Sunday, August 31, 2014

Refugees Start School

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - Many refugees are still not officially registered with schools because parents are still struggling to establish firm roots.

             'I came here only with the clothes you see me wearing', said Alexander ,tugging at his tee-shirt to demonstrate the point. Alex, a firm, honest, hard-working miner, who has a wife and two children, seemed upset but still managed to retain a calm composure. And no wonder he is upset. He has just arrived in Moscow only to be informed by phone that his street from the village had been pounded to a heap of smoldering rubble and dust. His beloved green-house which he had lovingly tended had been destroyed.

             To add insult to injury, Alex complained 'I have not been paid for two months!' When asked, 'Do you miss your village? Would you like to return?' He quickly answered 'Yes, I would like to return'.

             Like many refugees, Alex's world has been rudely and wrecklessly turned up side down rendering his family rootless and a stranger near Moscow in a huge city which must appear alien. For now, Alex, who has two children, one aged 12 and another 2, must confront many immediate questions, 'How to quickly get work?' 'Where exactly to live?' 'Where can my 12 year old son get an education?

             As befitting a miner, an ideal job would be to train as as a Moscow Metro driver. Like mining, driving in the Metro is an underground job. There was just one snag.

             It is unlikely that the Moscow Metro would employ him without either registration, a work permit or prospeeska.

             The Russian Federal Migration Service is refusing to grant political refugee status in Moscow and the local militia are also refusing to give registration. This is now official policy. Moscow is not the only city refusing to do this. This in effect means that refugees in the Moscow region are being left in the limbo of an almost semi if not fully illegal existence. They could in theory be stopped, detained and fined for simply being Ukrainian refugees.

             In deed, at present, I was informed that refugees from Ukraine are being forced to work illegally. Even if they do attain promised work, they can find themselves being used as 'slave labour' on some building sites where they are not even paid.

             I spoke to Vladimir Berkin, a director of a Moscow based charity organiser who works for 'predania' which helps refugees. He told me it is not always easy finding suitable accommodation for refugees from the Ukraine because some of the conditions attached to residence are difficult.

             'Not every refugee can live in an Orthodox monastery. When we helped send around 35 refugees to one monastery the refugees could not handle the strict conditions, especially the rule on 'no-smoking'. As many as 18 refugees quickly left the Monastery because of this.

             Vladimir told me he is worried that some of the refugees might retain too high expectations of life in Moscow and instead of looking for work, sit back and become too     dependent on work. 'Some  can often take to drinking all the time and I agree with you that this is a psychological problem that needs to be addressed.' Nevertheless, Vladimir's         group has effectively helped a lot of refugees obtain a place to stay and work in the other regions of Russia.

             He told me, 'Many of the refugees are women and children because many of the men prefer to stay behind to either take care of things or even fight in the war.' Vladimir stated that it is just impossible to establish accurate figures on how many refugees there are from Ukraine. He doubts the United Nation's estimate of 730,000. Since maybe an estimated one-third of refugees consists of children, their education remains a top priority for the Government and aid groups.

             The Ministry of Education has prepared at least 80,000 places for children in schools from the first of September.

             Yet many problems abound! For instance, most refugees don't have documents confirming the level of their education.

             Perhaps a much more pressing problem is that most refugee children don't know where they are going to live never mind which school they will attend. Their parents won't be able to find them a fixed address by the First of September. How will the children who do attend pay for the textooks and clothes?

             At present, in many regions of Russia, there is a dire shortage of kindergartens. Parents have to queue up for free places. This problem existed before the war.

             Parents of refugees who come into a region with their children won't have legal rights to place their children in local kindergartens unless the government intervenes to bend the rules.

             The financial costs of supporting refugees seems huge.

             According to some local government calculations; every student from the 1st-4th level costs 85,000 rubles a year, a student from the 5th to 9th class 107,000 rubles, a student from the 10th to 11th class,123,000 rubles. The financial cost of supporting a child at a kindergarten seems more complex as it can range from between 110,000 rubles to 120,000 rubles.

             It is fair to say that it is impossible to underestimate the huge cost in funding education. When it comes to financing free education at further education institutions, the situation grows even more mind-numbingly complex. Obviously preparing medical students will be more expensive than funding students of the humanities.

             Often universities provide a fixed quota of refugee students who are permitted to enter the institution for free of charge. For example, the Rector of Voronezsky State University Dmitri Yendvitsky stated he has provided 50 places for students from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. The rector stated, 'They have chosen the most different fields, from engineering to the humanities. Although their knowledge is fully         adequate their psychological state represents a very complex component. Entering an institute of education won't just give them the right to carry on studying but socialising.' The Rector was at pains to explain the institute was no panacea for all the problems of the refugees as they may also require work to keep themselves going.

