The Tribune blows its top

March 31, 2016

The Chicago Tribune had some harsh words for Chicago teachers, but Elizabeth Schulte and Alan Maass answer back with the facts about the April 1 day of action.

IT WAS like the bad old days all over again at the Chicago Tribune this week. A Monday editorial resurrected rhetoric out of the robber-baron era to heap abuse on the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU)--before frantically calling on CTU members to cross the picket line on what the Trib called "Tantrum Day."

To anyone who cares about the future of public education in the city of Chicago or the state of Illinois, April 1 is better known as a day of action against drastic budget cuts and union-busting assaults that could shut down some public universities and impose a unilateral 7 percent pay cut on Chicago teachers, among other things. After an overwhelming vote in favor by the CTU's House of Delegates, the centerpiece of the day will be a one-day strike by teachers.

Maybe we should try taking 7 percent from the bloated salaries of Tribune editorial writers and see what they call that.

More than a century ago, the Tribune was vilifying the "wild demands of the Pullman men" during the historic 1894 strike against the luxury railroad car maker, decrying strike leader Eugene Debs as a "dictator" and calling on "Uncle Sam to use the law backed with riot guns." Today, it's denouncing the so-called bullies leading the CTU for, in Trib-speak, "whipping their members into a froth":

Chicago teachers on the march for education justice and a fair contract
Chicago teachers on the march for education justice and a fair contract

The hastily planned, unfocused Day of Tantrum that union leaders demand evokes a famous line in the 1953 movie classic The Wild One. Motorcycle gang leader Marlon Brando is asked what he's rebelling against. "What have you got?" he retorts.

Wow, really? Brando? We would have thought the Tribune would be more comfortable quoting Ronald Reagan.

But okay...we've "got" a few things.

THE CTU's meticulous research shows how the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were "Broke on Purpose"--to the tune of a $1 billion deficit at the start of the school year.

One reason among many for the shortfall: Gullible CPS officials were taken in by Wall Street con artists who snookered them into borrowing immense amounts of money at sky-high interest rates.

Instead of taking responsibility for their financial mismanagement, school officials are passing the buck. In their last contract offer, they asked teachers to pay more for their health care and pick up a huge sum that the city years ago committed to paying toward pensions. The pension pickup alone amounts to a 7 percent pay cut.

That's not the only way that money which could be going to schools is vanishing and ending up in the bank accounts of people who already have more than they know what to do with.

Rahm Emanuel is making use of a mayoral slush fund--formally known as "tax increment financing"--that allows him to skim off tax revenue and hand it to various developers and businesses which...surprise, surprise...just happen to contribute to any political campaign, including his own, the mayor tells them to. Meanwhile, principals in every school in the district were instructed to cut more money from their budgets this school year.

Then there's the hedge-fund almost-billionaire that the Chicago Tribune editorial page proudly endorsed for governor in 2014.

During the one year-plus he's been in office, Republican Bruce Rauner has refused to reach a budget agreement with the Democratic-controlled state legislature unless its members do exactly what he tells them to--wreck social programs of all kinds and gut the power of public-sector unions with right-to-work laws and the like.

If teachers, students and parents at CPS are feeling the pain, some institutions more directly under Rauner's control may not exist for much longer. Earlier this year, Chicago State University--located on the city's far South Side, with a predominantly Black student body--sent out layoff notices to all faculty, staff and administrators.

Rauner has turned out to be a one-man plague, like out of the Bible--but don't expect the Chicago Tribune to apologize for the man they promised would "revive Illinois." After all, the Trib has more important concerns, like slandering the leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union.

ON APRIL 1, Chicago teachers will use their most powerful weapon--solidarity--to tell Emanuel's handpicked school board and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool to stop starving our schools. The unfair labor practices strike will include pickets at schools across the city in the morning, other actions during the day, and a mass rally at 4 p.m. at the State of Illinois building that will once again turn the streets of Chicago CTU union red.

Other unions have been preparing for the April 1 day of action, too, including University Professionals of Illinois, which represents faculty and staff at state universities like Chicago State; AFSCME District Council 31; and National Nurses United. The Fight for 15 movement of low-wage workers is mobilizing. So are Black Lives Matter activists who have put Rahm Emanuel on the spot for his part in the cover-up of the video of the Chicago police execution of Laquan McDonald.

This is a message from working-class Chicago--members of different unions and residents of communities across the city "linking their own fight with other battles against the city and state war on public services," as Chicago teachers Anthony Cappetta, Kirstin Roberts and Mike Shea wrote.

Meanwhile, the Tribune is sending a message on behalf of Chicago's 1 Percent to trust Rauner and Rahm--and blame the teachers.

"Eventually," the paper laments, "educators will get a new contract. They'll get raises and perks. But children won't get back the day teachers rejected them. What kids miss can't be regained."

But the Tribune wasn't so concerned about a day of lost schooling one week before April 1, when CPS imposed the first of three "furlough days," shutting down the schools, without pay for teachers and staff, in the name of balancing the budget.

What happened to "what children won't get back"?

The editorial went on to urge "gutsy educators [to] put their classroom service to Chicago's children first...defy their fellow members, and rebel against misguided crossing picket lines."

But even CPS officials threw in the towel on that one. The district announced on its website that no classes would be held on April 1. One teacher spelled out the significance of that statement: "We've shut them down. No teachers, no schools. As our flier for our strike vote said, 'Our ability to withhold our labor is our power.'"

In 2012, Chicago teachers taught Rahm Emanuel and the rulers of Chicago a lesson with their nine-day strike that stopped Emanuel's drive to neutralize their union and silence their voices.

The stakes are even higher now, but the Tribune editorial board seems to have forgotten a few things. Time for a refresher course on April 1.

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