Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Media Analysis

Top Education Writer Fails on Charter Waiting List Myth
By Jim Vail

Reader writer Ben Joravsky and who's the guy on the right?

Arguably the best public school education writer in the mainstream media would be the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky.

He has lambasted the mayor Rahm Emanuel, exposed the Tax Increment Financing Districts or TIF scam, and parking meters fiasco. 

He regularly covers the Chicago Public Schools beat for the alternative weekly and usually gets it right.

His latest analysis on Barbara Byrd Bennett was spot on - he wrote how she is probably the mayor's best friend since he had to paid her her kickbacks to do his dirty work, such as closing an unprecedented 50 schools in mostly black neighborhoods. 

But Joravsky's last article entitled "Mary Pattillo's charter school research shows south-side students don't really have a choice," was lacking to say the least, and a bit dishonest.

Joravsky has written well-informed articles about the charter school scam; he called out the UNO people before that Mexican patronage house of cards started to collapse.

He points out in this latest article that parents who have "school choice" and choose charter schools earn more money than parents who send their kids to the city's neighborhood schools based on a book written by this sociologist from NU.

Ok, but big deal. Like who didn't know this already.

And I am always wary when you focus an article on public education via the work of academics, this one a professor from Northwestern University. The universities are in on the charter scam big time by picking up contracts, and in some cases even run charter schools like the University of Chicago.

Joravsky quotes the NU sociologist who states true school choice would allow poor children to choose wealthy schools like the U of C's Lab School or Parker School.

Parents told her other charter schools were too far away, or they didn't want their off spring crossing gang lines, Joravsky writes.

Fair enough. However, you get the impression that charter schools actually provide a decent alternative to regular public schools because parents better off choose them.

However, research shows the charter schools test lower than the public schools.

But the shocker was the ending to Joravsky's column: "Even the Charter Parents told me that they were glad they won the lottery," Pattillo told Joravsky. "But they were beleaguered by the process. I don't take the waiting list at charters as evidence that they want more charters. What they want is more high-quality schools."

Wait a minute here, hold your horses. Ben - what waiting list. I fired him an email to ask if he read Raise Your Hand analysis that proved the charter schools so-called waiting list is a hoax. There is no waiting list in reality. 

While a couple of them may have some parents waiting for entry - as all selective public schools in the city turn away thousands of children who apply, the fact is most charter schools are like many neighborhood schools, they are under-enrolled. Raise Your Hand provided a list of many under-enrolled charter schools.

Ben, you are merely regurgitating a falsehood put out by the very billionaires you lambasted earlier in the article. Relying on an academic from Northwestern will do that.

I met a charter school teacher at CICS Basil on Garfield who told me when she taught there she remembered two things - they spent a total of 3 months just testing the kids, and spent even far more time trying to attract children to their very under-enrolled school.

And parents tell this academic they want more high-quality schools, and Joravsky says amen to that?

So that means we public school teachers really are lousy because of these low test scores? 

Ben, come on. I know you've been dynamite on this beat for a while. But you gotta admit, this one needs to be corrected for the record.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Book Review: The Teachers' Strike

by Gabby Mathews, published by Blushing Books.

By Stephen Wilson
             The book baffles many people. It is not pornographic, preachy, or simply political and fails to smoothly fit into any neat genre.

             Perhaps it is best read as a thought-provoking political satire which attempts to amuse and ridicule the blatant absurdity of political figures who lord it over us.

             The book, a novelle of just over fifty pages, is centred around a tense stormy amorous relationship between a student and teacher during the great Chicago Teacher union strike of 2012.

             Though there is nothing remotely illegal about this relationship, the teacher is around 23 and her student is 19, the authorities still view it 'as improper', 'indecent' , and 'unprofessional'.

             Those seeking the cheap thrills of high porn will be
disappointed. They should stick to Playboy. On the contrary, the work is a deeply thoughtful exploration of the dynamics and drama of almost-doomed relationships.

             In a recent interview with Jim Vail, in Chicago News, Mathews states, 'The sexual and erotic elements make up just a tiny fraction of the book. For me, the turbulent personal story between the teacher and student and the political story of the strike that upends the city's school system (satire) is all much more interesting'. For Mathews, like Dostovesky, love is an awesome thing. He succinctly says, 'Love is a mess chaos.'

             The teacher and student don't just show lust for each other, but show signs of genuinely caring for each other. We are never certain which way the relationship will go.

             Gabby Mathew's work raises issues which most other writers ignore or overlook. Gabby Mathews work is compelling as his work is very well written, rich in idioms, expressions and witty dialogue. The language abounds with rich affirmation of the most important things of life; love, relationships and politics.

             Even if you find Mathew's political views hard to swallow you can still laugh along with the author.

             Asked 'Why did you write an erotic book?', Mathews  answered, 'Three words; money, love and politics, in our
society each of these words is cheapened by overuse and
misuse, but in my case of writing this novella, the social
context of all three words speak to my core writing of this

             In fact, this book reminded me of Salinger's work, 'Catcher in the Rye. ' Like Holden, the main hero of this novel is an outsider and rebel who is constantly dropping out or being expelled from schools. He feels deeply misunderstood
by everyone around him and feels an unbridgeable gap
between himself and society. That is until two events; meeting a teacher who can intuitively understand him and the outbreak of a strike which allows him to re-perceive injustice around him.

