It’s impossible to exaggerate the national importance of the teachers’ struggle in Chicago. If the Chicago teachers’ union — 26,000 members strong — goes on strike, many critical yet ignored political issues will go into the national spotlight, exposing nastiness that many politicians and labor leaders would like ignored until after the presidential elections.
Such a strike would also have the potential to rejuvenate U.S. labor unions by showing them a way out of the never ending wage and benefit concessions demanded by private and public employers. In fact, the Chicago teachers have the potential to become the most important labor struggle in decades, based on the timing, political context, and national relevance of their fight.
U.S. labor unions are in the fight of their lives, especially in the public sector, where their existence literally hangs in the balance. Constant city, state, and federal budget deficits — largely the result of multiple tax breaks for corporations and the rich — have been used as excuses to attack the wages and benefits of public employees, drastically weakening their unions to the point where “ending collective bargaining” is fast becoming a likely outcome.
Teachers are the strongest sector of public employees, based on their numbers, cohesiveness, and ties to the community. Thus, teachers have been directly targeted via budget cuts and Obama’s “Race to the Top” Education policy, which blames “bad teachers” (and the unions that protect them) for poorly performing students, while conveniently ignoring the more obvious predictors of poverty and the constant defunding of public education.
The education policies of President Obama and the Democrats will be put on trial if a strike takes place, since the Chicago teachers are fighting against the Democratic Mayor — Obama’s former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel — who is most urgently implementing the Democrat’s so-called “Race to the Top” education reforms — an education program that aims to privatize public education while decapitating teachers’ unions.
Race to the Top forces money-hungry states to compete for a measly $4 billion of federal money. The winners are those states that inflict the most self-harm by firing “bad” teachers and closing “failing” schools. Obama is accomplishing more in one campaign than the anti-public education right wing has accomplished in decades.
Race to the Top encourages the closing of neighborhood public schools and opening up across town private charter schools, where the rich will have access to all the amenities offered at public schools while the poor will be warehoused in a drab environment lacking resources — without sports and other extracurricular activities, no art or music, no counseling or psychological services, etc. Obama’s Race to the Top envisions education “reform” to mirror free market ideology, where services once deemed essential are now to be sold as commodities to those who can afford them.
The Chicago Teachers Union website discussed the possibility of a strike and explained its national implications. Aside from the many demands on their wages and benefits, “teachers are concerned about the Board’s plan to close over 100 neighborhood schools and create a half public-half charter school district.”
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis explains:
Whenever our students perform well on tests, [Chicago Public School] moves the bar higher, tells them they are failures and blames their teachers. Now they want to privatize public education and further disrupt our neighborhoods. We’ve seen public housing shut down, public health clinics, public libraries and now public schools. There is an attack on public institutions, many of which serve low-income and working-class families.
Lewis has correctly made the link behind the attack on the teachers and the national attack on working people in general a key aspect of the Chicago teachers’ campaign.
Behind the Democrat and Republican war on “bad teachers” is a war on labor unions. It seems that the only solution being offered to the so-called “bad teacher” problem is the complete undermining of unions: the Democrats want to make firing teachers easier and make them work for “merit pay,” two poisons for working people.
Unions are strong because members are united. This is done, in part, by making pay raises equitable, to prevent both discrimination and the employer from dividing the union. Unions believe that all members who are capable of doing the work should get pay raises based on their work experience. Merit pay is a right-wing device aimed at this bedrock principle of unionism, to prevent most teachers from getting any pay raises while dividing the workplace against itself by giving wage hikes to those who are least active in the union and denying them to teachers who are strong union supporters and critical of management.
Behind the Democrat’s urge to “fire bad teachers” is a deeper assault on unions. Labor unions cannot exist as a fighting force to defend the membership without seniority rights, which protect older workers with higher salaries and minorities from being targeted and fired, and similarly protect union activists. If an employer can easily fire a worker, it will always be an older worker or “trouble making” union activist.
Teachers’ unions are aware of these union-specific threats; they’ve been fighting against Republicans for years who have been trying to implement them. But now the Democrats have adopted the Republicans’ anti-union policies, and many teachers’ unions have been paralyzed as a result.