             Can the government, institutions and people rise to the challenging occasion of preparing refugee children for school?

             What is clear is that many charity organisations are attempting to fill the gap in the shortage of finance by widely appealing to the public to bring in stationary equipment such as notebooks, pens and textbooks to special pick-up points so they can be then redistributed to refugee families.

             They are often working hand in hand with the Russian media who have been actively publicising the plight of refugees every day. Just switch on a government channel and you can watch a refugee being either interviewed or helped. According to an F.O.M opinion poll, 74% of Russians would be happy to help the refugees in some way. Of course, some people are cynical about this aid. A sociologist called Leonti Bizov claims it is only the mass propaganda of the Russian state which stimulates compassion for the       refugees. Without this, Russians would be less likely to help refugees and might even find them annoying.

             Not everyone agrees with this. When I spoke to a coordinator at one Orthodox church Irina, who works to help the homeless as well as refugees through the charity 'Miloserdie,' she told me, 'Moscow is a city with a huge heart. When we asked local people to offer presents to poor people at Christmas, we got a great response where people brought over a 1000 presents ranging from macaroni to washing machines!'

             The softly spoken, attractive  and warm woman helps manage a collection point where locals can come in and leave all kinds of school equipment to help children on Church territory at Nikoloyamskaya street near central Moscow. Although not as many       people have come in to donate things, I did notice they had collected some material which was not too little. 'I'm hoping that when the church-goers come on Saturday and Sunday that we will get a response,' Irina told me. In fact, I was relieved to hand over around 40 Russian textbooks on 'How to be Polite in Russian'. I did not think many refugees would take kindly to a foreigner handing them such a textbook. It might appear offensively condescending.

             I asked Irina, 'Is not helping the homeless different from working with refugees?' She retorted, 'But there are many refugees amongst the homeless.' Then my mind started to be plagued by awful visions of homeless refugees wandering aimlessly  around the streets of Moscow, begging for rubles and being harassed by militia.

             Many of the refugees have found accommodation with relatives in Moscow but charity workers are wondering whether the patience of their hosts might be strained by their presence as stress after stress arises. I recently spoke to Olga , a woman who had     put up some relatives from Luhansk, who told me, 'I don't know how we are going to support them. We are poor ourselves and they are running out of money.' Her very words reminded me of the Greek author Xenophon who had penned the 'Memoirs of Socrates'. In one such dialogue, Socrates come across a distraught friend called Aristarchus. Socrates states, 'You look as though you are weighed down by something, Aristarchus. 

             'You ought to share the burden with your friends. Perhaps we can even relieve you a little.' Aristarchus explains that because of a civil war, he has had to offer shelter to 14 of his relatives and he doesn't know how he will keep them.

             The atmosphere is becoming too tense. Socrates says, 'Why don't you use their skills at weaving and spinning to help bring in an income? Buy wool and set them to work   and they will happily be obliged to make themselves useful.'

             Aristarchus follows Socrates advice and solves all the problems. Everyone in his household becomes much happier.

             When I last spoke to Olga, her husband had found a job and a place to stay for his refugee relatives in another Russian town. They seemed to have applied an old Socratian solution!

             Acknowledged sources

             1. (See Xeonophon, Conversations of Socrates,

              page 127, Memoirs of Socrates,2.7.1 Penguin


              the full details of this story which I adapted)

             2. I'm obliged to the paper Kommersant and

              author Aleksandr Chenikh's  article of 11th

              August, titled 'Preparing Refugees for the

              School  year'.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Teachers Don't Like Common Core

How the Common Core Lost Teacher Support

By Peter Green

Support for the Core among teachers dropped like a stone, from 76% in 2013 to 46% in 2014. That's a lot of love lost. Now, as we move from the "Holy schneikies!" phase into the "Got some splainin' to do" phase, we'll start to ask the big question.
Over at The Fordham, Mike Petrilli hopes he knows why -- Note the phrase, "they will be used to hold public schools accountable for their performance." Perhaps these words triggered the more negative response. I think Petrilli is hoping in vain. I think there's a much more likely explanation for CCSS's bad year among teachers.