             There is not just one Robin Crusoe and one Man -Friday but a whole army who are awkwardly thrust together into a the joint action of a teacher's strike.

             The story opens with the words, 'No school today and maybe not forever, all our teachers are boycotting school now' ... I'm Telly. I 'm a troubled kid and have an attitude problem.'

             'Telly has been 'clinically diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder' as he has 'racked up 6 high schools in 2 years and grown quite pround of the fact.'

             Telly falls in love with a young teacher called Clair and a secret affair begins between them which must be discreetly hidden from the authorities lest Claire lose her job. However, as both the affair and strike progresses, she begins to feel disillusioned by teaching when she senses the idealism which brought her into teaching has been betrayed. She states, 'The way the teachers have been treated, what the school district promised me to get me here meant taking pay and health care from older, more experienced teachers like Mrs Karky, once they finish training me. I feel so betrayed'.

             Mrs Karky herself states bitterly, 'I'm tired of billionaires like our mayor of one percent telling us what we need to do for our children as if they love our children more than we do. They have the money, they have the media, but we have something they don't have - us. ' The motives of the strikers are sympathetically portrayed as fighting for a more caring and improved education system, long-term fair pay, and a refusal to allow standardised testing to be the budgeoning bust for teacher evaluation to use over our heads as one more tool to cleanse teachers out of the district.' (page 34)

             Part of the drama of the work arises out of whether the authorities will discover their illicit affair and how. Will
someone betray the other?  I won't say anything. Read the novelle yourself!

             The book has just been published while the teachers are on the brink of yet another strike. Along with this, there
have been two high-profile cases of teachers such as
Jennifer Fichter and Brianne Altice being sentenced to 22
years and the latter for 30 years for having illicit affairs with
their grown-up students!  Strange as it seems, Mathews is largely unaware of the Fichter case. The cases don't appear to have any explicit connection or inspired his work.

             The head of the Chicago Teachers Union have objected to their logo being used in the front cover of the book and don't want to promote his novelle.

             The Teacher's Strike is quite unique. It is well worth reading.

             It is a must which should adorn every teacher's bookshelf!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Don't Vote for Bernie!

Don't Vote for Bernie and Be a Fool!
By Jim Vail

Don't vote for Bernie Sanders!

Once again we have another presidential election, and once again we have our usual suspects paraded out for the people to decide who should be president.

Never mind the fact that a relatively few lot give almost a billion dollars to a few of these candidates, we the people can vote for them.

The 1% first decided who can run. And they need the people to be interested so that our so-called democracy functions.

So the Republicans, pathetic as they are, have this clown Donald Trump leading in the polls. He is perfect for the ruling class because he sparks interest for voters to go out and vote who would normally not.

The fact that Trump blames the immigrants for our crime and no jobs is the classic scapegoat that appeals to mostly ignorant people who cannot look at the big picture. The fact that Trump can speak candidly about the other candidates, and call people like Jeb Bush a wimp, show how much the people want to hear the truth. Not to mention telling the people how he pays the politicians to do his dirty work.

And on the left we have Bernie Sanders, the progressive great white hope, a so-called Socialist, independent, who says what progressives want to hear - we need a living wage, free tuition, tax the rich, etc.

Except Bernie, like Trump, is a part of this horrific system who will not change it. First, he won't get elected - trust me. So why waste your time trying to get someone elected who will not get elected? Been there, done that.

Why not spend your valuable energy making change via fighting for a living wage, protest, educate, etc? 

And Bernie ain't no panacea. He supports most of our foreign wars. He votes against reasonable gun-control legislation.

But worst of all for you teachers and defenders of public education - he is pro Race to the Top, pro Common Core and pro charter schools.

Certainly not someone you should be campaigning for, let alone writing checks or getting all excited about, if you value public education.

When I bring this up to fellow teachers, they don't even know Sanders' position on Race to the Top. How can you not know what your candidate supports, especially when it is against your interests.

I say fight the fight. I am a delegate in the Chicago Public Schools and we need to fight for a better contract than what the Chicago Board of Education wants.

They want to cut our salaries, cut our benefits, cut resources to our schools, while increasing funding to charter schools.

They at the top want to destroy unions, continue the assault on our middle class.

Voting for Bernie won't stop that.

Fighting for our class will!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Bug-less Flyers

NY UFT Union Bug-less Flyer

By Marjorie Stamberg

(NY City) -- I thought people might be interested in the political issues raised here, as there are fundamental issues of labor principle involved. For the last 24 hours or so, I've been in a fairly heated polemic with various members of the MORE caucus in the UFT.  It started when I posted my "Reportback from the UFT Delegate Assembly October meeting". As a delegate, I post my report and comments on the various teacher blogs, and the report has become rather popular.

