Sunday, January 14, 2018

HOD Meeting

House Of Delegates Meeting
By Jim Vail

The January, 2018 Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates met Wednesday to discuss two resolutions and endorse six candidates for office.

VP Jesse Sharkey chaired the meeting because President Karen Lewis is still home recovering from a stroke. He said she is feeling better and they had spoken for two hours.

Sharkey said good riddance to former Chicago Public Schools chief Forrest Claypool who was brought in to destroy the union. He made his name in civic office as a union buster, having helped gut the unions in the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Transit Authority.

Did Claypool fulfill his duty in the schools? He was forced to resign like his predecessor, but not go to prison this time, but he did fire union activists like former Saucedo teacher Sarah Chamber, further the privatization of school services and threaten to layoff thousands of teachers and implement furlough days. Claypool believes in vouchers, Sharkey said, (so does CTU endorsed House Speaker Mike Madigan) and hung a picture of free market wacko Ayn Rand in his office.

What about new schools chief Janice Jackson?

"There are a number of ways she'll be better than Forrest Claypool," Sharkey told the delegates last week. "You don't go up by being the enemy of the system."

The first resolution passed was to support Black Lives Matter School Week of Feb. 5th. The first two or three teachers from CORE who spoke in favor were white, to show solidarity between white and black teachers for this resolution.

The resolves (what the union pledges to do if you hold its feet to the fire) include the CTU will participate in Black Lives Matter School Week to kick off Black History Month the week of Feb. 5, 2018, CTU will host events aligned to national demands for ending the pushout of Black teachers in our schools, restorative practices in schools and ending zero tolerance discipline, teaching Black and other histories and ethnic studies curriculum (important since this country has swung so hard right to eradicate the curriculum of minorities forged in the radical 60s), and encourage teachers to wear Black Lives Matter at School shirts to school that week and teach lessons about important Black topics.

The next important resolution passed was to Reclaim the Paraprofessional and School Related Personnel (PSRP) in CTU. The discussion about this centered on how CTU lost a lot of teacher aid positions when the jobs were reclassified to SECAs, and then moved to be under the SEIU union. Some teachers demanded the CTU leadership do more to ensure the many aids who have lost their jobs because of this. Sharkey said contract enforcement is the surest way to do this.

The CTU noted that after CPS created the new category of SECA (Special Education Classroom Assistant) outside of CTU membership (just like charter teachers), the number of SECAs, like charter schools, has been growing "astronomically" while CTU PSRPs have fallen greatly - a switch of 3,200 members from CTU to SEIU, and CPS is also reclassifying PSRP positions like early childhood coordinators into jobs not performed by CTU. The resolution resolves to explore ways to regain these lost positions and "CTU will aggressively accrete the thousands more CPS employees that are eligible for union membership in the Central Office, Network Offices, and School units of CPS into the CTU as part of re-carding in preparation for the 2018 Janus court decision." 

The upcoming Janus Supreme Court decision is expected to whack the unions again hard (how else to further the divide between the very rich and rest of us?) by not automatically collecting union dues, you can refuse to pay your union dues.  

The last item for action was endorsing the following names for office - Kwame Raoul for attorney general, Ram Villivalam for state senator, Theresa Mah for state senator, Kelly Cassidy for state rep, Mary Flowers for state rep and Bridget Degnen for Cook County Commissioner.

Yours truly as delegate of Hammond Elementary asked why wasn't Aaron Goldstein considered as a candidate for attorney general. Goldstein is a progressive who upset Ald. Dick Mell for 33rd Ward committeeman and has pledged to take on the banks, something the union has fought hard for when it was discovered Bank of America made millions off toxic loans to the city while closing many schools. The CTU said it was unanimous to endorse Raoul, part of the machine, who has received $100,000 from big tobacco, tens of thousands of dollars from big utilities (watch our rates continue to rise for electricity, water and gas!), voted for the pension bill to whack our pensions hard - everything CTU preaches against!

Exciting mayoral candidate and principal activist Troy LaRavier has endorsed Goldstein.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Board arrests teacher

By Stephen Wilson

A teacher who has been asked to leave by
School board officials peacefully walks out
when a marshal {school resource officer}
approaches her. When she enters the corridor
the officer pushes her against the wall and
even shouts : " You are arrested for resisting
a police officer " . Her comments : " What are
you doing ? " Why are you pushing me ? " fall
on deaf ears as she is handcuffed and led
away to the local police station. Where did
this actually happen ? No, not in Russia or
Mexico but at a school Board meeting in
Vermilion, Louisiana on the morning of 9th
January. The case has made International
headlines due to social networks which allow
a recorded film of those very events to be
watched on U-Tube.

