When the Chicago Teachers Turned the City Red

CTU members on the march in downtown Chicago (Sarah Ji | flickr)

That was the scene five years ago as more than 10,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union–wearing their signature red t-shirts–swarmed Chicago City Hall to kick off a nine-day strike. “There was a sprig of revolution in the air,” said a television reporter on the scene.

The momentum kept building. From impromptu picket-line rallies around the city greeted by honking supporters, to marches through working-class West Side and South Side neighborhoods, and another downtown protest, too, the cause of CTU teachers became that of everyone who wanted to defend public education in Chicago.

Nine days later, teachers agreed to a deal in which Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel dropped his main concessions demands. The CTU had won its first strike in 25 years–and organized labor scored one of its most important victories in decades.

Emanuel, who had campaigned on an explicit threat to take on the CTU, had canceled their raise after taking office in 2011 and tried to impose a longer school day without negotiations. His notorious comment to CTU President Karen Lewis in a private meeting summed up his attitude: “Fuck you, Lewis.” The mayor proceeded to use the 2012 contract talks to try to gut the union’s power.

He failed. “Mayor Rahm Emanuel had to agree to conditions that make it hard to fire some teachers who receive weak evaluations, and to limit some of the power of school principals to choose their staff,” the Wall Street Journal concluded.

Five years later, though, the CTU is facing some of the biggest battles in the union’s 80-year history.

From continued threats to pensions to the loss of membership as a result of school closings, charter school openings and declining enrollment, CTU members who defeated Emanuel in 2012 must now contend with the impact of repeated budget cuts and layoffs–as well as a right-wing Republican governor obsessed with cutting their pensions and crippling their union.

Added to this are the attacks on public school teachers everywhere, including policies pushed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as she attempts to convert public education into a profit machine for corporate school reformers.

Another looming threat: the Janus v. AFSCME case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could impose “right to work” policies on all public-sector unions, banning them from collecting fees from nonmembers the union is nevertheless required to represent.

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The Rise of the CORE Reformers

AS THE multipronged attack on teachers continues, it’s important to look back on the 2012 Chicago teachers strike for the lessons it provides today.

The central point is that union democracy, membership activism and community allies are essential to successful teacher union activism in this era. The strike was the culmination of efforts by the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE)–begun years before the caucus won office–to transform a sclerotic union and tap into its fighting traditions in order to mobilize members and win public support.

The conditions that gave rise to the CTU strike took shape in 1995, when its leaders acquiesced to state legislation on “school reform” that eliminated the union’s right to bargain over issues such as class sizes–and gave then-Mayor Richard M. Daley control of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

The first effort at reform came in 2001, when members fed up with a corrupt and dysfunctional CTU leadership reform slate won office in 2001. But the reformer, Deborah Lynch, was undercut by holdovers from the decades-long reign of the United Progress Caucus (UPC). Lynch oversold a contract that members thought was weak–and the reformers were voted out after one term.

But once back in office, the CTU old guard in the UPC continued to bow to politicians who rolled back union rights and sliced up the school system by opening, nonunion charter schools often run by their allies. The ruling caucus split over allegations of corruption, opening the way to a CORE victory.

While CORE drew in activists from the previous CTU reform efforts, it differed from them in important ways.

Many leading CORE activists had been involved in efforts against the closure of schools, collaborating with organizations such as the Kenwood-Oakwood Community Organization (KOCO) in the predominately African American South Side neighborhoods. Others worked with grassroots Latino groups such as the Pilsen Alliance, opposing the proliferation of charter schools run by the likes of UNO, a Mexican American-oriented nonprofit with heavy clout in City Hall.

These alliances were gathered together in the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM), which held a forum against school closures in 2009 that attracted 500 people in the midst of a blizzard.

CORE linked the school closures to institutional racism–a dynamic that deeply affected the CTU membership itself, with predominately African American teachers who worked in the schools losing their jobs and unable to get a position elsewhere in the system.

Another key focus for CORE was the Chicago bankers who continued to profit on high-interest school bonds even as the Great Recession drove interest rates to record lows. Many of the figures from Chicago financial powerhouses were central players in school reform, such as David Vitale, a banker who presided over a school board handpicked by the mayor.

Meanwhile, quite a few of the school-based members and leaders of CORE were open socialists. These politics make a great difference to the type of union that was now being shaped.

After CORE had surprising success at getting two members elected as union reps on the CTU pension board, the group decided to contest the 2010 union elections.

The CORE slate was reflective of the change the group wanted to bring to the union.

At its head was Karen Lewis, an African American woman and veteran teacher with top credentials, who was adept at voicing the demands of the CTU rank and file. The vice presidential candidate was Jesse Sharkey, a longtime labor activist and socialist who had gained prominence opposing a military-run charter school located in the high school where he taught.

Michael Brunson, an African American man active around school closings, ran for the recording secretary post. Kristine Mayle, a young special education teacher who became active to save her Latino-majority school from closure, was the candidate for financial secretary.

But where the CTU old guard viewed officers as the apex of a patronage machine to run the union and herd the membership, CORE saw the elections as an opportunity to advocate for a member-driven union, in which those in elected positions–from school delegates to the officers–would be committed to rank-and-file activism and accountable to members.

Thus, most of the CORE candidates for the union’s big executive board–a rubber stamp under the old guard–were already steeped in activism at their own schools or part of the wider fight to defend public education in Chicago.

Jackson Potter, a founder of CORE who was originally the caucus vice presidential candidate until the old guard challenged his eligibility on a technicality, summed up the approach this way: “We’re not going to do it for you, we’re doing to do it with you.”

The Chicago establishment was bemused by the CTU’s internal struggles. The notion of a militant, democratic union taking on City Hall seemed like nostalgia for Chicago’s storied labor wars rather than a serious threat. “The bosses downtown are rooting for the rookies to get them to a bargaining table and eat them alive,” wrote veteran TV news anchorman Walter Jacobson.