At the October union meeting, the MORE put up a motion on retro pay, and handed out a leaflet that the Mulgrew bureaucracy ("Unity Caucus") attacked for various nasty reasons, but the bureaucrats noted that MORE's leaflet did not have a union bug. That at least, was a correct criticism, I wrote, and then the MORE "justifications" of the bug-less flyer (a union using non-union workers!) came rolling in.  

So here is the correspondence so far:  The latest is my response tonight, and underneath it is the original "Reportback' and the various MORE jjustifications.

My posting tonight:

"It is a  telling statement in itself to read the blog protests coming in after I defend labor's tradition of the union bug, and comment on the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators' bugless flyer. 

The principle is simple --  if you pay to produce something, get it produced with union labor, and show it with the "union bug."  If you're volunteering your services in the interest of the cause, say so at the bottom of the flyer with "labor donated." 

Bottom line: Unions are the front lines of worker defense under capitalism. If we can't defend what we have, we cannot go forward. It's basic. 

And you can do something about it right now. A big struggle is underway in NYC for the basic right of immigrant labor to form unions and organize. The warehouse workers of the B&H photo store are showing the way. They and their supporters are gathering tomorrow, Sunday, October 18, at 2:30 p.m. at the new 34th St./Hudson Yards stop on the 7 train; they will then march to B&H on 34th and 9th Ave. They are seeking to unionize with the United Steelworkers -- and proudly display the USW banner! I hope to see you all there.

Now, on specific questions:
To James, who asked if the Unity materials had a union bug, the answer is yes. There is an IBT-GCC bug on their blue leaflet hailing the pathetic raise the leadership negotiated, and there is an OPEIU bug on the delegate card, meaning it was run off by the UFT office staff which is part of that union.
To Joan, who claimed that the union printing industry is dead in New York, you are wrong. You may have noticed that all the literature put out by my group, Class Struggle Education Workers, either has a union bug on it or else says "labor donated." If you want names of union shops, I can get them for you. If you want union-made buttons, you can go to M.H. Slater in Midtown.  If MORE doesn't do that, it isn't because it can't.

The point at issue here is fundamental: it's about the class line. There is a class struggle and the question is, which side are you on? Many people on the left and union reform groups have lost sight of that basic principle.
The government is on the other side of that line, it is the instrument of capital, no matter who is in office. The police are on the other side of that line, they enforce racist, anti-worker "law and order" as the first line of defense of capital. The Democratic, Republican and all capitalist parties are on the other side of that line, they represent the bosses (including the bogus "Working Families Party" which is just the Democrats in disguise, or the Green Party which is a homeless shelter for liberal Democrats left out in the cold by the rightward drift of the Clintons and Obama).
MORE outrageously crossed that line a year ago last August when it came down on the side of the racist killer cops (talking about "our brother and our sister officers," and uniting" with the fascistic PBA!!) and refused to go on the mass march of thousands who were protesting the NYPD murder of Eric Garner in Staten Island. MORE's claim to represent "social justice unionism" imploded. Any class-conscious unionist would have stood with the poor, black, Latino, Asian, immigrant and white working people against the cops. If you can't do that, what's the point?
A discussion is needed about the necessity to build a union caucus on firm principles of the class struggle: picket lines mean don't cross; cops are the repressive apparatus of the capitalist government, not "fellow workers"; don't run to the bosses' government against the unions or sue the unions in the capitalist courts; oppose all capitalist politicians; and print your material in a union shop. In short, draw the class line in matters big and small.

I could go on.
Sean brings up the history of disgusting anti-Asian and anti-black exclusionism by the AFL, to which one could add the job-trusting exclusion of women in many trades. But that does not sum up the history of labor. This vile history of exclusionary, labor aristocratic, craft unionism is one of the reasons that the CIO was forged in the 1930s as industrial unionism including everyone that worked in that industry. I've fought against that exclusionism: I was the first woman switchman in NY Telephone before I became a teacher, and the union defended me.

It's something we must fight against in the UFT, by demanding (as Sean and others have done) special efforts to increase the number of black and Latino educators in particular, who were driven out under Bloomberg. But unions today are BY FAR the biggest force defending the interests of African American, Latino, Asian and immigrant working people. And that is particularly true in New York City.

You could see that graphically a couple of years ago. When Occupy Wall Street was camped out in Zuccotti Park, it was overwhelmingly, like over 90%, white. But when the unions twice called demonstrations of several tens of thousands to defend Occupy against Bloomberg's cops, those solidarity demonstrations were mostly non-white, because that's what the labor movement is in New York. 1199. 32BJ, TWU Local 100, go down the list.
Our union has a distinctly different composition, reflecting the fact that teachers are a petty-bourgeois layer. The UFT presents itself as a "union of professionals," never talking about the working class. And its leadership is a gang of professional sellouts, who betray workers here and abroad. That is true of almost all union leaderships in the U.S. today, because the militants who built the unions were driven out in the Cold War red purges (led not by Republican McCarthy but by liberal Democrats).
"Unity," which is simply the UFT bureaucracy, sells us out all the time, but not only us. Albert Shanker and his crew built the union by waging a war on reds. The Shankerites were up to their necks in imperialist skulduggery that earned the reputation of the "AFL-CIA". They refused to come out against the war in Vietnam, participated in the repressing and crushing of left-wing unions in Chile as part of the U.S.-sponsored Pinochet coup against the Allende popular front, and served as a conduit funneling U.S. government dollars to anti-communist pseudo-unions from Guatemala to Poland.