Let's think back to May of 2013. Personally, I'm a fine example of what teachers were like at that point. I didn't know a lot about the Core, and what I did know didn't sound all that bad. As far as I'd heard, a bunch of important people had called together a bunch of teachers to write some standards that could be used across the country to bring a little coherence to the higgledy-piggledy crazy-quilt that is US education. I'm not really a fan of national standards, but as long as they came from educational experts and were largely voluntary, it couldn't hurt to look at them. Heck, if you had asked me in May of 2013 if I supported the Common Core standards, I might very well have said yes. And though there were teachers out there who had already caught on, there were plenty of teachers like me who were perfectly willing to give the whole business a shot.
So how did the reformsters lose all those hearts and minds?
I think it's a measure of how detailed and painstaking and inch-by-inch this massive debate has been that it's easy to lose track of the big picture, the many massively boneheaded things that CCSS supporters did along the way. Let's reminisce about how so many teachers were turned off.
The lying.
Remember how supporters of the Core used to tell us all the time that these standards were written by teachers? All. The. Time. Do you know why they've stopped saying that? Because it's not true, and at this point, most everybody knows it's not true. The "significant" teacher input, the basis in solid research -- all false. When someone is trying to sell you medicine and they tell you that it was developed by top doctors and researchers and you find out it wasn't and they have to switch to, "Well, it was developed by some guys who are really interested in mediciney stuff who once were in a doctor's office" -- it just reduces your faith in the product.
The involuntariness
In many places, it took a while for it to sink in -- "You mean we're not actually allowed to change ANY of it, and we can only add 15%??!!"
It quickly became clear -- this was not a reform where we would all sit around a table at our own schools and decide how to best to adapt and implement to suit our own students. Session by session, we were sent off to trainings where some combination of state bureaucrats and hired consultants would tell us how it was going to be. We were not being sent off to discuss or contribute our own professional expertise; we were being sent to get our marching orders, which very often even our own administratorswere not "important" enough to give us (or understand).
Shut up.
Particularly in the latter half of 2013, we all heard this a lot. Phrased in diplomatic language, of course, but on the state and federal level we were told repeatedly that this was not a discussion, that our input was neither needed nor wanted, and that if were going to raise any sorts of questions, we should just forget about it.
This was particularly true for public schools. After all, the narrative went, public schools were failing and covering it up by lying to students and their parents about how well they were doing. It became increasingly clear that the Common Core were not meant to help us, but to rescue America's children from us. "Just shut up and sit down," said CCSS boosters with a sneer. "You've done enough damage already."
The slander.
Arne Duncan told newspaper editors to paint core opponents as misguided and misinformed. Then he portrayed objectors as whiny white suburban moms. Opposition to CCSS was repeatedly portrayed as coming strictly from the tin hat wing of the Tea Party. If you opened your mouth to say something bad about the Core, you were immediately tagged a right-wing crank. There was no recognition that any complaint about any portion of the Core could possibly be legitimate. It had to be politically motivated or the result of ignorance.
The money.
The longer the year went on, the more it seemed that every single advocate for the Core was being paid for it. I've been wading into this for a while, and I'll be damned if I can name a single solitary actual grass-roots group advocating for the Core. Instead, we find a sea of groups all swimming in the same money from the same sources.
And at the school level, we also see lots of money -- all of it outbound. Suddenly, with Common Core, there's a long list of things that have to be bought. Can't get new books -- we have to buy computers to take the PARCC. And let's watch a parade of consultants, all making more money than we are, come in and tell us how to do our jobs.
The suffering children.
Many of us just finished our first year of Core-aligned curriculum, and in many cases it was awful. We were required to force students to operate at or beyond frustration level day after day. We watched them have special classes stripped away to make time for test prep. We watched school stamp out the spirit of the smallest students, whose defining characteristic is usually that they love everything, including school. While CCSS boosters were off sipping lattes in nice offices, we were there at ground zero watching 180 days of exactly how this reform affected real, live students.
The testing.
You keep saying that the tests are separate from the CCSS. We keep telling you that, here on the ground, there is no daylight visible between them.
The plan for failure.
There was a moment, even a day for the strong-hearted, where it looked like the Obama administration was going to release us from the educational malpractice that is NCLB. But no -- it soon became clear that we were still trapped in the same terrible movie. Our fates would still be linked to high stakes tests, just in more complicated and stupid ways. You did not have to be terribly cynical to conclude that the goal was for public schools to fail, so that reformsters could "rescue" the students "trapped" in "failing schools."
The backpedaling
As support has crumbled, Core boosters have retracted some of their pronouncements. "We have to build the airplane as we fly it" becomes "we have to take our time and fix these implementation problems." This has the effect of confirming what we suspected -- that they didn't really know what they were doing in the first place.
The implementation dodge was particularly telling. Teachers have heard "That resource/program/widget will work great. You're just using it wrong" a gazillion times. It translates roughly as "This won't help you complete that task, but if you do some other task, it might be useful."
But the thing about CCSS implementation is that Core boosters got to do everything that they said they wanted to. So if the implementation messed things up that either means 1) they don't know what they're talking about or 2) the Core really are that bad.
Location location location.
Politicians have understood for at least several decades that you can convince people if you lie deliberately and sincerely, but sometimes (like this one) they forget an important detail. It is easy to lie to people about what is happening in a faraway place like Iraq or Siberia. It is much harder to pull of lies about what is going on right in front of their faces.
Core boosters can tell stories all day about what's happening on the business end of their pride and joy, but teachers are actually at ground zero, and they have eyes and ears and brains and professional judgment.
This was a big field test year for CCSS as it spread into more schools than ever before. The drop in teacher support is one more clear indicator that, in the latest phase of rollout, the Core is failing. And as more and more teachers become entangled in this mess of botched national standards, things are only going to get worse. The Core lost support for the same reason that liver seems like a great thing to eat until you actually take a bite of it.
In short, I believe the Core lost teacher support because so many teachers spent the year face to face with it, looking it right in its beady little eyes. They don't love it because they know it so well. I'm willing to bet that by next May, when it's survey time again, the Core is not going to be awash in a new wave of teacher love.
Cross-posted from Curmudgucation