The American School Board and their officials
were accused of not only using : 'Excessive
force' but violating the teachers right to freely
express an opinion under the First Amendment
of the American Constitution. However, a
representative of the Board went so far as
to defend the action of the marshal on the
grounds that a certain amount of decorum has
to be observed and that it was the teacher who
was out of order and preventing discussion.

But if you watch this video attentively what
surprises me and perhaps many of my Russian
friends is how ' excessively polite ' the teacher
Deyshia Hargrave behaved by some Russian
standards. She never swore or loudly raised her
voice and calmly left the room when a marshal
asked her to go. Hargrave was detained but
finally released and the prosecution publically
declared they would not press charges. However,
the damage has been done . Now many people
can point to this incident and claim : " There is
no real freedom of Speech in America ! The
Americans are just a bunch of self-righteous
hypocrites when they are always lecturing
Russians about how they should maintain
freedom of speech. Put your own house in order".

When council officials were facing much stronger
language and abuse from local people opposed
to their renovation program, Russians did not call
the police and arrest people but tactfully tried to
calm down the crowd . They even made an effort
to listen to grievances. If you watch this video
what strikes you is how the school board makes
so little contact with the audience and just appear
to speak among themselves. It is as if they
follow the line : 'The officials must decide while
the teachers must remain silent '. Or rather :
'Cadres decide everything !'

What was Deyshia Hargrave protesting about ?
The main point of issue was whether a top school
official's pay be raised. The School Board voted
by 5 to 3 to increase Payau's pay from 110,130
dollars a year to around 140,000 dollars thus
representing a 30,000 increase . Payau argued
he deserved it because he had done a great
job, raised the rating performance of schools
worked hard and had not a raise for 5 years.

Deyshia Hargrave disagreed ! School class
numbers had risen from 20 to 29 a teacher
and conditions for both teachers and students
had worsened. In fact , teachers at Vermilion
earn an average of 47,522 a year and have not
had a raise for ten years.

Debbie Meaux , the president of Louisiana
Teachers Association stated : " I think it should
not have happened at an open public forum. We
expect to be able to speak and have our opinion
heard" . The local teachers at Hargrave's school
are shocked by recent events and feel as if it is
an assault upon all teachers. They back their
teacher 100 percent.

Rosemarie Faye stated : " The teacher did
nothing wrong and kept with protocol. She waited
to be addressed . She was acknowledged , and
then spoke in a respectful way and wasn't out of

Deyshia Hargrave declared :"I'm appalled at
this and you should be too..... I'm hoping you
choose to speak out and don't let it become an

Friday, January 5, 2018

Woes of Russian Academics

How academic articles are a continuation of
wage cuts by other means
By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- In order to boost the overall prestige and attain
and respectable ranking ; the Institute of Power
Engineering insists all English teachers must
write at least a minimum of 4 to 5 articles in
an academic journal a year . Should they fail
to win a prescribed number of minimum points
they will be punished by being offered less
hours and pushed out of work. That is you fail to
obtain a minimum assessment of above 11
points . How do you obtain those points ? You
are obliged to attend conferences, write articles
and perform some kind of serious research. The
problem with this is that it is all unpaid work and
not even explicitly stated in their contracts. In
fact, as far as Second City Teacher is concerned,
teachers don't have any rights or trade union
to defend themselves and can be dismissed for
even expressing a different opinion than their
officials. We previously interviewed teachers who
had been threatened with dismissal or unfairly
dismissed for simply taking sick leave guaranteed
by Russian labor legislation. Fortunately the
teacher Olga, who was unfairly fired, obtained
an alternative post. But she was fired in a
humiliating way in front of her colleagues thus
indicating not only illegal action but lack of basic
professional management skills.

I spoke to one teacher whose name has been
changed to Natasha. 

"I'm not sure I will be able to keep my job this year at the
institute," she told me. "I have not managed to get enough points and have had only one article published in a
Journal. If you fall below the threshold score you
will get only 1/7 or 1/8 of the normal workload
meaning it is just not worth your while continuing
to work . So people are not so much fired as
slowly sidelined ".

