one administrator for every two educators," said Peggy Shapiro, chairman of Harold Washington's Foreign Language/ESL department who has been a City Colleges teacher for 29 years, "and they make a lot of money. "Watson makes more than the mayor. That money has to be put into educating the students who are here."

City College administrators are out for blood—and using every dirty trick in the book. Teachers and students report being harassed by mail and by phone. Union members have reported that their health care coverage has been canceled, including for a member who is expecting a baby and another who is undergoing cancer treatments. Students identified as strike supporters have found that their discounted transit passes, or U-Passes, have been canceled. One student strike supporter was arrested and is being threatened with deportation.

But teachers and students are standing together. The union reports that just 5 to 10 percent of the classes are meeting, and less than 1 percent have enough students to constitute a class. City officials asked teachers to suspend picket lines for Election Day, since several colleges are polling stations. The union said no.

And despite attempts to divide full-time professors and part-timers, who are in a different union and have been told they must teach while the strike is on, many part-timers refuse to cross the picket line. That's why the union's demand for a renewal of a "no reprisals" clause in their contract, which would defend students and other staff who refuse to cross the picket line, is so important.

City college professors are fighting for the future of their union—and other city unions whose contracts are set to expire in the coming months. On October 31, about 300 CCCTU members rallied. Negotiations broke down after a seven-hour session on November 1. Negotiations will resume on the 5th. The students' solidarity committee is planning a "Candlelight Vigil in Memory of Public Education" for November 3.

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