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lane Tech Coach Back!

Falsely Accused Lane Tech Coach Back in Class!
By Jim Vail

Lane Tech teacher and former girls swim coach Paul Rummelhoff is back in the classroom and after being under investigation for the past nine months!

The Lane Tech High School swim coach who was falsely accused of having sex with a female swimmer and was under investigation for the past nine months has been reinstated as the math teacher at Lane Tech High School.

He just began his first day of school this week on Monday, September 15.

"It feels great to be back," Paul Rummelhoff told Second City Teachers. "I can get on with my life."

While the "distinguished" math teacher (the highest rating given under the teacher evaluation system called Reach) is back in the classroom, he cannot coach.

"Right now I want to concentrate on my main job that is teaching," he said. 

Rummelhoff has a two-year-old daughter and his wife is expecting their second child early next year. He said rather than spending the 20 - 30 hours coaching the girls swim team this year, he will be concentrating on his young family.

"I can use that time now to help my wife and even take classes to obtain a masters," he said.  

However, Rummelhoff said he will be allowed to ask for an "amendment" in the future so that he could be reinstated as a coach should he choose to do so.

The former Lane Tech girls swim coach said he was issued a warning resolution for texting students and 'unauthorized tutoring.'

"I stopped and talked to students while I was coaching and that was 'unauthorized tutoring," Rummelhoff said. "One girl said I had tutored her before or after lunch. It was not formal tutoring, it was just answering questions about the homework or explaining something in class during the practice."

Rummelhoff said he thinks the Chicago Public Schools had to come up with something to justify keeping the Lane Tech math teacher out of the classroom since January, even after the Department of Children and Family Services found the teacher and coach innocent of the charges.

The Lane Tech teacher said he believes the decision could have been to spite the parents who spoke up in his defense at a board of education meeting last month, in addition to the media he generated on his behalf.

Second City Teacher news blog first reported in April that he was totally exonerated of all charges and yet was still not allowed to teach. This story created a lot of buzz in his defense via social media, and a CBS TV news report in July featured interviews with the parents who wanted him back as their coach because he was innocent. 

Rummelhoff said the CPS investigator Hal Ardel, who tried to get him to admit he was having sex with a female swimmer, had followed up with a few soft questions about tutoring students during his practices right when the parents were speaking out at the board meeting demanding his return. He said he thinks the timing was obvious.

"The fact that the parents were pushing this moved the process along," he said.

The exonerated teacher also said he will contact the news station that first ran the story to run a follow up report. He said he thinks many people who watched his name in the news believed he was a sexual predator. He said he will also try to have Google clear his name so that a search will not immediately show the accusations, but rather the final verdict of "Not Guilty!"

Rummelhoff said he could understand CPS's reason to keep him away from the girls swim team for a bit because of the controversy that happened. 

"They want to get you to quit," Rummelhoff said. "It could have been another year of being investigated until you resign. Then they could say he resigned while under investigation. That's how they deal with problems from the teachers; they ignore it long enough until it goes away."

Rummelhoff said while he is happy to be back in the classroom, it will be unfortunate for the girls on the swim team that he cannot coach.

"I want to continue teaching," Rummelhoff said. "I just feel sorry for the students who were looking forward to my return."      

Monday, August 25, 2014

USAID paid protesters!

Report: USAID Staged Civic Programs to Destabilize Cuban Gov’t

Democracy Now

A new report has revealed a U.S. agency sent Latin American recruits to Cuba to secretly foment anti-government activism under the guise of civic causes like HIV prevention. The Associated Press reveals the U.S. Agency for International Development sent nearly a dozen young people from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Peru to Cuba to organize anti-government sentiment during President Obama’s first term. The operatives were given sparse training and paid as little as $5.41 an hour. There is no evidence they succeeded in their mission. The program was launched just after USAID contractor Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba, where he remains in jail on suspicion of being a U.S. spy. As part of the program, USAID hired Creative Associates International, a firm that also played a key role in the "Cuban Twitter" program — a fake social media program launched in another bid to undermine the Cuban government.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Separatist Story!