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The Road to the 2012 Strike

After its surprise victory in the spring of 2010, the CORE leadership launched a new organizing department and revamped the field representative system. A key part of the effort was to revive the union’s tradition of school delegates as the front line for contract enforcement.

A research department was also added, which was responsible for a groundbreaking union white paper, The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve, which advocated for fair education funding, equitable distribution of resources, workers’ job protections, union solidarity, community outreach and support of social services, all as related and interdependent.

There was a bit of breathing space as a result of the long transition at City Hall after Mayor Daley announced he wouldn’t seek reelection in 2010, all but handing the office over to Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel was a former operative in Bill Clinton’s White House, who had gone on to Congress after becoming a multimillionaire during a brief stint as an investment banker. He didn’t break a sweat in his 2011 run for mayor, but used the opportunity to spell out his agenda for “education reform”–which meant steamrollering the CTU.

Weeks before he formally took office, Emanuel orchestrated the passage of state school “reform” legislation–Senate Bill 7, which, among other things, requires the CTU to get a “yes” vote from 75 percent of all members to vote to authorize a strike.

Emanuel and his CPS chief, Jean-Claude Brizard, wasted no time in challenging the new CTU leadership, canceling a scheduled raise and attempting–unsuccessfully–to impose a longer school day without negotiation.

CTU members who had perhaps voted for CORE mainly to oust the old guard now realized that the new leadership was right: This was class warfare, and the union had better get ready to fight.

The summer of 2012 saw the CTU move into high gear, with an endless series of meetings and trainings. The Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign formed–in part as an outgrowth of the Chicago Occupy movement that had emerged a few months earlier.

The Occupy movement, with its focus on the 99 Percent vs. the 1 Percent, had enabled the CTU’s message to resonate with a new generation of activists less familiar with union issues. Plus, Occupy had emboldened a renewed open socialist presence in the unions in Chicago and beyond.

While the union prepared for a ground war, Karen Lewis provided air cover by countering Emanuel’s threats one after another on TV and print media. At a time when most labor leaders and politicians were knuckling under to the mayor or avoiding confrontation, Lewis and the CTU took a stand.

Still, the pundits scoffed at the CTU’s ability to strike. Unions in Chicago had long since been tamed, hadn’t they? Anyone close to the action could see that a showdown was inevitable. But Rahm Emanuel, taken in by his own tough-guy hype, didn’t see it coming.

Socialist Worker’s Alan Maass described the scene on the first day of the strike:

For anyone walking, biking or driving around the city on Monday morning, the message that came through loud and clear was from the proud picketers to be found every several blocks at the more than 600 schools where the CTU is on strike.

Teachers talked about the issues in their struggle with a sense of sober anger, reflecting the high stakes of this struggle. But there was also pride, energy and enthusiasm now that they were finally able to make their stand–especially after so many months of being the target of Emanuel’s sneers and smears.

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The Rahmpire Strikes Back

THE CTU strike had an impact in the labor movement across the U.S., and for good reason.

At a time when strikes were at a record low–and those that did take place were often provoked by bosses confident of victory–the Chicago teachers showed it was possible to take to the picket line and win. They prevailed, moreover, against Emanuel, a high-powered political adversary and nationally renown proponent of business-friendly school “reform.”

Not surprisingly, in the aftermath of the strike, the CTU became a focal point for teacher union reformers around the U.S., and helped establish a network that became known as UCORE.

Activists from that networks were important in a series of struggles, such as the Seattle teachers strike of 2015 and a revived reform grouping that won election in United Teachers Los Angeles. Official rhetoric in the CTU’s parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, and the larger National Education Association shifted somewhat to the left on issues of school “reform,” as well as race and class issues in public education.

Nevertheless, the CTU strike, while it helped spark teachers strikes in Chicago suburbs, did not signal decisive shift in the level of class struggle locally or nationally.

Strike levels remained at historically low levels as private-sector unions were pressed hard by industrial restructuring and public-sector unions faced the pressures of enormous public debt that resulted from the Great Recession. Anti-union legislation continued to advance, including the once-unthinkable imposition of right-to-work laws in Michigan, long a labor stronghold.

All this has added to the pressures on the CTU leadership. CORE officers now faced the same challenges that have dogged other union reformers who won office in recent decades: working to restore competence to ineffectual institutions without becoming bureaucratic and risk-averse.

Emanuel calculated that he could use these conditions to his advantage against the CTU without targeting the union contract directly. Just months after the strike settled, he announced some 50 school closures in predominately African American neighborhoods.

The union, legally barred from striking over such issues, launched a political campaign that linked up with parent and community activists. In this atmosphere, the CORE slate was re-elected against a weak old guard opposition.

Despite inspiring protests and long marches in the springtime heat, Emanuel succeeded in dealing a major blow to public education with his mass closures. It was a costly victory for him. Emanuel’s approval ratings started to slide, both because of the CTU’s continued challenges, but also the mayor’s wider failure to address the pressing needs of working people in Chicago.

But Chicago’s schoolchildren and the CTU had taken a blow as well.

The union’s turn toward electoralism was in part a reaction to being ineffective in stopping the school closings. It was in his context that CTU began to pour more resources into Democratic Party politics. While CORE’s platform was left wing, it did not address the issue of the CTU’s support for the Democratic Party.

The union endorsed incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in the 2014 election despite Quinn’s anti-union policies and his choice of Paul Vallas, the former Chicago schools CEO who engineered the union-bashing 1990s school reform plans, as a running mate.

In the event, Quinn was defeated by the right-wing near-billionaire, Republican Bruce Rauner.