This is the heritage of Weingarten and Mulgrew, who brought us Barack Obama who is spearheading the privatizing corporate education reform aimed at destroying teachers unions. And now they want to stuff Hillary Clinton down our throats. Some "progressives" want to go for Democratic Party "socialist"  Bernie Sanders, but like Obama and Clinton he also supports Common Core, Race to the Top and the rest. Any class-conscious unionist must oppose the Democrats, but when this comes up in Delegate Assemblies, MORE delegates are silent.

The problem is not unions, it's the leadership ... and the "opposition," which at bottom shares the outlook of the bureaucracy.
A genuine, class opposition to the Mulgrews and Weingartens would fight to get rid of the whole system of capitalist rule that is destroying public education before our eyes.If you reject or dismiss the importance of having a union bug because of the crimes of Gompers, what's next? Crossing picket lines because the leadership is rotten? To hell with that. Picket lines mean don't cross, period. It's the class line, which side are you on. Unionism 101.

The outlook of petty-bourgeois professionals permeates both the UFT leadership and the would-be opposition. But the UFT isn't the only union of education workers. There are the school aides in DC 37. There are cafeteria workers in Teamsters Local 372. The school bus drivers and matrons of ATU Local 1181 were almost exclusively black and Hispanic. When they went on strike in 2013, the UFT Unity bureaucracy and the MORE opposition barely lifted a finger to defend them. I and my colleagues in the CSEW joined 1181 on the picket lines almost every day for weeks. That is class-struggle unionism.

PS:  Sean asks rhetorically, "When was the last time you checked your shoes, pants, bags and undergarments for a union bug?"  As a matter of fact almost all undergarments and many of the pants (including Levis) are made by garment workers in Haiti, who have been struggling to win recognition of their union. The CSEW has actively supported their struggle including holding a demonstration outside Macy's when they went on strike in December 2013, and meeting with their union organizers." 

For more on this, contact Class Struggle Education Workers: e-mail cs_edworkers@hotmail.com, or go to http://edworkersunite.blogspot.com/

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Day of Teacher?

DAY of the Teacher - OUT OF TOUCH?
By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) -  The Russian Minister  of Education makes some questionable claims on the 50th Anniversary of 'The Day of Teachers', which was held on the 5th of October.

             The Russian Minister  of Education and Science, Dmitri
Livanov , looking laid back, cheerful and at ease, during an           interview , (with Kommersant, ,5th October, 2015, number 182)
claimed that not only the salaries but the prestige of school     teachers has risen substantially over the past 15 years. He also
attempted to reassure teachers that he would not tamper or alter the Unitary state Exam system over the next three years.

             However, he insisted that 'It might be possible that a         compulsory exam in history would come into effect beginning from 2018.'

             Dmitri Livanov stated that 'We have just recently obtained
information from an international survey of the work on teachers ,TALIS, which covered 30 countries, including the majority of European states, America, Japan, and Australia.

             They explained that the number of Russian teachers with
higher education is much higher than in other countries in the survey. In addition, Russian teachers on average tend to be younger than the teachers in other countries: 13% of our teachers are younger than 35: while in other countries it was approximately 10%. More over, while in Russia the share of young teachers has been growing since 2009, in other countries they have the contrary trend. '

              Livanov further claimed that the prestige of teaching has
increased in Russia and that the doubling of salaries over the space of three years played a large part in this.


              But can those claims really be sustained? Dmitri Livanov's view that teachers are becoming younger and are much better qualified than many of their western colleagues may be
justified, and the prestige of teachers might well be rising in a society weary of vulgar materialistic values which perceive
the values of professions in terms of income, rather than contribution to the common good. Nobody would disagree
with Livanov's suggestions that a teacher has to motivate his
students by making his lessons interesting, inspiring and should infect his own students with a cheerful mood when he enters the classroom. Livanov also expresses a cautious view of how practical it will be to implement the government's plan to make all children from the 5th grade study two foreign languages. He states that although the measure was accepted in 2010, at present only 10% of schools include the teaching of two foreign languages in their programme.

              So he states, 'Therefore, there is no hurry but by 2020 in
every school there must be created conditions for the teaching
of a second foreign language.'  He philosophically muses that
              'It is better to know one foreign language well than two foreign languages badly'.

              The first questionable notion is the claim that teachers' salaries have almost doubled over the past few years. Yes, on the
surface, in terms of rubles ,salaries seem to have risen, to           approximately 30,000 rubles for full time teachers but 40%             devaluation in the ruble, rising inflation as well as arrears in the regions of Russia (An increasing number of teachers are not being paid) and rising redundancies created by huge budget cuts along with mergers undermines this colourful claim. A representative of the trade union, 'Teacher', Leonid Perlov, stated in a recent interview that it was impossible to talk about a substantial increase in teachers' salaries until they rise above the average national rate. In other words, state school teaching still represents one of the underpaid professions compared with plumbers, engineers and train
drivers. Perlov also warned that a general picture of the average
salary is rendered problematic by distinct regional differences
where an oil rich local government might beable to pay more
salaries in one region compared to a poor region in another.