The War Which Few People Want
A Separatist Tells Second City Teachers his Story of War
By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia)Second-City teacher interviewed a contract-soldier who has just come back from the War in Ukraine.

             As the Russian Separatists continue to fall back before advancing soldiers of the Ukrainian army which seem to have caught the city of Donesk on a hook, a crisis appears to have taken place amongst the leadership.

             That is, if you can in deed discern an acknowledged leadership. Rumours abound that there are sharp divisions between different leaders and factions, local people and outsiders from Russia who moved in to completely take over the leadership of the rebels.

             This is reputed to have created resentment from locals who don't like to be told what to do by 'outsiders'.

             After Putin met with the three main leaders they all resigned. Perhaps the biggest blow to the rebel cause is the resignation of its most able and talented leader Igor Strelikov. The soldier Nikita claimed that 'If Strelikov had full control and leadership of all the rebel forces we would have a chance of winning against the Ukrainians.'

             This leader is credited with being instrumental in helping Crimea become independent.

             The rebel forces are not only losing because they are outnumbered and outgunned (40,000 Ukrianian soldiers via 12-15,000 separatists), but because of very bad organisation and coordination. At times Nikita wondered   if there was any coordination at all. 'Every unit seems to be doing their very own bit of action independently of other units.

             'For example, when my group was taken over the border there was nobody waiting to pick us up! We had to find our own way'.

             Nikita was not very impressed by the support for the rebels. He  thought they had very little support amongst local people. Most local people did not want any war and just wanted peace to get on with their everyday mundane affairs. He stated, 'Most of the army does not consist of locals, but outsiders who have volunteered. While 80% of volunteers fight for ideological reasons, other professional soldiers tend to fight because they enjoy the taste of blood. The Chechens who are fighting are brilliant soldiers.'

             Nikita was surprised to encounter the corpse of a dead negro who had been fighting for the Ukrainians.

             But it was not just the lack of local support which shook Nikita. The worst thing was the fact that some locals were 'police informers' who were ready to report their presence to the Ukrainian police.

             Nikita stated that when one refugee family of women and children were fleeing over the border with their well-built husband, the Russian border guards let all his family cross, but refused to let him enter Russia. They told him, 'You are strong enough to go back and fight for the rebels'.

             So he was forced to return.

             The rebel army appear to be a motley group. Some claim to be part of an 'Orthodox army', others state they are simply 'patriots,' while others became 'contract soldiers' for either adventure, to escape poor marital relations or just to pay off debts. The war attracts all types of people.

             The leadership attempted to instill discipline amongst their troops by issuing Stalininst orders where deserters or looters were arrested and shot. In deed, in a recent interview with Novaya Gazeta, 'Alexander Borodai made no bones about shooting deserters. He stated, 'We have an acting tribunal, a military field court which periodically sentence people to be shot. Why? Because in our Republic, we have a critical military situation. Yes, several looters and deserters, thank God were shot.

             'Or are you interested as to why this was modeled on the order of Stalin'. (Stalin's order of 270 declared, 'Those who deserted should be shot on the spot and their families arrested' was issued on 16th August 1941'.

             When I spoke to local Russians in Moscow about this order, two women answered me, 'How can that be? How can you execute soldiers in an army of volunteers? It is a contradiction. I don't believe it.'

             Nikita maintained silence on this issue.

             Nikita mentioned that the Ukrainian army would attack them in two waves. The first wave would be young army conscripts of around 18 who charged forward and were mowed down, while the second wave which followed them were the fascists of the National Guard. Nikita said that they never executed any Ukrainian conscript soldiers they captured, but only fascists who were in the National Guard. 'Those guys in the National Guard are very inhumane', he stated.

             Less controversial, if a bit eccentric, was Igor Strelikov's order to ban soldiers from swearing and offending the Mother of God. "Each time we use the swear word 'mat', we offend the Mother of God and hence worsen our chances of winning the war. How can anyone call themselves Orthodox if they are constantly swearing in the ranks?"

             The atrocities which Nikita witnessed took him back. When he passed through one small village he found all the woman and children had been raped and shot. In some cases, he came across bodies where the stomachs had been brutally cut open and their inner organs removed. After     seeing those defiled corpses, Nikita was convinced that the rumours of Ukrainian ambulances going through to pick up the wounded, killing them, stealing and selling their organs to doctors was based on facts. (At present,   there are allegations being made against the Kosovian Albanian rebels about a sinister and murky trade in selling body organs).

             Despite being promised a sum of 100,000 rubles for payment, he was never paid. Unsurprisingly, he has no intention of returning to fight in this army. There are far worse things than not being paid. Out of 15 soldiers in his unit, three were killed. This represents a high casualty rate of 20% for professional soldiers. They only fought for one month but this month must have seemed so long!