Next came an effort to defeat Emanuel in his 2015 re-election effort. Karen Lewis herself began preparing to run against him until she was sidelined by a serious illness. The union then turned to a veteran politician, Jesus “Chuy” García, a onetime liberal state legislator who had become a member of the executive board of Cook County, which includes Chicago.

García’s supporters compared his campaign to that of Harold Washington, the city’s first African American mayor who won office in 1983. But García, a Washington ally, had come to back austerity measures that cut social spending as a member of the Cook County Board.

Lewis’s suggestion for CTU members to run themselves even when she could not encouraged several teachers to run for alderman positions–some as independents, some as Democrats. Sue Garza, a CTU stalwart and daughter of left-wing United Steelworkers leader Ed Sadlowski, won election as s Democrat in the city’s old steelmaking neighborhood. But the union’s main focus was on the mayor’s race.

García managed to force Emanuel into a humiliating runoff election. Yet by keeping the political debate centered on the supposed necessity for austerity, García undercut the CTU’s tax-the-rich message that had gotten traction during the 2012 strike. Instead of promising to deliver for the CTU and the rest of organized labor, he vowed to squeeze them.

“I’m going tell the unions a lot of bad news because the situation is so dire,” García said in a campaign debate with Emanuel. “Who’s going to be upset? Probably the unions who are supporting me now.”

If the CTU leaders who advocated for García had hoped his campaign would at least shift the political debate in the union’s direction, they were wrong. Instead, they had poured enormous resources into a candidate who, while more liberal then Emanuel, was a defender of the austerity status quo. And this took resources away from the kind of base-building and organizing that had made the 2012 strike victory possible.

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Facing Enemies in City Hall and Springfield

Emanuel won the election, but his air of invincibility was gone. His popularity plummeted a few months later following the November 2015 release of a video showing the police killing of an unarmed Black youth, Laquan McDonald. The CTU shifted back toward grassroots activism, endorsing and building protests against racist police violence that followed.

The CTU’s community alliances–and its focus on economic and racial justice–was on display a few months later when, on April 1, 2016, the union called a one-day strike despite CPS claims that the walkout was illegal. The action mobilized teachers to pressure CPS to drop its threats of budget cuts and to defend their pensions from attacks by Gov. Rauner.

The April 1 strike had an energy and dynamism that recalled the 2012 strike. But this time, the battle went well beyond the CTU’s particular issues. The union challenged Rauner in alliance with a range of unions, student groups, community organizations and left-wing activists who were opposing the governor’s refusal to fund basic social services by engineering a budget impasse.

The downtown rally that followed the strike action also highlighted the issue of police killings and racism, with a controversial anti-police comment from a Black Lives Matter protester. That linkage was criticized by some CTU members.

But highlighting the fight against racism was in keeping with CORE’s original perspective–that the CTU could not win simply through trade union bargaining, but had to be part of a wider social movement that mobilized working people.

The April 1 strike highlighted that potential by mobilizing 20,000 people in the streets, and striking school members held pickets in the morning and joined supporting actions at Chicago State University and at Nabisco, where workers were fighting a plant closing.

The triennial CTU elections had been scheduled for soon after the strike–but they were canceled because no opposition emerged to challenge the CORE slate.

Notably, Mayor Emanuel kept fairly quiet about the April 1 strike. Having lost substantial support among African American voters, he wasn’t eager for another high-profile confrontation.

He left the dirty work to schools CEO Forrest Claypool, a longtime political operative with no education background but a long record of inflicting pain on unions in the Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago Park District.

Claypool sought to undermine the contract won in 2012 at every opportunity. Union members suffered pay cuts in the form of furlough days while CPS effectively imposed a pay freeze. The schools CEO stonewalled on any serious contract negotiations, using the law to drag out the timeline for a legal CTU strike and forcing the union to work under an extension of the old deal for more than a year.

By September 2016, the CTU was gearing up for another strike, with a series of organizing meetings, a high-profile community support rally and thousands of picket signs prepared. The April 1 one-day strike had showed that if the CTU walked out again, the political context might be much less favorable for the mayor.

In the end, Emanuel blinked one year ago, pulling the concessions demands that had provoked the strike threat off the table at the last minute, in an offer calculated to concede just enough to avoid a repeat of 2012.

While the agreement fell short of what the union had demanded, the union had forced Emanuel to scour the city budget for more money for schools–something that had seemed unlikely going into the preparatory hours before a walkout. A majority of bargaining committee voted to accept the deal, averting a strike, and propose it to delegates for approval.

In the deal, Emanuel dropped his effort to eliminate automatic pay raises based on seniority and education–known as steps and lanes–and agreed to pay increases rather the effective pay cuts he’d demanded through a change in pension formulas. The union also won a longer period for teachers displaced through school closings to be rehired. After a series of sharp debates, delegates sent the agreement to the rank and file.

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Applying the Lessons of 2012

SINCE THE 2016 contract was signed, the CTU has been in trench warfare with Emanuel and CPS. Layoffs are chronic, cuts unending and school closings will soon be announced.

Yet Rauner’s hostility to the CTU is so intense and brazen that the mayor can–almost–seem like the good cop to the governor’s bad cop. While a legislative deal to enact a budget, passed over Rauner’s veto, will provide some relief for Chicago schools, separate legislation supported by the governor ties school funding to the introduction of voucher systems that would funnel tax money to religious and other private schools.

In this atmosphere, an opposition to the CTU leadership has developed in the form of the Members First caucus, which argues that the union’s focus on social justice issues has undermined its ability to deliver for teachers. This caucus is counting on cynicism and defeatism among members to build support for a more traditional bread-and-butter unionism.

CORE itself has been in the midst of an ongoing debate on various issues, from how to carry out contract enforcement to political strategy. And the CTU itself faces difficult choices on its budgets as the result of membership losses through school closings.