              When a Russian teacher's salary is compared to a teacher from Finland, the news gets grimmer! The Finns earn more than
twice the income of Russian teachers.

              Livanov overlooks or avoids mentioning many issues which are on the minds of teachers, such as threatened redundancies, school closures, increasing red tape and worsening conditions brought about by an enforced austerity programme.

              Russia, while lavishly boosting its military budget , has slashed care in medicine and education. For instance in the Siberian
region of Altai, local utility company cut off the heat in many
kindergartens and schools because of debts. So students are
being allowed to study in freezing conditions (this is Siberia !)

              A recent survey by the Russian Presidential Academy of
National Economy and Public Administration found that as in  25 Russian regions cuts were being implemented in education and 11 regions were experiencing devastating cuts in medical care. All this austerity which is called 'Optimisation', 'Modernisation' , and 'improving effectiveness', is leading to lower not higher salaries as well as a rising ratio between teachers and pupils.


              What is worse, is that anyone opposing  such  policies by
attending a demonstration, going on strike or organising       opposition risks being daubed 'an enemy' or threatened with being hounded, fired and threatened with imprisonment.

              It is suffice to examine just one case where parents attempted to oppose the closure of their local school during a proposed merger. In the Medvezhgorsky region of Russia, the local
government closed down two schools ; one in the village of
Kosmozero, and another in Velikaya Niva. The children were
ordered to attend a new school in Velikoi Gubi. It takes almost
three hours for the children to get to this new school! In one school which came under the process of  'optimisation', at Lamassruchya, the majority of English teachers were fired leaving one English teacher to simultaneously teach 5th, 6th and 9th forms together. Any experienced teacher will tell you that cramming the students of different levels into one classroom is very ineffective. So much for improving efficiency! When one concerned parent proposed organising a protest movement against those changes, Galina
Averyanova was told, 'If there will be a boycott, you will be put
in prison for 15 days'. A local top official , Pankratov, phoned
up the local militia and the security services accusing the parents  of 'extremism'. He made the ludicrous claim that those parents were 'threatening the national security of the country'  as well as violating 'The  Law on Extremism'.

              Pankratov expresses a complete ignorance on how the
existing law defines extremism. He defines extremism as 'disagreement with the activity of government officials.'

              Such a definition would make it a crime to have, never
mind express, a different opinion.  Pankratov also threatened
parents who boycotted the new school they were expected to
attend on with being deprived of their parental 
rights. In other words, their children would be taken into care!

              Here lies a huge problem. The Russian state has inherited a
massively repressive state apparatus which often detained, arrested and hounded any form of opposition. This can still be used to stifle dissent of any kind. Even a form of mild and moderate protest might stir up a hysterical overreaction from some  unbalanced and aggressive officials.

              So the rosy, colourful and bright picture of an improving
education system presented by officials on the Day of Teachers is at most, wishful thinking. A lot of things have changed dramatically in the space of only two years. This is 2015, not 2013!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lewis Runs Again

Karen Lewis is Running Again for President of CTU
And Who Else?
By Jim Vail

CTU President Karen Lewis is running again.

Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, has announced her candidacy for re-election to the public recently.

I was watching a news show in which several journalists on TV were discussing Lewis's decision to run again. They were all in favor of the idea because she is a passionate fighter for public education.

And certainly somebody interesting to write about.

However, Lewis did not inform the CTU House of Delegates at our monthly meeting (I am a delegate for Hammond Elementary School) last week that she is indeed running again in May.

Lewis did this before when she announced to the media that she was endorsing Chuy Garcia for mayor before informing her delegates.

This took some of the delegates by surprise since we are used to going through a formal process of endorsement.

Lewis said she was personally endorsing Garcia for mayor, and then the delegates later voted for an official CTU endorsement.

It was a bit awkward during last week's delegates meeting when one trustee made his campaign speech to get elected to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund and mentioned that he wanted to congratulate Lewis for deciding to run for re-election.

There was a smattering of applause, but nothing of passion which Lewis usually garners being a highly respected and energetic leader.

The next question is who else will be on the ticket.

Some insiders have said it is not certain if Jesse Sharkey will run on the ticket again to be vice president, or if Kristine Mayle, the financial secretary, will run again.

Second City Teachers sent an email inquiry to Sharkey if he will run again. 

Sharkey was actually a second choice for VP when CORE first won. The CTU's staff coordinator Jackson Potter, who founded CORE, was originally on the ticket as VP, but the opposing party successfully challenged his candidacy and he had to drop out. 

Lewis, Sharkey, Mayle and Michael Brunson were elected in 2010 in an upset win over the United Progressive Caucus or UPC, and Marilyn Stewart.

Stewart helped break up the UPC when she had her VP Ted Dallas removed, thus generating an unprecedented five different candidates running for the union president. The split allowed CORE and UPC to be in a runoff, with CORE winning the endorsement of the other caucuses including PACT and Debbie Lynch, who came in third in the voting.