             What Nikita's experience indicates is that the war is being prosecuted by the rebels in a very disorganized, chaotic and uncoordinated way and that there is no fully recognised leadership accepted by all the rebel   factions. Unless the rebels get their act together, their defeat may be much quicker than even some military observers anticipate. It is worth noting that it was not firing squads that won the Great Patriotic war, but strong motivation, sacrifice and military leadership.

             The politicians let experienced soldiers get on with the job. In other words, Stalin stopped interfering so much.

             It may well be that at present Separatists have been drawing the wrong conclusions as to how the Great Patriotic war was won. It was certainly not won by Stalin's orders.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Labor Party?

Finding Labor’s Political Independence in Chicago

(All photos by Larry Duncan)

CHICAGO — Will Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis run for mayor, and will such a possible candidacy create a third party break with the Democrats in city government? Events leading up to these two questions go back at least four years.
In December of 2010 the CTU, under newly-elected Karen Lewis, sponsored a forum to hear all of the candidates in the upcoming 2011 mayoral election. All the candidates speaking at that forum were Democrats.
The event was unprecedented for the CTU — to make deliberations about mayoral endorsement so public. It suggested that the way the CTU decided should not be an automatic, undemocratic process. And it suggested that politics-as-usual in Chicago was on its way out. Although the forum set out to hear all mayoral candidates, one of the invited candidates did not show up — Rahm Emanuel. He went on to win the spring Democratic Party primary, and then the election.
With that election victory of Rahm Emanuel, the die was cast for an historic confrontation between the re-born, militant CTU and City Hall. The fireworks came in 2012 with the five-day strike in the country’s third largest school system.
Much has been written about the size, impact, and outcome of that strike, involving some 30,000 teachers, 350,000 students and their households, and a broad network of community organizations. It was a political watershed, for two reasons.
First, the strike dramatized inchoate, popular political power independent of the Democratic Party and City Hall. Power coming from a union.
Second, the problems that led to the strike could not be overcome through trade unionism alone. Although the CTU in 2012 put on a clinic in union militancy (despite the fact that it was legally restricted by limiting its demands to wages and benefits), only so much could be achieved by striking. The problems that had accumulated in the Chicago public school system were systemic to decaying capitalism. Lack of tax funding from the deadbeat 1%; starvation of the public sector; a long history of cuts in art, music, library, and science facilities and teachers; increasing class sizes; an unelected school board; a city and state government that was on the warpath against the unions; the list was endless. These problems could not be solved by the CTU alone. A political strategy involving the whole working class was needed.
Unlike a strike in private industry, the employer that the teachers’ union (a public-sector union) negotiated with was a government, a city government. The battle here between the workers and management was inherently political.
In that same 2012-13 academic year — despite huge and impassioned turnouts expressing opposition to school closings at rigged “hearings” — CPS closed 50 schools anyway. This was part of CPS’s master plan to eventually shut down public education and replace it with for-profit, private charter schools. CTU’s and their community allies’ last massive pressure-protest stratagem against mass school closings didn’t work. The School Board was, after all, the unelected puppet of big investors and property developers. After that, there was nothing left in the quiver except political weapons.
But should the CTU stay in the old default mode of political protest: find or foster Democratic Party candidates who support a list of particulars, and try to get those candidates elected, or re-elected?
Anyway, the first concrete step was to mount a massive voter registration drive. That begun, the debate proper commenced in the union. The union caucus (CORE) that twice successfully got Karen Lewis elected began to weigh working with the Democratic Party versus splitting from it.
Tim Meegan — a teacher, member of CORE, and independent non-Democrat candidate for Alderman in Chicago’s 33rd Ward — spoke recently about that period. “At the CORE convention earlier last year there was a debate within CORE: Should we split with the Democrats and form an independent party and go that way or should we continue to work with the Democrats? And there’re a lot of different opinions there. And we really never did come to a consensus on that. So what we now have of course is an Independent Political Organization that is comprised of SEIU, CTU, Grassroots Illinois Action, and Action Now. And it’s really exciting because we don’t know what is going to happen with it.”
Meegan was speaking at the August 1, 2012 Chicago Socialist Campaign Open Forum sponsored by the CSC and co-endorsed by Solidarity, International Socialist Organization, Chicago Socialist Party of Illinois and Jorge Mújica for 25th Ward Alderman. The title of the Forum was “Breaking Left from the Two Parties of the 1%.”
Although two of the speakers were candidates for Alderman (Tim Meegan and Jorge Mújica) a portion of the discussion naturally centered on whether CTU President Karen Lewis would declare she was running for mayor against Rahm Emanuel, and how she would politically define her campaign.