But as the CTU nears its 80th anniversary, it is important to remember that Chicago teachers have struggled through far more difficult challenges. It took four decades to create a unified union in 1937 in the midst of intense mobilization, during which teachers were paid in scrip as the schools were effectively bankrupt.

It was another three decades before the union had its first strike. It was no accident that this initial strike was a wildcat action by African American teachers radicalized by the Black Power movement and the Black school boycotts a few years earlier.

The influx of Black teachers into the union was a key factor in the CTU’s militancy, seen in nine strikes in 18 years in the 1970s and 1980s over budget cuts, payless paydays and other outrages.

The contribution of CORE and the 2012 strike–along with the one-day strike of 2016–was to revive that fighting tradition, while shedding the old guard’s business unionism. Some of the work is often slow-going, but crucial, like the CTU’s support for organizing charter school teachers and the proposed merger with their union.

Historically, Chicago teachers have won their biggest gains with the support of the wider working class in the city. The necessary day-to-day tasks of keeping the union effective in the schools–a sometimes thankless and frustrating effort–must be linked to a broader social movement and political strategy, independent of the Democrats, to revive organized labor. The role of the left from a variety of traditions has been critical in the CTU’s effort to revive as a fighting organization.

“We have borne some losses, but we were the counter to corporate education reform and the attempt to reduce social services, fighting the billionaires for the stability that all of us deserve,” said teacher and CTU executive board member Kimberly Goldbaum, noting that she and other socialists and radicals have continued to focus on those issues.

Today, facing not just Emanuel and Rauner but also the Trump administration, it will be more necessary than ever for the CTU–and all unions, for that matter–to anchor themselves in broader working class struggles.

The right is attempting to roll back decades of social progress. While Democrats like Emanuel may oppose some of that agenda, employers will not hesitate to use the anti-union onslaught to their own benefit.

The 2012 CTU strike showed how to fight back. It remains a model today.

Unite to Fight Right-Wing Terror


THE MASK has been ripped off the supposedly new “alt-right” movement to reveal the familiar and horrifying face of fascism that most people thought was a relic of history.

Last weekend’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, wasn’t about some fake defense of “free speech,” but championing a Confederate statue. It welcomed open Nazis into its ranks, who roamed the streets looking for people to assault–and ultimately committed a vehicle-terror attack against a crowd of peaceful protesters, killing 32-year-old local activist Heather Heyer and injuring several dozen others, many seriously.

The outraged response to Nazi terror in Charlottesville was immediate and powerful, with protests and vigils in hundreds of cities and denunciations of the violent racists coming from everywhere. Everywhere but Donald Trump’s White House, that is.

This is a decisive moment. “Will the overt displays of racism return the extreme right-wing to the margins of politics, or will they serve to normalize the movement, allowing it to weave itself deeper into the national conversation?” asked the New York Times.

The answer depends on what the millions of people who despise Donald Trump and want to stand against him and the right do in the coming weeks and months.

Now is the time to overcome the fear that the fascists want us to feel and organize demonstrations with overwhelming numbers–to stop this cancer now, before it can grow into something far more threatening. That means organizing broad protests open to everyone affected by this threat–which is just about everyone–to prove the far right is a tiny minority.

After the sickening violence of the storm troopers in Charlottesville, we know that the far right isn’t looking to gain power through winning votes, and they don’t care about approval ratings. We can’t defeat them by following the liberal advice to “just ignore them.”

If we don’t stop the far right today, they will stop us from organizing tomorrow–it’s that simple. This isn’t a battle that we chose, but it’s one we have to win.

Let’s also be clear that we can’t rely on the police to protect us from fascists or on the government to deny them permits. It’s up to all of us to defend our communities and our movements from the right.

If we’re successful, Charlottesville could be remembered as a turning point, not only in our fight against the right, but in our ability to organize for our own demands.

The International Socialist Organization is wholly committed to this urgent struggle, and we join with the call that has come from so many organizations and individuals since Charlottesville: for a united fight to confront and defeat fascism.

There will be flash points in the coming weeks, from Boston to Berkeley, but this fight needs to be taken into every city and town, into every community, onto every campus, and into every workplace. We appeal to all our supporters and the whole left to take this stand: Now is the time to unite and fight.

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THE MOST horrifying incident from Charlottesville last weekend was, of course, neo-Nazi James Fields’ terror attack, in which the Vanguard America member plowed his car into a contingent of marchers that included members of the International Socialist Organization, Democratic Socialists of America and Industrial Workers of the World, among others.

But the project of fascism is a lot larger than solitary terror strikes. They want to build an organization of disciplined thugs to systematically brutalize and intimidate the oppressed–a program that, as history shows, inevitably involves murder.

In this instance, it was James Fields who was the killer. But the Nazis and far-right “peacekeepers” who came heavily armed to Charlottesville were prepared to inflict violence on people of color, Jews and the left. They are more than willing to kill individuals in order to pave the way for their real aim–mass murder and genocide.

The real face of fascism was apparent throughout the weekend in Charlottesville: Hundreds of torch-wielding men, chanting “Blood and soil!” and assaulting counter-protesters; groups roaming the streets with weapons and shields, looking out especially for people of color like 20-year-old Deandre Harris to brutalize.

As ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson wrote, the far right in Charlottesville:

exhibited unprecedented organization and tactical savvy. Hundreds of racist activists converged on a park on Friday night, striding through the darkness in groups of five to 20 people. A handful of leaders with headsets and handheld radios gave orders as a pickup truck full of torches pulled up nearby. Within minutes, their numbers had swelled well into the hundreds. They quickly and efficiently formed a lengthy procession and begun marching, torches alight, through the campus of the University of Virginia.

The fascists in Charlottesville were confident. One smug little Nazi named Sean Patrick Nielsen bragged to the Washington Post, “I’m here because our republican values are, number one, standing up for local white identity, our identity is under threat, number two, free market, and number three, killing Jews.”

