The CTU leadership has been speaking much about using the next two political elections to create a campaign to improve public education in Chicago. At the January House of Delegates, we finally saw the results of those discussions, with the rushed motion to create the Independent Political Organization, or IPO.
The real issue is how this election campaign will be run, on what basis. The union leadership have acknowledged that the Democratic Party is the problem – in Illinois, Democrats rule the city and every position of power, as far as the eye can see, so this is hardly a radical conclusion.
The working class, in Chicago, and elsewhere, has a low rate of voter participation in elections. This has a material cause – many working people in Chicago see that their interests are not represented within the Democratic Party, and they therefore do not have the motivation to participate in elections. “Why get up early and stand in line to vote when it won’t matter?”
One axis of what Karen Lewis and Jesse Sharkey have been proposing is to sign up lots of voters, in order to alter the political balance in the city and the state. Certainly, if working people had an option to vote for, if they saw their interests – including their interest in a good public education for their children --represented in the election, they might turn out in numbers that would matter. I and others have argued that many working people could be excited if Karen Lewis ran for Mayor – she has led the biggest fight against him, and stood up for working people publicly in a way that drew national attention.
But what we have so far is nothing of the sort. Our leadership has spent a lot of time denouncing Bruce Rauner – who’s given us plenty of reasons to denounce him: support for charters, attacks on our union, calling for LOWERING the minimum wage. The problem is that union leadership has given some indications that they will support Pat Quinn in this year’s governor’s race. And they pushed to endorse Will Guzzardi for the state assembly in Logan Square, an ambitious young Democrat.
While Guzzardi opposed school closings, it should be noted that he did so on the basis that there were “parents with strollers,” ie, young middle class parents, coming to the area, and who would fill up the schools. Guzzardi himself seems to want to position himself to win the left-liberal, reformist vote – his position on the closings is not that of someone defending the interests of working people.
The IPO may turn into a re-run of the race in 2006, where the SEIU supported, and won a number of aldermanic races. The Big Box ordinance they pushed did not pass, and those alderman were absorbed into the existing Democratic Political machine, routinely voting for Daley’s budgets that had cuts for education and other social services. But it could be an opportunity to provide a real break – one that give thousands of people in Chicago something to vote for, and provides a way for us teachers to broaden our base of support among those whose children we teach.