With only months now before the deadline in November for petitions for mayoral candidates to be submitted to the Board of Election Commissioners, Karen Lewis and the CTU have not answered these two questions. The August 7 Chicago Tribune paraphrased Lewis as saying that it could be months before she would make a decision. (The Sun-Times in mid July said that an Early & Often Poll had Lewis beating Emanuel by 9%.)
The debate impasse within CORE and CTU back in 2013 continues into the present. A coordinated rupture with the Democrats through the formation of a new political party would have required a certain time window. Delaying a formal decision during the CORE convention in the fall of 2013 became, in effect, a decision favoring the default settings for the “progressive Democrats” strategy because that requires less preparation, and is a well-worn path. (A path strewn with skeletons.)
Jorge Mújica, speaking at the August Forum, observed:
“There is in Chicago these days the possibility of a really excellent candidate for Mayor — Karen Lewis, the president of the teachers’ union. We do hope she runs . . . but we have to push for this to be a leftist movement because if it is not, it’s going to be co-opted again because this is my fear.
“I have experienced, although I have long ago left Mexico, when the PRD, the Party for the Democratic Revolution, was founded . . . and 25 years later what we can see in Mexico is this incredibly electoral only, pretty much, opportunistic so-called leftist party. . . . What I mean is we have to keep pushing left, and the more left we get the liberals and progressives to be, then we have to be even more left for them to keep following and following. Otherwise, if they stay on the ‘progressive’ side only, the ‘liberal’ side only sooner rather than later they are going to fall to the right again.
“In City Council in Chicago we don’t have one, but two progressive caucuses and it’s like, ok, next year we’re going to have three progressive caucuses? And then in 10 years everybody’s going to be progressive in the Democratic Party?”
Whether the CTU will endorse the aldermanic campaigns of declared socialist Jorge Mújica and declared non-Democrat CTU member Tim Meegan — both of whom will be collecting signatures to officially get on the ballot — will depend on CTU’s political strategy for a Karen Lewis campaign. (As of early August at least five CTU members are considering running for Alderman. One of these is a CTU member who wants to run in the 25th Ward, where the socialist Jorge Mújica is also running. Not being a requirement in the aldermanic elections, these other candidates may not specifically declare whether they are Democrats. They presumably will also have to get on the ballot first before the CTU will consider endorsing them.
If Karen Lewis decides to run for mayor, she would first need to gain enough signatures to get on the ballot. As in the aldermanic elections, she would not be required to declare any party affiliation. If Karen Lewis, Rahm Emanuel and any other candidate — such as Democrat 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti — in the February election does not get 50% of the vote, the top two will face each other in a run-off election in April. Without defined political affiliations, anti-Rahm aldermanic candidates, possibly running against each other, may present a confusing field of choices. It remains to be seen whether Karen Lewis or all aldermanic candidates will volunteer information on their relationship to the Democratic Party, as have candidates Meegan and Mujica. Avoiding such political clarity in the City election in 2015 would be a denial of the historic process begun by the CTU strike in 2012.
A variety of developments swirl around the mystery and suspense of Karen Lewis’ decision to run: In late July the United Working Families (UWF) was officially launched. UWF is a partnership among the CTU, Grassroots Illinois Action, and other community organizations. Since the CTU is part of the UWF, it seems more likely at this point that a possible Karen Lewis campaign would be linked to the UWF’s strategy.
The UWF executive director, Kristen Crowell, headed up We Are Wisconsin as it redirected the mass movement there into the Democrat’s failed attempt to to recall Governor Walker. Not in itself a good omen, as it reinforces the fears of many that the revolutionary potential born in the schools rebellion of 2012 may be blunted and dismantled by this kind of guidance.
Independent non-Democrat Alderman candidate Tim Meegan, speaking to the August 1 Breaking Left from the Two Parties of the 1% forum, had this to say about the CTU/Grassroots Illinois Action IPO (the precursor to the newly-formed UWF): “So I have high hopes for the IPO but at the same time I don’t know how to answer the question because I don’t know if it’s going to end up, you know, becoming this third political party or if it’s just going to promote candidates it sees as representing the best interests of the participants of the organization.”
The term “working families” in this context brings to mind the Working Families Party in New York, which got Mayor Bill De Blasio elected. The WFP is a “fusion” party — meaning a party that runs Democrats both on the Democratic Party ballot and on a separate WFP ballot. Fusion is allowed in many states across the country. It is a sleight-of-hand provision that permits voters otherwise angered at, or disenfranchised by, the Democratic Party to vote for a “progressive” Democrat on a third-party ballot.
But, According to Politics Early & Often, Chicago’s UWF “is not a formal affiliate of the Working Families Party.” However, “The Chicago group has been in discussions with the Working Families Party . . . about modeling some of their programs, including community outreach and candidate training.” Progress Illinoisputs it another way: “Chicago activists are looking to borrow ideas for their new group from the Working Families Party (WFP), a progressive political party that has had success in places like New York City and elsewhere.”
United Working Families in Chicago is not saying that it is a political party, but only that it will play a role of searching for existing candidates and supporting them.
