The Tribune of the oppressors

The Chicago Tribune says the Chicago Teachers Union is undemocratic. Chicago teacher Mike Shea has some choice words for the bosses' mouthpiece.

Chicago teachers, transit workers and community members march for a just city (Bob Simpson)Chicago teachers, transit workers and community members march for a just city (Bob Simpson)

IF YOU'RE a Chicagoan and you heard shouting and frustrated tirades from your neighbor's home early last Thursday morning, you must live near a teacher. I'm glad my windows were closed, though I still needed to apologize to my sleeping children.

In an editorial titled "The Chicago Teachers Union's vote charade," the Chicago Tribune applied some of Donald Trump's favorite tactics--lies, insults and name-calling--to criticize the CTU's recent strike authorization vote.

But the Tribune editorial board went further than lobbing petty insults at the CTU voting process and suggested that the union's "Big-Brother approach" compared to brutal regimes like those of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

If they wanted to talk about undemocratic regimes, they might have included the Democratic Party machine in Chicago--whose tactics range from stonewalling to playing games with Freedom of Information Act requests to a long history of physical intimidation.

So what crime did the Chicago teachers' union commit end up in such company? We didn't conduct the authorization vote by secret ballot.

These editors, the so-called "tribunes," want to undermine the credibility of the CTU--for my money one of the most democratic institutions in the city of Chicago. In order to do this, just like Donald Trump, they rely on what readers don't or can't possibly know in order to spread fear and distrust.

For the record, the union's vote strike authorization vote was a highly democratic process, consisting of three days of circulating petitions to union members at their schools.

In order to authorize a strike, 75 percent of the entire membership, not just those who cast a ballot, must vote yes--a very high bar, yet one the union easily achieved, as it has in the past. With 90.6 percent of members voting, 95.6 percent of the votes cast were in favor of strike authorization.

The CTU's elected executive board and House of Delegates voted to approve this procedure, after Gov. Bruce Rauner's appointed Labor Relations Board challenged our original ballot vote in December 2015. At that time, 88 percent of members voted to authorize a strike by secret ballot.

There's nothing undemocratic about the fact that members discussed the issues involved in the strike vote at their workplaces before they voted. In fact, member participation like this should be celebrated, not derided.

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THE QUESTION of whether to strike or not to strike has been the topic of conversation in lunchrooms, break rooms, department offices and probably faculty restrooms for well over 18 months.

Does the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune seriously believe that the workplace conditions have improved in the last nine months, after a wave of layoffs and budget cuts?

Do they assume we will be relieved or happy about the Board of Education passing a budget that assumes teachers will willingly give up 7 percent of our take-home pay while facing increasing health care costs and new time-consuming, Panopticon-style documentation requirements for students?

It's pretty interesting that the Tribune is complaining about democracy. Because when the union extended its strike in 2012 after a tentative agreement was reached in order to allow members the time to democratically discuss and voice their opinions on the proposed contract, the Tribune complained that they were "holding students hostage."

Today, the Tribune is attacking the democratic voice of 28,000 union members whose collective action, alongside parents, students and others, is perhaps the only force that can save public schools from the privatization schemes the Tribune champions.

On the eve of a potential teachers' strike, the stakes couldn't be higher. The world is watching this fight in Chicago between workers and their union who choose to fight to protect our schools and an intransigent administration that allows banks and profiteers to pillage the public sector.

But this past week has shown that this fight is about more than even that. Our strike authorization vote was being conducted just as news spread of two horrific police murders in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

That same week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel revealed his priorities for the city--promising $150 million to hire 1,000 more new cops, just a month after laying off 1,000 teachers and school staff.

This mayor isn't about to seek justice for the victims of police murder in Chicago with his appointed Police Review Board. Nor will he make an effort to secure the material well-being of Chicago's nearly 400,000 public school students though his appointed Board of Education.

While the CTU has made common cause with Chicagoans who support both an elected Board of Education and an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council, the "Tribunes" of Chicago are actively opposed to both of these reforms.

Despite the Tribune's hollow fist-pounding in defense of the "little guy," it is silent on demanding a broad public discussion to resolve the root issues of crime and violence--just as they won't support any public discussion to realize the schools all children deserve.

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THE OPINIONS of the Tribune's editorial board reflect a history that's not only undemocratic but champions the absolute removal of public-sector workers and the destruction of their unions--and if not through privatization, then less savory means are acceptable.

Last year, Tribune editorial board member Kristen McQueary fantasized about solving the problems of Chicago Public Schools with a "Hurricane Katrina" moment, arguing that the devastation of New Orleans "gave a great American city a rebirth."

In McQueary's cynical view, the destruction and misery caused by Katrina wasn't something to be mourned, but celebrated, and even duplicated in Chicago.

Last summer, McQueary attempted to shame CTU President Karen Lewis for not "leading" the rank and file by the ear to accept concessions offered by the board. What did the Tribune see as the main obstacle to Lewis showing this kind of "leadership"? A big bargaining team made up of rank-and-file members from each area of our unit--in other words, the very people the contract would affect.

By the Tribune's standards of democracy, Karen Lewis would better serve "her" membership by standing up to this "radical fraction" of ordinary workers. The Tribune defined "radicalism" by an interesting choice of criteria--a widespread refusal to accept a pay cut.

The Tribune's editorial board champions democracy by shouting at teachers that "it's your turn" to sacrifice. To them, democracy means that there are certain "realities" that one cannot ignore or wish away, no matter the consequences. Or that standing up to demand justice and action from government is a "tantrum" and morally weak.

The Chicago Tribune and the corporate interests the newspaper serves want to divide and ultimately conquer the growing solidarity and resistance that their own polling reflected after our successful strike authorization vote last winter--when the Tribune survey found that the union had triple the public support of Emanuel's administration when it came to education policy.

The Trump-like manipulation of history and fact on its editorial page is far more akin to the tactics of dictatorial regimes and sham democracies than any simple ballot by petition ever could be.

With their long history of anti-union and anti-democratic sentiment, the Chicago Tribune's recent attack on the teachers' union should come as no surprise. In fact, it should help to clarify a broader sense of what's at stake in the teachers' struggle and what we're fighting for.