How Emanuel copied Walker

John Matthews is executive director of Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI), which played a crucial role in sparking the Wisconsin uprising against Gov. Scott Walker's assault on public-sector unions in winter 2011. Two busloads of Madison teachers and other activists attended the September 15 rally in Chicago to stand in solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in its struggle against Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Matthews spoke to Charles Peterson of the Madison CTU Solidarity Committee about the fight to defend public-sector unionism.

Madison teachers march in solidarity with striking Chicago teachers at a solidarity rallyMadison teachers march in solidarity with striking Chicago teachers at a solidarity rally

WHY DO you support the teachers strike in Chicago?

THE MTI Board of Directors voted to support their brothers and sisters of the Chicago Teachers Union not only because of CTU's support of those protesting Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee legislation in early 2011, but because their strike is over very similar issues.

Like Gov. Walker, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to break the union, trying to defuse their power in bargaining and trying to weaken their political power. In Chicago, the mayor appoints the school board, so the board is responsible to him, not the public. He wants to privatize schools, and one way to justify that is to increase class size so the public schools fail. When they fail, he can move to private, for-profit charter schools.

Mayor Emanuel, like Gov. Walker, is taking the just-cause standard and due process from the Chicago teachers. This would enable termination "just because" he or a school administrator wishes, not because of a just-cause standard that can withstand due process of law.

The union proposes class-size limitations to enable students to succeed and a teacher evaluation system, which is unbiased and fair.

WHAT DO you think the strike means for MTI and for teachers everywhere?

SUCCESS IN the CTU strike is important to all workers, public and private, because it will illustrate that workers bonding together for social and workplace justice can achieve what's essential to free working people.

WHAT ARE the similarities in the responses to the Chicago strike and to Wisconsin's Act 10 that suspended collective-bargaining rights of public employees?

DUE PROCESS of law and just-cause standards that provide employment security are important to those employed in public schools, because without such protection, a principal, with no-to-little observation of a teacher, can end a teacher's career. Gov. Walker's Act 10 destroyed those protections for teachers. Mayor Emanuel is attempting the same.

The principle of seniority when implementing layoffs is important to teachers, not only because it provides job security, but also because it provides a deterrent to school districts that seek to lay off those who, because of longer service or gaining greater education, receive a higher wage. Gov. Walker's Act 10 enables employers to abuse teachers in this way. Mayor Emanuel is attempting the same.

EMANUEL'S EFFORTS to privatize Chicago's schools are being portrayed by the corporate media as "school reform," with the teachers union standing in the way. Can you say more about how and why teachers are being vilified as opponents of "reform"?

THE MAYOR disguises "privatization" as reform. He wants more charter schools and for-profit schools. This is adverse to the goal of quality public education. The educational results of charter schools are not as good overall as those of public schools. The mayor proposes evaluation of teachers using test scores. This has been determined to be a poor and divisive method. It causes teachers to teach to the test rather than the most beneficial curriculum for students.

Mayor Emanuel opposes union-proposed reforms, such as lowering class size to enable teachers to identify a child's individual differences and unique learning styles. The teachers' union has proposed adding social workers. Such measures would be beneficial in helping students who live in poverty or who experience violence to cope and do better in school.