Well, so what if a United Working Families strategy never really creates a clear, irrevocable break with the Democratic Party? Can’t we just inject into the Democratic Party our own list of demands and fight for them one by one, politician by politician? Isn’t a political party simply a shopping list of platform points?
More than the sum of its positions on particular issues, a political party essentially represents the interests of an economic class. Both the Republican and Democratic Parties are champions of privatization of the public commons to profit the few, which is the ideology driving the schools crisis. However, there has always needed to be one capitalist party that can consistently convince the working class not to “walk out the door”.
The Democratic Party with its avatars in the communities and in the union bureaucracy has organizational techniques for doing this. Accepting various particular demands usually can be worked out or lied about in campaigns, such as agreeing to increases in the minimum wage (which afterwards can be neutralized and worked around). But the golden rule for the capitalists and the 1% is to maintain their ownership of finance, of land, and of the the means of production. With that, they hold on to the power and the profits by which they can purchase any government. The trick is to prevent the working class from creating its own political party because that is the most important first step toward overturning class control.
True, a political party of and for the working class in Chicago — a labor party — is only a theory. To the pragmatic and impressionistic observer, the earth was clearly flat; and it was foolhardy to commit resources to demonstrate a theory that was not prima facie evident. But the theory of the Earth being a sphere was verified through applying in practice a scientific conviction.
Similarly, during the administration of previous CTU President Marilyn Stewart, the idea of a fighting rank-and-file-run union was just a theory and only a handful of teachers believed it could become a reality. Those few took up a long political struggle within the union, guided at first by a blueprint for union democracy. Today, can the CTU afford to reject the historically ripe idea of an independent political party of labor and its allies? And as for the pragmatism of working within the Democratic Party over the last few decades — how’s that really working out, pragmatically speaking?
Tim Meegan put it another way: “What the CTU saw was when we did not give money to Democrats and the Democratic machine when the CORE took over, we got punished. When we learned our lesson and we donated to the Democrats and the Democratic machine, we got punished anyway.” Although Meegan takes pains to avoid being politically labeled, he commented, “I would like to see instead of an anti-capitalist party – a pro-labor party, a labor party or workers’ party. I always think of putting the optimistic, positive spin on it will attract more people, and it’s a bigger umbrella, frankly.”
The political situation today in Chicago came about through a rank-and-file transformation inside a labor organization. The largest union in the state of Illinois (CTU) was the incubator in which a citywide movement, working with community organizations, brought us to the point where everybody today is debating whether to leave the Democratic Party, and how to do it. Although a powerful labor organization gave birth to this movement for independent politics, why is the discussion about a labor party off the table?
To oppose a third party with strong support in the unions would be to surrender to the Democratic Party within the unions — or, to reference the CTU’s history, surrender to the way the CTU was run under Stewart. Once Stewart was voted out by CORE, the countdown began for confrontation with the Democratic Party Machine.
The fight to unlink unions in Chicago from the Democrats will be at times like drilling through granite, true enough. The changes within the CTU did not happen automatically. Very hard work went on for years, in the creation of the Caucus of Rank and file Educators (CORE) within the union, and years of activist journalism from the CTU-oriented rank-and-file publication Substance News.
SEIU Local 73, which represents 28,000 workers in Illinois and Northwest Indiana, could be a place to start. It has already donated $25,000 to Rahm Emanuel, the man who is trying to destroy the teachers union! Is there any effort within SEIU 73, staffers or members, to change these kinds of decisions? Daunting as that job will be, it must be undertaken to advance the movement for political independence.
Tim Meegan said: “[The CTU is] the other type of labor union, the bottom-up, social movement unionism that’s so critical to and is inspiring …many workers all over the city. . . . And that’s what I want to bring to City Council, that bottom-up, real, transparent, public democracy and a democratic process where the City Council is not just a rubber stamp…”
Ultimately, winning the city over to independent labor politics cannot succeed without the support of its public sector unions. The municipal and county unions in Chicagoland must reject the political party of the management they work for — the Democrats. Unions (such as AFSCME, SEIU, ATU, NEA, and other AFT locals) that negotiate with public-sector management are the places to begin.
The aldermanic campaigns of Meegan and Mújica, who have declared a clear split with the Democrats, can be the basis for evolving a citywide labor party, looking beyond the February election. But the birth process of a new political party independent of the Democrats begun in the fight for public schools would be thwarted by a mayoral campaign centered basically on an individual. That would be a movement not clearly focused on replacing the Democrats with a distinct, permanent, alternative political structure. But if Karen Lewis does choose to decisively break with the Democrats as a candidate of a labor-based party, this would be a big step forward.
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