All of which made Donald Trump’s initial statement condemning violence “on many sides” all the more sickening to millions of people–and a cause for celebration for the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website.

This is another warning sign of the dangers of the current moment–with a Trump administration infested with far-right racists, from alt-right promoter Steve Bannon to Euro-fascist ally Sebastian Gorka to Confederacy enthusiast Jeff Sessions.

We shouldn’t have any illusions: The toxic combination of a far right that spans the range from open Nazis to people with access to key White House personnel produced the biggest show of force for American fascism in generations in Charlottesville.

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OUR SIDE has a powerful potential weapon to use against this growing threat: overwhelming numbers. The events of Charlottesville–not only the terror attack, but the Nazi flags, the torch-wielding march and the thuggish violence–horrified the vast majority of U.S. society.

From Saturday night through Monday, solidarity demonstrations were called in more than 400 cities across the country–an explosion of protest that recalled the days after Trump’s election last November.

Jason Kessler, the Charlottesville resident who initially called the Unite the Right rally, was chased from his own press conference by furious local residents. Statements poured in from across the country condemning white supremacy, domestic terrorism–and Trump’s weak response. The corporate media suddenly stopped referring to Richard Spencer and his pals as “alt-right” and called them the more accurate “white supremacists.”

Dozens of Republicans in Congress, who made their careers out of pandering to racism and reaction, rushed to condemn the Nazis and distance themselves from Trump–who was finally forced on Monday to explicitly condemn white supremacists.

Even then, though, it should be noted that Trump’s response to Charlottesville is to call for more “law and order”–a racist buzzword that means giving police and immigration authorities more unchecked power to detain and brutalize people of color.

The forces of “law and order” were all over the streets of Charlottesville–and they stood by as the orgy of right-wing violence took place.

Instead of appealing to the government to defend us, we have to build mass protests to defend ourselves and one another. The strategy of relying on small groups of anti-fascists to fight on behalf of the oppressed was shown to be insufficient in Charlottesville by the bigots’ large mobilization.

This is the moment to build united fronts with as many organizations as possible to confront the right–not only left-wing groups, but unions and civil rights organizations, down to every possible club on campuses.

In Portland, Oregon, this type of coalition brought out more than 1,000 people in June to confront hate groups that celebrated the racist murders of Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche.

We need more of this kind of organizing in the coming weeks when the far right descends on Boston on August 19, and throughout the school year as fascists like Richard Spencer attempt a provocative tour of campuses. The Movement for Black Lives has called a national day of action for August 19.

On August 27, the far right is planning an all-out mobilization in Berkeley, California, for a “No to a Marxist America” rally, where they will try to repeat their racist rampages of last spring. But anti-fascists have been preparing for weeks to send the message  that we will not retreat in the face of their violence and hate.

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AMID THE many condemnations of the far right in Charlottesville, there has been one distinctly false note coming from many political leaders: that these fascists are somehow “un-American.”

Violent racism has deep roots in this country, and terrorism in defense of the right’s twisted ideals is as American as white sheets and a swinging rope.

But fighting back against racist terror is also very much a part of U.S. history. Those who tell us to ignore the racists and they’ll go away are either ignorant of that–or they don’t want us to build movements against the far right because they instinctively sense that our movements won’t stop there.

This is the time to learn the history of previous generations who fought the KKK and the courageous struggle against fascism in Europe. And it’s time to come together in action to give ourselves the courage to confront the forces that want us to stay home.

Just as we’ve taken strength from the bravery shown by the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, we can take strength from the words of Heather Heyer’s mother about her daughter: “She would never back down from what she believed in. And that’s what she died doing, she died fighting for what she believed in.”

The threat of the right is growing, but it has to be faced and overcome in order to fight for any of our demands. One organizer in Columbus, Ohio, gave voice to the instinct for solidarity and struggle that has been felt around the country since Charlottesville:

When we started planning the Columbus airport protest [against Trump’s Muslim travel ban] in January, several right-wingers and Islamophobic scum started posting graphic photos of animals and people being run over by cars.

Their aim was clear: to bully and threaten, and make people scared to come out. For several hours late at night, we just kept taking those photos down. Hundreds and hundreds of people showed up anyway to fight the ban. We kept a look out for errant cars, but they didn’t show up. And so we became part of the historic airport actions that beat back the first version of the Muslim ban.

These fascists will try to silence us, they will try to intimidate us, they will try to make us feel afraid. But we are many, they are few.

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Upcoming Event: The Fight for a Socialist Future


Are you curious about the “S” word? You’re not alone. A number of recent polls show that young people (18-30) are more positive about socialism than they are about capitalism. And, of course, voters under the age of 30 turned out in droves to back Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, a few months ago. But what exactly is socialism? How do we get from here to there? And what role can student activists play?

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What did people want at the People’s Summit?


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(via SocialistWorker.org) 

“DO YOU want a revolution?”

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United (NNU), had barely finished asking her question when the audience–some 3,000 people at the opening plenary of the People’s Summit in Chicago last weekend–erupted into thunderous applause.

Convened by the NNU, the three-day conference aimed to bring together people and organizations involved in politics, particularly in the wake of the Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination–for discussions, as organizers put it, to facilitate “strategic organizing to build power” around a “principled, anti-corporate agenda.”

If the People’s Summit began with a bang, however, it finished on a less militant note. By the end of the conference on Sunday afternoon, with energy waning and participants beginning to scatter, DeMoro staked out a decidedly less revolutionary position.

“I know there are problems [with the Democratic Party], and I know many of you are thinking that the Democrats should get what they deserve [in the 2016 elections],” DeMoro said. “I get that. So I am not going to tell you to vote for Hillary Clinton. But I am going to tell you to vote against Trump.”