Although the national teacher unions have voiced their support for the Chicago teachers, they are also actively campaigning for President Obama, the architect behind the anti-union crusade that aims to crush the Chicago teachers. This blatant hypocrisy is just one reason why the Chicago teachers will have to shake up the labor movement.
National union leaders have failed to put forth a vision to inspire the labor movement. The decades-long friendship with the Democrats has soured as the Democrats have adopted long-standing Republican attitudes to unions: Democratic governors across the country have attacked public employee unions in tandem with Obama’s anti-union Race to the Top education policy. Because unions are strongest in the public sector, these policies amount to a planned decapitation of the labor movement.
Instead of waging a relentless battle against these Democrat-inspired attacks, most unions have made giant concessions in the form of wages and benefits, thus undermining the confidence their members have in their union. Most union leaders have chosen not even to discuss this deadly assault on unions because it is coming from the Democrats. The Chicago teachers are saying “no more,” and exposing the Democrats in the process.
If the strike occurs and becomes a powerful, city-stopping movement like Wisconsin before it, the November presidential elections will have a new significance. Democrats and Republicans alike will be forced to pick sides: both will choose against the teachers.
It will be made clear to millions of people that the Democrats and Republicans share identical views on public education and labor unions — they both want them destroyed.
Most importantly, the very labor unions who are wasting their members’ dues money by giving it to the Obama campaign will have to choose sides too; hopefully many of them will take a break from phone banking and door knocking for Obama to hold Chicago solidarity rallies in their own cities to give extra energy to the struggle.
Ultimately, the Chicago teachers’ struggle will set a nationally powerful precedent. If the teachers win through militant struggle, unions everywhere will be inspired to copy their tactics and organize their communities and members alike towards common social goals, fighting hand in hand. However, if the union loses, the opposing side will be galvanized at labor’s expense, and the downhill slide for labor will continue, dragging down the wages and benefits of non-union members in the process.
One key lesson from this experience is that labor unions can be transformed relatively quickly. A small group of union activists within the Chicago teachers’ union — the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) — were organized in order to make their union stronger, and were elected by the membership to lead the union. In a few years time CORE has transformed the union into a strong, fighting organization, capable of defending its members’ wages and the community’s schools. The union has reached out to the community and explained the perils of charter schools in order to draw the community into the struggle. This has laid the foundation for encouraging the community to participate in the picket lines and large support rallies so that the teachers are not isolated but have the obvious support of the public. Many in organized labor have watched the transformation take place and are learning from it. The Chicago teachers are educating the whole labor movement on the real meaning of unionism.
We are only days away from the showdown.
Israel has threatened to demolish a Bedouin encampment in the West Bank that contains a school, claiming that the community was built without appropriate permits and was hindering the development of new Israeli settlements.
The Khan Al-Ahmar elementary school was built in 2009 with the help of local and international humanitarian groups. The clay-and-tires structure employed 11 teachers, and instructed students belonging to some five neighboring Jahalin Bedouin tribes. Israeli authorities have issued a demolition order, claiming that the encampment containing the school was built illegally.
Demolishing the school would force the children to trek across the desert to Jericho for class, the closest place where education facilities are located. The Israeli military claimed that they will not destroy the school or the encampment until an alternate learning institution for the students is located.
According to UN reports, Tel Aviv has ordered the demolition of around 3,000 structures, including homes, cisterns, solar-power generators and 18 schools, including the Khan al-Ahmar Mixed Elementary School. Only 360 such demolitions have been carried out so far.
Israeli authorities believe that moving the indigenous population to planned communities will lift them out of poverty. Bedouin communities argue that their culture and its centuries-old traditions are being jeopardized by Jewish expansion.
The children of the Jahalin tribe previously attended school in Jericho, about 20 kilometers away, but school bus service was often unreliable. Locals now say that they may have no other choice: “We’ll go to school until it’s demolished,” the Washington Post cited 10-year-old Islam Hussein as saying,
Khan al-Ahmar is one of 20 Bedouin communities that are scheduled for relocation. Bedouin families have lived there since 1951, when refugees fled the Negev region during Israel’s war for independence. The West Bank is currently home to 300,000 Israeli settlers,
In September 2011, the Israeli government approved the ‘Prawer Plan,’ which called for the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab desert. At the beginning of 2012, Tel Aviv announced a plan to establish ten new settlements along the disputed Green Line.