However, there is no talk so far about any opposition to Lewis for the union presidency.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Columbus the Monster

Why in God's Name Are We Celebrating Columbus Day?
By Jim Vail

The big question everyone should be asking is why are we celebrating Christopher Columbus Day?

It is an absolute travesty that the so-called explorer Christopher Columbus "discovered" America, when in fact the indigenous people were living here for thousands of years until this European bloodthirsty colonialist came to destroy their population.

Columbus immediately upon arrival enslaved the natives, treated them like workhorse animals and sex slaves, fed them to his dogs and cut off the hands of those who did not work hard enough. He slaughtered tens of thousands, beginning a process of ethnic cleansing across the continent.

When he demanded that the Lucayan people give him food and gold, and allow them to have sex with their women, and they refused, he ordered that their ears and noses be cut off to serve as a warning to others. 

And we celebrate this monster?

Columbus Day was established in the 1930s by the male-only Catholic organization known as the Knights of Columbus who wanted a male role model for their kids, so they pressured President Franklin Roosevelt to make Columbus a federal holiday, according to the website theoatmeal.com.

Many indigenous peoples of North America do not celebrate Columbus Day and cities are renaming Columbus Day as Indigenous People's Day. Those cities include Albuquerque, Seattle, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Berkeley, Portland, Lawrence, Santa Cruz and many cities in Oklahoma. Alaska, Hawaii, Washington and Oregon do not recognize Columbus Day.

So all social studies teachers out there, please teach the kids who Columbus really was. (I recommend showcasing the following website which a good power point presentation for the children: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/columbus_day)

And all activists and people of common sense, lobby our government to stop celebrating this war monster, and instead give this day back to the people from whom we stole their land.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Latest Contract Proposals

Report from the Bargaining Table
By Jim Vail

The Chicago Teachers Union leadership and the delegates appear ready to lead the next major city teachers strike when it was announced to be ready for a 'practice' strike vote at the next delegates meeting.

Financial secretary Kristine Mayle stated at this past week's House of Delegates meeting that the union needs to get 75% of all teachers to vote in favor of a strike. That means CTU members who are sick or did not vote will count as a no vote. The union made sure everyone in the buildings voted to authorize an impressive over 90% strike vote in 2012.

"We need to be well organized in our buildings," CTU VP Jesse Sharkey told the delegates. "We need to show the parents that well-funded schools is important."

Chicago Public Schools chief Forrest Claypool is threatening to lay off 5,000 teachers because of budget problems if the teachers do not make significant concessions. The union contends that the board is 'broke on purpose' by refusing to renegotiate toxic bank loans, stop issuing wasteful multi-millionaire dollar no-bid contracts or tax the wealthy.

According to Contract Bulletin #7 issued at the HOD meeting, bargaining between CTU and the Chicago Board of Education has been ongoing since Nov. 2014, but "little progress" has been made.

The Board's latest proposal is for a three-year contract with no more step or lane changes based on years of service and advanced degrees. No pay raise for the first two years, but a 1.5% raise the third year.

It also proposes that teachers pay 2% more into the pension the first and second year and 3% the third year, resulting in a 3 year 5.5% pay cut over the proposed three-year contract.

In addition the Board is seeking $50 million in cuts and premium increases to health care in year one, but no details on years two and three.

In terms of workplace rights, the Board has proposed to eliminate high school department chairs and replace them with teaching assistant principals (thus increasing bureaucracy), remove ability to appeal teacher evaluation ratings, eliminate ability to mediate or arbitrate employee discipline and even ban CTU field reps from the schools, delete minimum staffing provisions, such as the minimum number of teacher assistants and cadre substitutes which would could eliminate a lot of those positions, and add 8 two-hour meetings after school.  

That last one really raised my blood level - cut our salary over 5% over three years, but demand we work longer hours, with more administrators looking on, replacing teachers working with the students.

It appears both sides are digging in their trenches before an all-out war begins once again.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Teacher Work Action?

Being Prepared

Should teachers enact their own work stoppage to tell the board of ed enough is enough?

Forrest Claypool has threatened to lay off as many as 5,000 from CPS schools if the state does not come up with money for the public schools. Any additional cut would be outrageous, on top of the ones they’ve already gotten away with.

At the CORE convention last weekend, a leader in the caucus raised the idea that teachers need to be ready to respond forcefully, in the event that the Board follows through on its threat of a mass layoff in November. Another long-time CORE member followed up saying that unions, by accepting legal recognition in the 30’s, also accepted severe limitations on their power. One of these being that, as a rule, strikes are only “legal” when a contract is expired. 
The union is in negotiations with the Board – a negotiating process that is fixed, in management’s favor by SB7. According to the procedure laid out in that law, the teachers in Chicago may only strike after sitting through mediation, fact-finding and a “cooling off period.” Meanwhile, the Board has felt free to attack teachers – cutting Special Education and other services, threatening mass layoffs, probably to scare teachers into accepting a pay cut and/or hikes in healthcare.