One of the basic grievances of teachers in both
schools and institutes is how academic
coordinators have the discretion to confer how
many hours a teacher is awarded. So if a
particular coordinator has a favorite teacher they
can offer the teacher more hours than other
teachers thus leading to tension in the office.

Where on earth can many overworked English
teachers find the time to do research or write
articles? Most of the English teachers have not
just one job but a few in order just to get by.
Another problem is that the teachers themselves
must pay for the articles to be published in
journals and not the institute . It is as if the
institute wants to have its cake and eat it!

The cost can be staggering. It ranges from a
minimum of 1000 rubles to 15,000 rubles for
one article in the most prestigious journals.
Very few people read those published articles.

I asked Natasha: "What if a teacher is very
good at teaching and can hardly afford to pay?"
Natasha answered: "Well yes, I know one
teacher who had to pay 15,000 rubles to get
one article published but she told me it was a
necessity so she could progress in her career
at another institute or university."

The result is teachers are being forced to accept
a pay cut to keep their jobs. In fact , being an
academic is an expensive burden that many
teachers could happily do without. Even if you
have a doctorate an academic journal won't
publish your article unless you pay them some
fabulous fee in a journal that is often obscure.

Maria Koroleva, an academic who works as a
linguist, had to struggle for years just to find
a post-graduate course and even then told me
she has to pay for a doctorate. And even if you
become an academic in America or Britain you
could find yourself on part time and short term
contracts. And those are the so called lucky
graduates who managed to find work in their
field in the first place. The rest are often working
in pubs and supermarkets .

Romantic ideas about working in idyllic
ivory towers shielded from acute problems of the
outside world is largely a myth. Instead,
universities reflect the problems of working in
other industries such as low pay, bad office
politics, overwork, insecure contracts,
threatened redundancies and lack of
empowerment. One may well ask: "Who needs
the prestige most of all: teachers or the Institute?"

I think most teachers would reply they simply
want to do their jobs well in peace without

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Russian Courts

By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- "Only when you yourself get into trouble do you begin to understand how difficult life is for people, the injustice they can come up against . As long as your own life is fine, you turn you back on people suffering", philosophically mused the ex-minister of Economic Development Alexei Ulyukayev, who was sentenced to eight years in a harsh penal colony for allegedly accepting a 12 million dollar bribe from 'a key witness', who didn't even turn up in court for questioning. 

Ulyukayev had been arrested for accepting a basket sent to him which he assumed was a gift of wine and sausages. But it turned out to be full of money. All the evidence points to a crude and primitive set up sanctioned by the Russian government. Ulyukayev later warned his fellow officials that : "Anyone is three clicks away from being charged with corruption". The case has shocked even members of the establishment as it represents the first unprecedented case of a minister being arrested under spurious charges. But he is hardly the only high-profile figure facing absurd charges. The director of the Gogol center has been under house arrest on corruption charges and Yuri Dmitriyiv, a Gulag historian, is in detention following baseless charges of child pornography. 

The good news is that the latter is to be released this year on the 28th of January.

Anyone who faces serious charges in Russia is almost likely to be convicted. Russia has a 98% conviction rate. While Aleksei Ylyukayev sat in court he was seen reading a work by Kafka called: 'The Trial'. The novel seems an appropriate choice. The plot of the novel tells of how a banker called Joseph K is arrested on charges he never discovers and attempts to unravel how the justice system works or rather doesn't work but is instead chaotic and capricious. Anyone can be arrested on a whim. The court cases are even held in secret attics above houses. The judges are angry, rude and arrogant. It sounds so familiar!

As a result of this case, officials are now refusing to accept any gifts at all, never mind baskets! Despite a law which stipulates that officials can accept gifts if they don't exceed the price of 3000 rubles, nobody is in the festive mood to give or accept gifts from strangers.

Ulyukayev may have been overstating things, but he is largely correct to state most people in Russia are indifferent to the fate of those arrested unless they experience a similar predicament. If people understood the trauma of being suddenly arrested on inexplicable charges and being thrust into a crowded confined cell they would think less about calling for this or that person to be put in prison. This reality was starkly brought home to me while I was working with the homeless in the 1990's . I and Jim Vail recall speaking to a wrongly imprisoned homeless Korean translator. He had been arrested and charged with murder after being found within the vicinity of a corpse. He was later released after many months. Being homeless in Moscow, he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I recall him telling us: "Conditions were so terrible in prison you would not wish that your worst enemy go through what I experienced." We also found that one of the husbands of a volunteer at the soup kitchen had been arrested on charges of terrorism because some strange package was near him.