Voting against Trump, of course, is the main message of the Democratic Party and even the Hillary Clinton campaign itself–all along, Clinton has been looking forward to campaigning against whatever monster the Republicans nominated, rather than putting much positive forward. Thus, DeMoro is telling you to vote for Hillary Clinton. Continue reading

She won’t go back into the shadows


by Orlando Sepúlveda (via SocialistWorker.org

THE U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is retaliating against an outspoken undocumented immigrant activist–and she is fighting back.

In May, Nadia Sol Ireri Unzueta Carrasco was denied renewal of her status under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program because, according to the USCIS ombudsman, she “was arrested on May 29, 2013, after her initial DACA grant…She was charged with civil disobedience, resisting arrest, obstruction of traffic and reckless conduct…Ms. Unzueta’s case raised public safety concerns.”

The irony of Ireri’s case is that without her “civil disobedience, resisting arrest, obstruction of traffic and reckless conduct”–along with those of countless immigrant youth in the years leading up to the Obama administration finally acting in June 2012–there would be no DACA program in the first place. Unzueta Carrasco is now suing. Continue reading

The Sharp Edge of American Racism

Police in riot gear watch protesters in Ferguson, Mo. on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. On Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in the St. Louis suburb. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Police in riot gear watch protesters in Ferguson, Mo. on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. On Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in the St. Louis suburb. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (via www.socialistworker.org)

WHY THE issue of police brutality?

Police violence against Black people is not new. In 1951, a multiracial contingent of activists in the Civil Rights Congress raised the slogan “We charge genocide” to characterize the depth and consequences of police murder and the silent complicity of the state. The preamble of their petition read, in part:

There was a time when racist violence had its center in the South…Once most of the violence against Negroes occurred in the countryside, but that was before the Negro emigrations of the twenties and thirties. Now there is not a great American city from New York to Cleveland or Detroit, from Washington, the nation’s capital, to Chicago, from Memphis to Atlanta or Birmingham, from New Orleans to Los Angeles, that is not disgraced by the wanton killing of innocent Negroes.

It is no longer a sectional phenomenon. Once the classic method of lynching was the rope. Now it is the policeman’s bullet. To many an American the police are the government, certainly its most visible representative. We submit that the evidence suggests that the killing of Negroes has become police policy in the United States and that police policy is the most practical expression of government policy.

Today, there is no shortage of issues that Black people in this country could mobilize around. But police brutality remains the catalyst for Black protest because it is the clearest example of the compromised citizenship of Black people. When the police can approach you, search you, arrest you and even kill you with impunity, it means you don’t have first-class citizenship–you have second-class citizenship.

This second-class citizenship, and its sharp conflict with what the United States says about itself, is what drives the radicalization of young Black people and others who know it to be true. In other words, we as a nation are always told that this is the greatest country on earth. We believe in “American exceptionalism” and the promises of unfettered opportunity for anyone willing to work for it. We believe in the American Dream.

Just a few weeks ago Obama traveled to Cuba, where he said, “I believe that every person should be equal under the law…Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads…American democracy has given our people the opportunity to pursue their dreams and enjoy a high standard of living.”

Obama likes to tout his own story and rise as a product of America’s greatness, but what on earth do these words mean to the family of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by police within 1.6 seconds arriving on the scene. What does it mean when the cops who killed him will not face charges? Continue reading

How we dumped Trump


by Mario Cardenas (via SocialistWorker.org)

A MULTIRACIAL crowd representing people from all over Chicago turned out to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Pavilion on March 11 to tell Donald Trump his racist message isn’t welcome here–forcing him to cancel his rally and send his supporters home.

Socialist Worker was inside and outside the UIC pavilion to report on how racism and bigotry was successfully shut down in the Windy City.

Trump, currently the frontrunner for Republican presidential nomination, was scheduled to take the stage at 6 p.m. in front of a packed house on Friday night. But 30 minutes after it was supposed to start, a Trump representative walked to the podium and announced:

Mr. Trump just arrived in Chicago, and after meeting with law enforcement, has determined that for the safety of all of the tens of thousands of people that have gathered in and around the arena, tonight’s rally will be postponed to another date.

It was clear victory for protesters, as cheers went up throughout anti-Trump forces in the crowd, and a clear defeat for Trump supporters.

For almost five hours, the air was tense inside the pavilion as Trump supporters and activists that had gone inside the pavilion to protest waited for the event to start. Waves of violence, vulgarity and hate ebbed and flowed from Trump supporters to anti-Trump protesters.

This pro-wrestling-type spectacle seems to be the bread and butter of the Trump PR strategy, as he typically whips his crowd into frenzy against immigrants, Muslims and anti-Trump protesters themselves. According to people inside the venue, some Trump supporters ran around the arena wherever a protester was discovered to yell at them and flip them off. There were also supporters who turned out for the event in black party dresses, tailored suits, gold watches and designer shoes.

Others wore “Blue Lives Matter” buttons and whenever a row of police passed by, clapped and chanted “CPD! CPD!” (Chicago Police Department). The front rows were reserved for the wealthier supporters, and it was rumored that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had reserved a seat. In the upper decks, there were people sporting “All Lives Matter” T-shirts, military haircuts, Confederate garb and KKK patches.

At his rallies, Trump is fueling people’s fears and anger and directing it at easy scapegoats, like immigrants and Muslims. One Trump supporter complained, “My family is struggling for my son to go to college and he has an illegal friend who is getting a free ride. This society is not recognizing people who are struggling.”

For some attendees, this is a place where they can find an outlet for their racism and xenophobia. Trump has encouraged his supporters to physically attack any anti-Trump protesters that turn out to his events, and some people are turning up to his protests eager to do just that.