More than 70,000 Bedouins in 35 villages live in territory claimed by Israel. The settlements are considered to be ‘unrecognized’ by the Israelis, and the inhabitants are often referred to as ‘trespassers on state land.’
- Palestinian Bedouin kids return to school, despite Israeli demolition order (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- Army Demolishes Four Homes In the Negev (imemc.org)
- Israeli occupation forces seize two farm tractors used to supply Bedouins with water (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- What The Netanyahu Government Will Demolish In The West Bank (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Bedouins forced to leave their homes to make way for Israeli maneuvers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The National Bank of Egypt said that the US$200 million loan recently granted by the China Development Bank will arrive in the country within days.
The interest rate due on the loan is up to 3.75 percent above Libor rates, which is the central lending price of British banks for a pay period of eight years, including a three-year grace period.
Sharif Elwi, vice-president of the National Bank, said that the loan marks the beginning of Egyptian cooperation with Asian markets in light of worsening economic conditions in Europe.
China has allocated $20 billion to finance projects in Africa, and the National Bank began loan talks with the China Development Bank five months ago, Elwi explained. He denied that the government had pressured the National Bank to broker the deal due to Egypt’s declining international credit rating.
National Bank leaders plan to visit Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Malaysia this October to present investment opportunities in Egypt to potential backers there.
- African central banks invest in offshore Chinese bonds (ghanabusinessnews.com)
- Xi hopes Morsi visit boosts bilateral ties (todayonline.com)
- There is no clarity over $3b China loan to Ghana (ghanabusinessnews.com)
CNN’s Nicole Dow featured Hillary in an interview on “Iran’s Soft Power Messaging” last week in connection with the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran, see here. Hillary also appeared on Al Jazeera over the weekend to talk about the new United Nations/Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, and the prospects for progress toward resolving the conflict there (click on video above to view). Her two interviews bring together a number of important points about Iranian foreign policy and the requirements for a political settlement in Syria.
Twenty years ago, Harvard University’s Joseph Nye famously defined soft power as the ability to get others to “want what you want,” which he contrasted with the ability to compel others via “hard” military and economic assets. Hillary’s CNN interview explores what we have called the Islamic Republic’s “soft power offensive” in the context of the geopolitical and sectarian (Shi’a-Sunni) rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
In the interview, Hillary notes that the rise of Tehran’s regional influence over the last decade has little to do with hard power. (As CNN’s Nicole Dow documents, “the numbers would certainly seem to bear this out. Last year, Saudi Arabia reportedly purchased as much as six times as much military equipment from the United States as Iran’s entire official defense budget.”) Rather, as Hillary points out, Iran’s rise is fundamentally about soft power. “We always think of Iran as a military dictatorship, but the Iranian message is clear: they want free and fair elections” in countries like Egypt, Afghanistan, and Iraq. “The Iranian message and belief is—if a country has free and fair elections, it will pursue independent policies that are in that country’s national interest. The Iranian belief is that if they pursue independent policies, they will inevitably be unenthusiastic about pursuing U.S. or Western policies.”
Hillary argues that Tehran can apply this approach even in Syria. Saeed Jalili, the secretary-general of the Islamic Republic’s Supreme National Security Council, has made clear that “Iran will not allow the axis of resistance, of which it considers Syria to be an essential part, to be broken in any way.” But, as Hillary points out, “The two big points of the Iranian push” [on how to deal with the Syrian situation] were for there to be a ceasefire in Syria for three months at the end of Ramadan, and that there should be free and fair elections.”
Iranian policymakers are willing to roll the dice on elections in Syria because, first of all, they judge (correctly) that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appears to retain the support of at least half of Syrian society. Thus, it is not at all clear that he would lose an election. But Hillary underscores that, even if Assad were to leave office as part of a democratic transition, “a free and fairly elected successor to Assad would not be interested in strategic cooperation with the U.S. and would not be interested in aligning itself with Israel. That would be completely against the views and histories of the people.”