Having heard so many cases such as those I began to understand why so many people walk past corpses and bags. If you, yourself find a dead body in Moscow, the police might ask: "What did you do to this person?"

There must be thousands of innocent prisoners in Russia awaiting a trial where they have no chance of justice. Those cases have risen rather than gone away despite nonsense about how we have more law and order in contrast to the wild 1990's.

How do many people remain indifferent to those cases? They often just live in their own world. When you raise such questions they complain: "You are spoiling my mood," and "The Law is the Law. There is nothing to be done about it" or the trite cliche "This is Russia". Actually, it is not just Russia but Britain and America. Like in Russia, people will plead guilty to breaking laws they never broke because they don't have the money or the time to appeal to a lawyer. But something in deed can be done about things. Mass demonstrations, petitions and letters of protests have been known to be effective. It is often frustrating and endless hard work, taking even years. But prisoners have been released! We just have to keep knocking on the door hard enough until it opens!

Friday, December 29, 2017

CTU Resolution to Rename Columbus Day

CTU Passes Resolution to Rename Columbus Day
By Jim Vail

It's time we stop celebrating this war criminal!

The Chicago Teacher's Union passed a resolution at the December House of Delegates meeting entitled "Demand the Abolition of Christopher Columbus and Rename it Indigenous People's Day."

The resolution was introduced by Jim Vail, yours truly, that was submitted after my students had petitioned the school board, the Chicago Board of Education and the Little Village alderman about the need to stop celebrating a war criminal who enslaved and killed many Indian people when he arrived to America 500 years ago.

The delegates did not want to eliminate the official holiday which is a state holiday and gives teachers a day off. When I suggested that CPS should no longer have a day off for Columbus day like other suburban districts and replace it with another holiday or move it to the end of the year, a smattering of noo's went up. 

This resolution is just to rename the holiday and not eliminate the day off. 

Currently the state law according to the American Indian Center (AIC) is to celebrate both Columbus and American Indigenous People. However, AIC said they would like to abolish this new state law and rename it only Indigenous People's Day. However, that is a political fight, with the Italian groups wielding some political power (the Balbo statute in Grant Park is a gift of fascist Italian leader) and Columbus name connected to Chicago's history - a star on the city flag represents the World Columbus Fair 1893 and there is the Columbus Day Parade - where politicians march like puppets.

A small but vocal group of about seven or eight in the delegates meeting said no to the resolution. The rest overwhelmingly said yes.

The Resolution states in the Resolves:

Be it resolved, that the Columbus Day holiday be renamed the Indigenous People's Day the second Monday of October, and:

Be it resolved, that this shall be a day of solidarity and education among the Indigenous communities and people of Chicago, and:

Be it resolved, that the CTU shall promote this resolution in the schools and help encourage schools to develop a curriculum that focuses on the true history of our indigenous population, and;

Be it further resolved, that the CTU work with the American Culture Center to promote the cultural contributions the native people have made and continue to make in our society. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Support Labor Beat

Support Labor Beat, The Labor Television Series
Labor Beat co-producer/videographer Andrew Friend at Labor Day rally.

