Labor

Chicago Teachers Launch One-Day Strike to Protest Funding Cuts, but It's Much Bigger Than Just a Contract Fight

"We are dying the death of a thousand cuts," said Teachers Union president Karen Lewis.

Photo Credit: Aaron Cynic

The Chicago Teachers Union is staging a full “day of action” on Friday, during which they’ll walk off the job to draw attention to their contract fight with Chicago Public Schools and other school budget problems.

“We are dying the death of a thousand cuts,” Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said during a press conference announcing the one-day walkout.

But Chicago teachers and other schools employees who choose to walk off the job today won’t be the only ones marching in the streets. Labor organizations, community groups and activists have planned some two-dozen actions citywide for the day to not only show solidarity with the CTU, but highlight the intersectionality between the resource starved district, the state budget crisis and other issues affecting Chicagoans, particularly communities of color.

“This fight is for funding,” says Angel Mitchell, a McDonald’s employee with the Fight For 15 movement who will be participating in Friday’s actions. “It doesn’t matter if I were a teacher or fast food worker. The city is in a funding crisis and that effects every manner of work.”

Fast food workers with Fight For 15 plan to hold several pickets at McDonald’s locations near CPS schools that will also have pickets. According to organizers, some 51 percent of fast food workers rely on some form of public aid to supplement low wages. They say that if they were paid fair wages by large corporations that rake in billions in profits each year, that money could be used elsewhere.

“The $368 million the state puts towards public assistance could be put towards public schools,” Mitchell, a former CPS student who has several relatives that are retired teachers, said. “CPS can be great but the truth is we need resources.”

Labor organizations are far from the only groups with a stake in today's actions. “This economic issue is a racial issue,” Maximillian Boykin of Black Youth Project 100 said at a press conference last week. The group is planning a rally and teach-in at the financially beleaguered Chicago State University,which sent layoff notices to all its employees in February. Boykin said the state's budget problems disproportionately hurt people of color:

“Throughout this state we have seen them take away things from our black communities...We have seen them raise money for police officers and take money away from schools...We know that educators are going to help us get free. Adding more money to the police department does not make us better. Adding more money to educators, schools and not have my friends at Chicago State University have to fight every day to keep their school open is not right.”

Both CPS and the CTU have argued that funding for schools from Springfield is disproportionally not in their favor, and the now 10-month-long Illinois budget impasse has exasperated that. While Gov. Bruce Rauner has argued for bankruptcy as a solution to CPS’s fiscal problems, the CTU and allied groups have long said he and other officials have completely ignored revenue solutions to solve the problem.

Amisha Patel, Executive Director of the Grassroots Collaborative, says that the lack of revenue options—including the state’s current flat tax—has had a negative impact:

“Almost every state neighboring Illinois taxes the wealthy at higher rates than we do. What this means is that there are billions not coming into our state directly needed for preventing homelessness, for immigrant services, higher education, child care and more. All of this is a choice the governor continues to make. He continues to protect wealthy and the banks rather than to make sure working families have the resources and programs they need.”

Earlier this week, the group released a short video showing their view of why the state budget crisis has continued:

Rauner has said he won’t consider revenue options until Springfield lawmakers sign on to his “Turnaround agenda,” which critics have said has effectively created a hostage situation. By focusing solely on cuts without revenue options, social services have suffered.

Patel says that Friday's action is also about movement building between these groups, which oftentimes has been separate.

“This is about showing the connections between all of these fights,” she said. “The longer we don’t have a budget has a direct effect on black students trying to get their college education. There’s a direct connection between money spent on deportations and raids of undocmented citizens in that it’s money that isn’t going to fund criticial services or education that communities need.”

This story originally appeared at Chicagoist.

 

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Aaron Cynic is a zine writer, internet radio host, blogger, musician, and project organizer from Chicago.