Trump’s security approached people inside the venue that they thought were protesters, usually non-white people, to ask their names and look them up on their smart phones. Officers from three police departments were also part of the security detail for the event.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

FOR PROTESTERS outside, the day began earlier that afternoon at the UIC campus quad, where hundreds turned out for a student-led speak-out, organized largely via social media, before marching to the UIC Pavilion.

The protest was organized very quickly, as the announcement of Trump’s event came just a week before the event. A UIC student started a MoveOn.org petition to get UIC to disinvite Trump that gained some traction. A collection of student groups and activists at UIC started a “Stop Trump” Facebook group and event that within 24 hours had thousands of people signing up to attend.

An opening organizing meeting on March 7 drew about 100 students representing groups such as the Muslim Student Association, College Democrats, the Black Student Union, student immigrant rights groups and Black Lives Matter activists among others, including members of Service Employees International Union Local 73.

Protesters developed an inside and an outside strategy for the Trump event, and over the course of the week, the numbers of people who wanted to come out and stand up to Trump ballooned.

On March 11, as news helicopters hovered above and traffic lanes were paralyzed, on the ground the crowd swelled to some 3,000 mostly young, multiracial and very animated anti-Trump activists. It was like a festival of solidarity as a broad spectrum of left and progressive organizations and many individuals who had never been to a protest before marched as one through the UIC campus and headed to the arena.

As people marched closer to UIC Pavilion, barricades and hundreds of Chicago, Cook County, and UIC police on foot, car and horseback separated the protesters from the people waiting in line to get in.

Chants of “Dump Trump!” accompanied the thousands of posters, banners, horn sections and even a mariachi band as the crowd surrounded the arena.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

WALKING THROUGH the crowd on Harrison Street was like seeing the different ethnicities of Chicago’s segregated neighborhoods come together, with protesters carrying signs in Spanish, Arabic and English. There were groups of queer activists, Black Lives Matter activists, Latino Sanders supporters, anarchists, socialists, artists, workers and professionals–all of them gathered to shut down Trump.

A young couple holding hands, Diego and Caroline, were among them. “This is the first time coming out [to a protest]. We were debating to come out or to go support Bernie,” Diego said, referring to the fact that Sanders had a campaign event the same day. “But we decided to come over…we want to stand together in solidarity against Trump, no matter what he says.”

An overwhelming number of people supported the Bernie Sanders campaign. Sandra Puebla, a student at Dominican University, proudly pasted a “Unidos con Bernie” (United with Bernie) sticker on her sweater and proclaimed, “[Sanders] is bringing up issues that aren’t usually brought up. He’s spoken about the importance of Black Lives Matter movement, xenophobia, and that’s not something Democrats usually talk about. Even if he doesn’t win he’s still impacting the election.”

Others didn’t affiliate with any presidential candidate, but stood firmly against Trump. “Trump needs to be stopped,” said 20-year-old Madeline Frankie, who goes to school in Pittsburgh and was home for spring break. Talking about the racism of the Trump campaign, she added, “It’s disgusting. We’re all humans, we’re all people.”

Contrary to Trump’s lies that his event was disrupted by “professional agitators,” Jacob, a 20-year-old holding a sign that read “#DumpTrump,” explained, “This is honestly my first protest. It was shared on Facebook. UIC students have been talking about it a lot on campus, and one of my friends in class shared it with me and I shared it with all my friends and now they’re all here with me.”

Next to him, 20-year-old Ashley from the Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen expressed her anger: “I’m Mexican and when Trump made his statements about how we’re all rapists and criminals, that really hit close to my heart because a lot of my family is undocumented. They are amazing hard workers. Trump is wrong–not all Mexicans are rapists, not all Muslims are terrorists.”

She added, “My first protests was in 2012 for Trayvon Martin, and since then I’ve been politically active.”

This new youth radicalization is thirsty for multiracial unity and while organizations still need to be built, the desire for solidarity is strong. Twenty-three-year-old Alex Wiggins from Chicago’s South Side encapsulated the anger:

Honestly I don’t fuck with Donald Trump, I don’t believe in his motivations. I have a lot of Mexican friends, and I’m African American. He’s trying to make America white again; I don’t think America is white. It’s a melting pot, isn’t it? I think it was made for all of us. My people died for this country, we may have been forced, but our blood is on this land. Mexican blood, Native American blood is on this land.

This is our country, and we’re not going to let money run it. We’re not going to let the top 1 Percent take everything. My father is almost 70–there was a time when he was young, when a man could work 40 hours a week and support his family, send his kids to college, spend time with his kids. Now people working 70 hours a week can’t raise their kids.

In turn, their kids are on the street and now we’re getting violence, we’re getting poverty. And people like Donald Trump have never been anywhere close to anything like that. They don’t understand what it’s like to walk into a store and be judged or even walk into a classroom and be judged. So that’s why I’m out here.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE ONLY way to stop the right is to directly shut them down with mass actions that unite people against their racism.

The vile celebrations of hate at Trump rallies have recently drawn protests at nearly every campaign stop, with activists going inside the events to hold up banners and disrupt the event. These incidents are so commonplace that Trump now begins his rallies by instructing the crowd to deal with disrupters by chanting “Trump!” to draw attention of security.

Trump has also condoned his supporters physically attacking protesters on multiple occasions, including at a recent North Carolina rally where a protester was punched by a Trump supporter. Trump sanctioned this action by offering to pay the assailant’s legal fees.

Chicago protesters expressed the sentiments of many anti-racists across the country and demonstrated that Trump and racists of his ilk can actually be shut down. At the rally, the workers and students of Chicago–Black, Latin@, Arab, Asian and white–did what few in the Democratic or Republican Party establishments or the media have done: tackle his bigotry head on. The right-wing demagogue who prides himself on never backing down was humbled not by a witty retort in a debate, a slick social media campaign, or even an elaborate set-piece direct action–but by the thousands of Chicagoans who turned out to oppose him.