If the Board does something outside of the old contract, the union can file an Unfair Labor Practice claim; if that claim is found in our favor, teachers can then strike – but only over the Board’s specific action. The problem with this is a.) it means teachers accept that the Labor Board gets to decide if and when teachers may act and b.) acting within these rules means waiting on legal rulings, which often take time – which again works in favor of the boss.

It doesn’t need to be this way. As the CORE teacher pointed out, at one point, nothing unions did was legal. In Washington State, teacher strikes are not “legally recognized” – the law doesn’t say when teachers can strike. Teachers in Washington were using a string of one-day walk-offs this spring, specifically because the school board’s would not be able to use an injunction against a one-day action. When teachers in Tacoma went on strike in fall of 2011, the school Board went to a judge and got a legal injunction to force them back to work. Teachers voted to stay out, and they soon won – they were fighting for a pay increase and transfer rights within the district. Emanuel threatened and tried to get an injunction early in the 2012 strike, but the judge, seeing that the strike would end soon, decided to defer, rather than grant him one. 

The Board is likely sabre rattling with its doomsday scenario of 5,000 layoffs – we’ve seen that before, with former Schools Chief Ron Huberman’s yearly “one billion dollar deficit” that would yearly end up a surplus. But if the Board does follow through and try to layoff 500 or 1,000 of us, we would have every reason to act, and forcefully, in a way that let Claypool and Emanuel know that we will not color within the lines, that we don’t accept a legal framework designed to stack the deck against us. A large protest may get attention – but will it be enough to back the board off?

When the United Federation of Teachers in New York City voted to strike in 1960, striking was illegal – striking teachers had to be fired. Only 10% of the City teachers went out on strike – but that was enough to disrupt the schools enough: they won collective bargaining and their first contract. Of course, things could turn out differently – there have certainly been other actions where teachers lost their jobs. But the point is that a forceful action, even in complete defiance of the law, can work in workers' favor. 

If the Board has a nasty surprise in store for us, we should be prepared. If we can have a big surprise for them, so much the better. We should talk about what we’re willing to do, together. Our students will ultimately benefit if we show we will use all available means to defend their education.  

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Moldova Protests!

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow) -- One billion Euros has vanished from the banking system in the Republic of Moldova. This money was a loan lent to the Moldovan government by European bankers. The loan was provided to assist Moldova's long shattered economy. This act of shamelessly cynical fraud amounts to a staggering one-eighth of Moldova's gross domestic product. This fraud has already resulted in a plummeting of the local currency of the leu, rising inflation and a further decline in living standards.

            As a result, for the past few weeks thousands of Moldovans have been demonstrating outside the Government building next to Pushkin park over the past few weeks. The growing anger and recurring demonstrations has inspired colourful comparisons with Maiden. Second city Teachers interviewed some Moldovans just back from Kishinev.

            Kishinev is a pleasantly well laid out city where the streets are lined with beautiful fir, maple and chestnut trees and lovers gather to meet before the huge statue of Stefan Cel Marie, who balefully guards the entrance to not only Pushkin park but the nearby state building. On a Sunday strollers leisurely walk arm in arm and sit down on benches around a beautiful gushing fountain blessed by a lavishly glowing sunshine. The relaxed and laid back atmosphere seems a far cry from Moscow's restless and remorseless bustle. Moldova seems a sleepy and sunny city. But not those past Sundays. A motley crowd of protesters have been gathering every Sunday to protest against 'corruption and fraud by oligarchs and bandits'.

            Those protesters are not just Romanian nationalists but encompass Russians, socialists, liberals and anarchists. So this is not an anti-Russian demonstration against an anti European government but a call for the state to give back the money they have stolen. In fact, the state is pro-European Union!

            The protests, mainly organised by the movement, 'Dignity and Justice ', are demanding the resignation of the president of Moldova, Nikolai Timofti, the firing of government head Valeri Streltso, immediate parliamentary elections to be held before March of next year and the return of the missing one billion Euros. Already approximately one hundred protesters have pitched down tents outside the parliament building. One representative, Valetin Dolganiuc, vows, "Our protest action will go on non-stop. People will go from here only when our demands are met'. Such fighting talk worries many observers that this could turn into another Maiden where implacable die-hard Romanian nationalists try to hijack the protest by turning it into an anti-Russian protest bent on a war with the nearby Russian republic. However, so far there have been no dramatic scuffles or pitched battles with the police. A lawyer, Andrei Nastase, stated, 'We want to protest entirely peacefully.

            'This is our fourth mass meeting and those meeting have already been very peaceful with a good atmosphere.'

            DEEP POVERTY

            Having previously spent 2 year stint in Moldova , I have found the Moldovans a largely mild, moderate and good natured people against war. They don't want another repeat of the war of 1992 where 'one brother fought against another'. Those were the words of a moderate Romanian nationalist.

            However, the fraud of one billion Euros is only the tip of the iceberg. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moldova has been plagued by poor development, trade, mass poverty and a huge emigration rate. The landlocked country of 3.6 million people is located between Moldova and Ukraine. As many as 75% of the population is Romanian while the rest are Russian, Ukrainian and other ethnic groups. Moldova a predominantly agricultural country, is famous for her wine as well as opera.