Labor Beat is the twice-monthly labor tv news series on cable-tv and the Internet. We are a small group of independent rank-and-file  volunteer videographers and editors. We continue looking, but we suspect we are unique in the U.S. for what we do. We are well known by Chicago-area unions and activists, having covered their stories on cable-tv since 1987. We need everybody's help now to keep us going in 2018, and to reach our operating expenses target of $6,000.
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Our output is sizable and covers a wide range of important battlefields of the class struggle. After 30 years, we are up to show #785 now. These are titles of shows for the last 12 months:
Bus Drivers Get Assaulted, Then Fired; Poverty Wages No Joke At Second City Comedy Club; Graduate Students United Victory At University Of Chicago; CTA Rail Workers Signal Trouble Ahead; Save Puerto Rico, Free Puerto Rico; Betsy DeVos, Hiding From A Letter; Down With Chicago’s Fascist Monument; CTA, Take This Job And Stuff It;
 Auto Mechanics 701 City Wide Strike; UAW 551 To Host National Workers Conference; ATU 308 Preliminary Strike Vote; Union Of Noble Educators Public Meeting; Noble – No Neutrality Agreement; Winning Contracts – Chicago’s Unionized Charter Schools; Barrio Homecoming For Oscar Lopez Rivera; Teachers OK Strike At Passages Charter; March For Science Chicago; Let Sarah Teach; Resist Reimagine Rebuild Teach-In; Remembering Dr. King’s Beyond Vietnam Speech; They Fired Me And ‘Made’ Me Into An Organizer; Transgender Lives Matter; International Women’s Day – CTA Workers Want A Contract; ASPIRA Charter Teachers Approve A Strike; Protesting Lewandowski At University Of Chicago; Bring Ms. Chambers Back To 8th Grade!; Women’s March In Chicago; CTA Workers Contract Rally MLK Day 2017; Joint Action In Tokyo And Seoul; We Move Chicago – Transit Workers Activate; Hands Off Roseland Clinic; O’Hare Airport Workers One Day Strike; Pushing Back CPS’s Attack On Special Education; Chicago Stands With Standing Rock.
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Monday, December 18, 2017

HOD Meeting

Chicago Teacher Delegates Vote in Charter Teachers
By Jim Vail

The Chicago Teacher Union delegates voted unanimously last week to include the charter teachers in the CTU.

The CTU leadership had geared up for a fight after several delegates complained at the previous HOD meeting that it was wrong to include charter schools that are devastating the public schools into the union.

Just about every delegate came to the mike at the HOD meeting last Wed. Dec. 13 to say we need to join forces with the charter teachers.

Perhaps the statement that summarized it all came from one Greek delegate with a family of teacher delegates when she said that she supported the constitutional changes to include the charter teachers because she "trusts" the leadership, not because she understands entirely how this whole thing will work out.

"This will help to  to halt and maybe even stop the growth of charter schools in the city," CTU Recording Secretary Michael Brunson told the delegates.

I personally had questions about such a drastic move why charter teachers had to be included into the CTU. First, the charter teachers have their own union, charter schools are separate from public schools and are in fact the enemy of public schools and confusion over different contracts and how to strike. It wasn't clear how teaming up will make the union stronger.

On the other hand - the CTU fight against charter schools has been admirably. The previous union leadership under the UPC before CORE got elected in 2010 said charter schools are our friends and legislators told me why is the union now fighting charter schools. They modeled themselves on the reformist sell-outs at the top - the American Federation of Teachers under whom the CTU is a part of.

The CTU and Core has fought charter expansion and got a five-year school closing moratorium in the last contract that just ended now (and CPS jumped on the gun by quickly closing the last four public high schools in Englewood to clear out the low-income black students and put in a selective enrollment school for the bustling South Loop residents).

It sounds reasonable to trust the CTU in this case and join forces to help further unionize charter school teachers so they have better working conditions and compensation, thus eliminating the incentive to increase charter schools.

However, the fight is far from over. While this year only one charter school was approved, like Uber devastating the taxi industry, they do not have plans to stop or go away. The latest charter Distinctive Schools located in Hirsch High School continues the corruption associated with them with its ties to discredited once for-profit and now disgraced Edison Schools and SUPES Academy which brought down former CPS CEO Barbara Byrde Bennett who is now sitting in prison.

CTU President Karen Lewis was not in attendance because she is recovering from a stroke.

The Robeson High School delegate said they plan to fight their school's closure and hopes other teachers can join them. There will be a rally to save the National Teachers Academy in the South Loop on Martin Luther King holiday.

The CTU said to beware of schools hiring non-union vendors to replace unionized staff. One school eliminated its music teacher and offered karate classes taught by non-teacher. This is happening in many schools in the city thanks to the per-pupil budgeting the city implemented to punish schools for employing higher paid veteran teachers.

The CTU said the rabid pro-privatization newspaper Chicago Tribune published a hit-list for school closings that had 17 schools on the list that needed to be closed, including Kelvyn Park on the North side.

"We want to strengthen our forces, that's how you stop privatization," CTU VP Jesse Sharkey said at the HOD meeting.

The vote for the teachers on the constitutional changes and include the charter teachers in the CTU will be January 25.