United we stand or divided we fall

The Chicago Teachers Union recently filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of African-American members, alleging that the Chicago Public School’s “turnaround” policy discriminates against African-American employees. Under this “turnaround” policy – first pushed by the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools at the time, Arne Duncan, before being appointed Secretary of Education by President Barack Obama – the school principal and a majority of staff at a supposedly underperforming school are summarily removed. The basis for such radical education “reform” increasingly is student performance on tests that many have criticized as inadequate measures of learning capacity and academic achievement. The stakes could not be higher, especially given that Secretary of Education Duncan has taken this “turnaround” policy nationwide through the so-called Race to the Top program.

The Chicago Teachers Union’s legally creative and politically courageous strategy comes from the insight that working toward broader social goals of concern to the general public simultaneously helps workers and builds a better future for everyone. Indeed, during the high-profile strike by the Chicago Teachers Union in September 2012, the Union and its members spoke eloquently about the need to turnaround the Chicago Public School’s “turnaround” policy because it was depriving children of vital educational programming and adequate class sizes as well as shutting down vital schools and destabilizing vulnerable communities. Ultimately, Chicago Mayor Rahm “Rahmbo” Emanuel – the former Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama – reached agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union in the face of the widespread public support for the Union and its members.

The Chicago Teachers Union provides only the most recent example of unions and their members leading the charge for a more safe, humane, and fair country for everyone. Over the years, unions and their members have played a key role in the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Voting Rights Act, and other public policies benefitting society at large. In addition, labor advocates have participated directly in the civil rights and other social and economic movements of the Twentieth Century and today. Not coincidentally and to great effect, these movements have used the strategies and tactics of the labor movement, including boycotts, picketing, and sit-ins.

All of this runs counter to the cynical and false frame promoted in certain corporate quarters, including key segments of the commercial media. According to those special interests, unions and their members are not much more than thugs out to get more money for themselves at the expense of everyone else. The sooner that divide-and-conquer strategy is seen for what it is, the sooner the nation can move in a better and more sustainable direction.