More than 25,000 teachers went on strike Monday morning in Chicago, Illinois, shutting down the nation’s third largest school district.
Teachers marching through downtown Chicago
The strike—the first by Chicago teachers in 25 years—is a powerful expression of
mass opposition to the attack on teachers and public education by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat. It is part of a growing spirit of resistance in the working class nationally and internationally. On Monday, thousands of teachers participated in picketing, followed by a mass rally in the evening.
Only one day into the strike, the political issues have emerged with exceptional clarity. In their effort to defend their jobs and the public school system, the Chicago teachers have come into conflict not only with the mayor, but with the Obama administration and both big business parties. (See: “Striking teachers speak out in Chicago”)
Emanuel responded to the strike by denouncing the teachers with typical arrogance, declaring that they are engaged in a “strike of choice” that is “unnecessary.” For Emanuel and the Chicago political establishment, the strike is “unnecessary” because it challenges their demand that teachers accept merit pay and procedures to give school authorities a pretext to fire them, elements of a broader strategy to dismantle public education.
The national political implications of the struggle were made clear by the extraordinary intervention of the Republican Party. In the midst of an election season, in which hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on mutual mudslinging between the two parties, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney moved quickly to line up behind the Chicago school board and Mayor Emanuel.
Romney denounced the teachers for exercising their right to strike, saying that the strike “was one of the clearest examples” of the way in which “teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children.”
Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, was even more explicit in his support for Emanuel. “Rahm and I have not agreed on every issue or on a lot of issues,” he declared, “but Mayor Emanuel is right today in saying that this teachers’ union strike is unnecessary and wrong.” He added that “education reform is a bipartisan issue.” Read more