            However, Moldova is considered to be the poorest country in Europe. According to one recent survey 2015, by the United Nations Program for Development,  'Moldova is the fifth poorest country in the world.' Some surveys suggest a poverty rate as high as 80% of the population. Many families struggle to get by on a meagre 300 dollars a month. On top of this their wages are often eaten by rising housing bills as well as the austerity which the International Monetary Fund recommends governments  pursue.  But what does this poverty really mean?  A Russian school girl, Anna Chebotareva, who was visiting her grandmother noticed, 'Near her house I saw a bus carrying food for an awaiting crowd. The crowd lined up to be given some soup and sandwiches. Another thing which struck me is how all the main roads and streets in Kishinev are all cracked and is disrepair. It is as if the government is not repairing them'. The question immediately arises as to why those roads have not been fixed?  European aid programs provided the Moldovan government with 65 million Euros to develop the roads as well as 35 million Euros for education.

            When poverty strikes the door, a lot of Moldovans stop inviting even their friends to their homes because they feel they can't render their guests the hospitality they deserve. Moldovans are a notoriously proud, hospitable and generous people. They like to treat their guests well and shower people with presents.

            While I stayed in Moldova twenty years ago, two events stick in my mind. Once I was teaching in a Moldovan school but could not eat all the bread I had been given in the canteen. So I went outside and started feeding the birds. A Moldovan gypsy passing by went up to me and angrily shouted, 'Why are you wasting such precious bread?' and thrust open my hand and took the bread away.' I was taken a back. The second occasion arose when I had ordered a cheap meal in a cafe but forgot to buy a drink. So I left my food at the table to buy a drink. Just after I had left an old woman darted up to my meal and started greedily gobbling it up. Being rendered speechless, I left her to it.

            While living on a teacher's wage in Moldova I remember that I and a colleague lost a lot of weight. At that time the shops were practically devoid of food and the price of fruit and cheese at the market was too expensive.

            Why is Moldova so poor?  There are a multitude of reasons.

            Moldovan agriculture remains poorly developed and vulnerable to floods, droughts and tense trade wars with Russia where her wine was prohibited by Russia. Critics also point to its undeveloped industry, poorly trained and educated workers as well as a huge bureaucracy that dampens any new ideas and initiatives. However, the choice of economic policy makes a huge difference. When the Moldovans elected a Communist government which abandoned the austerity policies of past governments, poverty decreased substantially by 14.5% between 2002 and 2004.

            EDUCATION  HELPS

            How educated a person is can make a difference between how poor a person is. A survey of poor households in Moldova found that 'most of the poor individuals (41%) are living in households with a head with incomplete secondary or primary education'.

            Poverty analysts show that the education level is directly related to living standards of the individual head of the house. Those children who can't get access to education in higher educational institutions face higher risks of becoming poor. Many of those children who don't receive an education at school are gypsies who don't go to school to avoid the bullying, teasing and the bigotry of other children. However, one international aid program recommended that educational institutions provide free food as a way of attracting children from poor families.

            With such apparently insurmountable and entrenched poverty, low-paid jobs and little signs of improvement over 25 years, many Moldovans emigrate. Over 50% of the friends I had made in Moldova had either moved to America or Russia. As many as a quarter to a third of Moldovans are thought to live abroad.

            Once, while walking around Moscow, I bumped into an old Russian acquaintance, Sasha, who told me he had moved to live in Russia. I had not seen him for ten years! Dima Kuraev, a poet and author I had met in Moldova, had moved to Moscow where he had made a successful living as a scriptwriter. Another author, Yuri Tsvetkov, had landed a
job as a manager of a network of bookshops. While in Moldova he had been poor, but in Moscow he lived well. His friend, Alexander Kiosse, who spent years looking for a job as an airpilot had obtained a job on an airlines based in Moscow.

            This itself was a striking miracle which nobody expected!

            Of course, those are only the success stories. Other Moldovans are either discreetly selling fruit or wine in Moldova and finding basic survival a challenge.

            The questions remain, 'What is to be done to tackle this poverty and injustice in Moldova? Should it join the European Union or the Russian Union? As many as 43% of Moldovans favour good economic relations with Russia  and the vast majority of Moldovans don't want union with Romania. Why is this the case with the latter? Moldovans told me that when they were last united with Romania they were treated like second-class citizens. In other words, they were not regarded as 'real Romanians'. This attitude has not gone away entirely with time.

            I came across a young Romanian  student who scorned the Moldovans 'for not speaking proper Romanian.'

            WHAT CAN BE DONE?

            Three ways of reducing poverty would be to abandon the favoured policies of austerity which the European Union
espouses, develop a fully free and improved education system and maintain good relations between both Russia and Europe without forging any provocative and pointless military alliances. Moldovans deserve more than another bout of austerity and trade sanctions which needlessly disturb its wine trade.

            This summer Moldova experienced a terrible drought brought about by hardly any rainfall. The land hardened and the crops withered. Many people prayed to Elija the Prophet for some thunder so that it would rain. However, it only rained lightly for a few days. The Moldovans are still waiting to be blessed by the right rain.