Days before the rally, the Chicago Tribune ran the headline, “Trump to face protest by Latino Leaders,” claiming that “Latino elected officials and leaders said Monday they are organizing a protest to counter…Donald Trump’s appearance.” In a classic display of opportunism, Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Alderman Danny Solis held press conferences in an effort to gain political points for the Democrats.

However, it wasn’t the elected officials, but thousands of ordinary Chicagoans who gathered and marched on Trump, pushed police lines back and took the streets. Hundreds more protested inside the UIC pavilion and, through sheer force of numbers, forced Trump out of their city.

The strategy used by protesters inside the arena was effective through both the magnitude of participants and quality of organization. The activists inside didn’t act at random to avoid being picked off one by one but were disciplined so as not to be provoked and determined to act together.

As the radical historian Howard Zinn once wrote, if you’re going to disrupt a right-wing rally, “do it with 2,000 people.” While the protesters inside were decisive in canceling the event, the large, highly visible mass march outside was equally important in sending a message to the people of Chicago and beyond that racism and bigotry aren’t welcome in our city. While Democratic politicians stand up against racism or homophobia only when it’s politically convenient for them, it was the masses of Chicago who sent a message to Trump this time: You’re fired.

In the aftermath, the media described the protests as “violent clashes.” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who was also in the Chicago area campaigning on the day of the protest, weighed in, decrying the “violence” of both sides and making a bizarre comparison to the racist mass shooting by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina.

In reality, peaceful protesters were attacked by mobs of angry Trump supporters when they learned the event was canceled. This has been–unsurprisingly–underreported by the corporate media, as was the fact that a number of protesters were beaten by the police and arrested.

At the same time, Trump has whined about his “freedom of speech” being violated. The fact that Trump can run for president with his inherited millions and buy a pulpit where his every word is carried by new stations as though his views automatically have merit, however, is a violation of the freedom of speech of the thousands upon thousands of working people who he targets with this scapegoating.

The protesters in Chicago didn’t ask the state to interfere by the restricting his speech. Instead we drowned out his hate ourselves with the power of our collective voices. Protests like that of Chicago are what are required to build a movement against racist scapegoating, endless war, border walls and deportations, no matter which political party–Republican or Democrat–is at fault.

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How can Chicago teachers win again?

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 10:  Thousands of Chicago public school teachers and their supporters march through the Loop and in front of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) headquarters on September 10, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. More than 26,000 teachers and support staff hit the picket lines this morning after the Chicago Teachers Union failed to reach an agreement with the city on compensation, benefits and job security. With about 350,000 students, the Chicago school district is the third largest in the United States.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

by Lee Sustar (via SocialistWorker.org)

THREE YEARS after their strike defeated an attempt to gut their contract and further entrench the corporate education deform agenda in city schools, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members could soon be walking the picket lines again.

Like last time, a Democratic mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is poised to cut jobs and pay and gut classroom resources. But now they face a Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, who is seeking to crush the union outright.

CTU members–who in December voted by an overwhelming 88 percent margin to authorize a strike–vowed to walk out as early as April 1 if Chicago Public Schools (CPS) unilaterally pushed more pension costs onto teachers.

CPS backed off its threat–for now–after the union began preparing for an unfair labor practices strike. But the school board claims that unless the CTU makes major concessions, it will be compelled to take this step as a result of a budget deadlock in the state legislature, a squeeze on Chicago city finances and a long-running fiscal crisis at CPS itself.

The CTU–which is still planning protests for a day of action on April 1–counters that CPS is “broke on purpose.” The union points out that the district began the current school year with a $1 billion deficit as a result of the decades-long tax dodge by big business; a push for expensive, nonunion charter schools; and high-interest loans to CPS that benefit the big banks at the expense of kids. If CPS unilaterally imposes higher pension costs on workers, the CTU has stated that it will invoke its right to strike against an unfair labor practice.

A strike over a new contract could still come this spring or in the fall if no agreement is reached. The CTU has been working under an extension of the old contract, which expired in June 2015.

Emanuel and Rauner–whatever their own differences–are both targeting the CTU, presenting the union with one of the greatest challenges in the organization’s 79-year history.

Even so, the CTU can still prevail if it builds on the public support it won in the 2012 strike to lead a wider labor-community fight against sweeping budget cuts in education and across the public sector–this time making the fight against racism and inequality even more prominent. A solidarity meeting for the CTU, set for March 9, will focus on many of those themes.

With Emanuel still reeling from the disclosure of a video showing the 2014 police murder of Laquan McDonald and Rauner saddled with popularity ratings that show a majority of Illinois voters disapprove of him, the CTU can rally popular support behind a program of challenging austerity and taxing the wealthy to pay for schools and social services.  Continue reading

Super Doomsday?


by Danny Katch (via Socialist Worker)

THE BIG winners of the dozen Super Tuesday primary contests on March 1 were the two frontrunners for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations–but for the Democrats, that meant the status quo triumphed, while for the Republicans, it was more the status what-the-f%$k.

On the Republican side, billionaire reality TV star Donald Trump won most of the primaries and continued to build his early lead in the delegate count for the GOP convention. But his main challengers, Tea Partyier Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, increasingly the anybody-but-Trump consensus candidate for party leaders, both took a state or two to keep their hopes alive.

For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton, the anointed candidate of the party establishment, swept to big victories in the Southern-centric Super Tuesday voting, though her democratic socialist challenger Bernie Sanders did well to win four state contests, based once again on support among young voters.

Nevertheless, with victories in Nevada and South Carolina before Super Tuesday, Clinton has regained her status as prohibitive frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. On the Republican side, though, there’s much less certainty. Here are some observations on the meaning of the biggest day of elections on the primary calendar.

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