Elizabeth Warren Says Make the Rich Pay for Striking Chicago Teachers’ Demands

Jeff Schuhrke October 22, 2019

Elizabeth Warren gave Chicago teachers a big boost in their fight against Mayor Lori Lightfoot. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Chica­go pub­lic school teach­ers and sup­port staff — on strike since Octo­ber 17 for small­er class sizes and improved ser­vices for stu­dents — received a boost Tues­day when they were joined on the pick­et lines by Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Eliz­a­beth Warren.

The Mass­a­chu­setts sen­a­tor joined strik­ers with the Chica­go Teach­ers Union (CTU) and SEIU Local 73 out­side Oscar DePriest Ele­men­tary in the Austin neigh­bor­hood on the city’s West Side. The CTU and SEIU are out on strike for our chil­dren. They’re out on strike for work­ing peo­ple every­where,” War­ren, who was once a pub­lic school teacher her­self, told reporters. I’m here to stand with every one of the peo­ple who stand for our chil­dren every day.”

Warren’s vis­it comes as talks between the unions and the city appear to have bro­ken down. On Mon­day, May­or Lori Light­foot wrote an open let­ter to CTU pres­i­dent Jesse Sharkey, call­ing on the union to end the strike with­out a con­tract as nego­ti­a­tions con­tin­ue — essen­tial­ly telling the teach­ers to sur­ren­der their only lever­age at the bar­gain­ing table.

We are like­ly not going to see a quick set­tle­ment to the ongo­ing strike,” Sharkey said at a press con­fer­ence after receiv­ing the mayor’s let­ter. I came in today with raised expec­ta­tions and hope, but the let­ter I received today dashed my hope for a quick settlement.”

At the same time, 7,500 Chica­go Pub­lic Schools (CPS) sup­port staff with SEIU Local 73 — who have also been on strike since Octo­ber 17 — had their first bar­gain­ing ses­sion with the city since the work stop­page began on Mon­day. These work­ers include cus­to­di­ans, bus aides, spe­cial edu­ca­tion class­room assis­tants, and secu­ri­ty guards mak­ing less than $35,000 a year. The bar­gain­ing ses­sion last­ed only 12 min­utes before city nego­tia­tors walked away with­out bring­ing for­ward any new pro­pos­als, accord­ing to SEIU Local 73.

On the cam­paign trail ear­li­er this year, Light­foot promised that as may­or she would pro­vide each school with basic edu­ca­tion­al sup­port posi­tions like librar­i­ans, nurs­es and social work­ers.” As the CTU demands she make good on this promise in con­tract nego­ti­a­tions, Light­foot now says there is no more money.”

Mean­while, the city recent­ly approved a $1.6 bil­lion pub­lic sub­sidy to pri­vate devel­op­er Ster­ling Bay for a new com­mer­cial devel­op­ment in the wealthy Lin­coln Park neigh­bor­hood and is also mov­ing for­ward with plans to build a new $95 mil­lion police acad­e­my. The city also recent­ly approved a $33 mil­lion plan to put more police offi­cers in pub­lic schools.

We need to ask those at the very top to pitch in a lit­tle more so that we can actu­al­ly make the invest­ments in every sin­gle child in this coun­try,” War­ren said at the rally.

Warren’s vis­it fol­lows that of fel­low Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Bernie Sanders, who came to Chica­go last month to lead a sol­i­dar­i­ty ral­ly with CTU mem­bers as they vot­ed to autho­rize the strike. At that ral­ly, Sanders said, For the last 45 years there has been a war in this coun­try by the cor­po­rate elite against the work­ing class of our nation. The only way to win pros­per­i­ty for work­ing peo­ple is when we sig­nif­i­cant­ly increase mem­ber­ship in trade unions all across America.” 

Sev­er­al oth­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­tenders have shown sol­i­dar­i­ty with the CTU and SEIU Local 73, includ­ing Kamala Har­ris, Julián Cas­tro, and Joe Biden. Cory Book­er met with strik­ing teach­ers last Friday.

So far, no 2020 can­di­date has pub­licly expressed sup­port for May­or Light­foot in the labor dis­pute, while more Chicagoans approve of the strike than oppose it. Mean­while, sev­er­al of Chicago’s pro­gres­sive politi­cians have sided with the unions, includ­ing the six demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ists on the City Council.

CPS teach­ers and staff are giv­ing their all out on the pick­et lines to fight for jus­tice in our schools, so we have to give them our all in sup­port,” said Alder­woman Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, a mem­ber of Chica­go Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca who was elect­ed ear­li­er this year.

Rodriguez-Sanchez and the city’s oth­er social­ist alder­peo­ple have been work­ing with Chica­go DSA and Chica­go Jobs with Jus­tice to serve thou­sands of free meals to CPS stu­dents and strik­ers through Bread for Ed,” a sol­i­dar­i­ty ini­tia­tive that raised over $30,000 for food in one week.

This strike is about win­ning pub­lic schools that serve Chica­go stu­dents’ and par­ents’ needs, and a Chica­go that’s for the work­ing class — not the rich and pow­er­ful,” explained Will Bloom, Chica­go DSA secretary.

Every­one in Amer­i­ca should sup­port you in this strike,” War­ren told the CTU and SEIU pick­eters. You don’t just fight for your­selves, you fight for the chil­dren of this city and the chil­dren of this country.”

Jeff Schuhrke has been a Work­ing In These Times con­trib­u­tor since 2013. He has a Ph.D. in His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Chica­go and a Master’s in Labor Stud­ies from UMass Amherst. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @JeffSchuhrke

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