On the other side of the Middle East’s geopolitical and sectarian divide, Saudi Arabia is pursuing a very different strategy, in Syria and elsewhere in the region. The Saudi strategy emphasizes the funding and training of fundamentalist Sunni groups ideologically aligned with Al-Qa’ida—groups that, in contrast to mainstream Sunni Islamists “who are not interested in killing other Muslims,” take a strongly anti-Shi’a stance. This is, of course, the strategy that Saudi Arabia followed when it joined with the United States to fund largely Pashtun cadres among the mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan—and then fueled the rise of the Taliban during the 1990s, after the Soviet withdrawal.
In Hillary’s assessment, “The Saudis cannot call for a ceasefire or for free and fair elections because the Saudis haven’t had free and fair elections in their own country. It doesn’t sound genuine, so they can’t do it, and they don’t want to do it. No precedent has been set to have everyone else doing it except them.” More fundamentally, though, “the Saudis aren’t interested in an outcome in Syria that leads to a government that carries out the interests of the people of Syria. What the Saudis are interested in is a head of state who will be on their side. And their side is against Iran and its influence in the region. This is a big albatross that Saudi Arabia has on its neck.”
Hillary elaborates on the point: The Saudis want to convince others in the region that “the Iranians don’t stand for Muslim causes, beliefs, independence or nationalism. The Saudis want others in the region to see the Iranians as Shiite, Persian, non-Arab, non-Sunni, and that what the Iranians are doing has nothing to do with democracy or freedom, but rather promoting a narrow sectarian vision… the Saudi message is that the Shiites are infiltrating Arab affairs to undermine the Sunni community and Sunni states. They see the Shiites as heretical, non-believing, non-Arab Persians. Some Sunnis believe that”—and some Saudis try to play on that “with a tremendous amount of money and weapons.”
But polls and other objective indicators suggest that regional publics are not buying the Saudi message. As Hillary concludes, “That’s where the conflict is today. It’s a battle today between this message that Iran has to promote of freedom,” in the sense of real independence, “and the Saudis that are really trying to fight that message.”
In Hillary’s reading, dealing with the contrast between the Iranian and Saudi approaches to Syria will be crucial to Lakhdar Brahimi’s chances of success in stabilizing the conflict there. On Al Jazeera, she highlights “two critical points” that Brahimi has made since taking over from former Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the U.N./Arab League Syria envoy.
First, Brahimi “has come out clearly against foreign military intervention. That is critically important because that could prevent the escalation of the civil war in Syria, and it could even start to dial back some of the armed support for opposition fighters.” Second, Hillary highlights Brahimi’s “refusal to simply parrot the White House talking point that Assad has to go and that Assad has lost all legitimacy. That is really a ridiculous point that is not going to lead to a negotiated outcome, and he has stood up courageously and refused to parrot it.”
Recalling her own experience working with Brahimi on post-9/11 Afghanistan, Hillary notes that his “track record” in the various civil wars and conflicts where he has been a mediator—Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti—is to focus on “power sharing. He focuses on getting together all of the critical players inside a country that need to be part of a solution. That’s power sharing. That’s not saying who goes and who leaves. That’s putting everybody into the same pot and having them work together. And then it’s critically important for him to work with the outside players.”
When challenged with an assertion that neither the Assad government nor the opposition is willing to talk, Hillary pushes back by observing that, just as the Islamic Republic supports a political solution in Syria, President Assad has been willing to talk with opponents since virtually the beginning of unrest back in March 2011. (So just who is it that it really blocking movement toward a possible political solution?) Furthermore, she underscores that it is largely the external Syrian opposition that has demanded Assad’s ouster up front; the internal opposition has not insisted on that.
In this context, she points out, Brahimi’s track record suggests that he will “focus on the players that are in Syria… He doesn’t actually have much time or patience for expatriates who sit in cafes in London or Paris. He doesn’t really think they’re players. He focuses on people who are in country.”
That is certainly a very different approach to post-conflict stabilization than that pursued by the United States in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and, now—in collaboration with Saudi Arabia—in Syria.
- Syria says envoy can only succeed if rebels lose outside support (dailystar.com.lb)