The billionaire boys club, headed by Bill Gates and Eli Broad, is at it again. They blamed the schools for failing our students. They attacked teachers and unions, too. The unions fought back, albeit, in a mostly impotent war of words. Nevertheless, they are still seen as a meddlesome impediment by the billionaires in their lustful grab for the $600 billion spent annually on public education.
In order to smooth out this speed bump, the billionaires have enlisted lawmakers in Illinois to fast track legislation called The Performance Counts act, which will ban the use of the strike by teachers and make it easier to fire them. Legislators predict they will be able to pass the law by early January, 2011. The legislators supporting the bill have been receiving large contributions, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, from a front group called Stand For Children (SFC), which is funded primarily by Bill Gates.
While STC grew out of The Children’s Defense Fund and initially had the support of some Oregon teachers and other progressives, they are staunchly anti-union. Geoffrey Canada was their initial board chair. They have been active in six other states, trying to limit tenure protections and implement performance pay schemes.
If ever there was a reason to strike, it would be now, preemptively, to let the state know that teachers are organized, angry, and unwilling to accept any further attacks on their rights and working conditions. However, Chicago Teachers Union President, Karen Lewis, has said that a strike is off the table, so long as the school board honors their contract.
One Step Backward, Two More Steps Backward
Prior to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 1934, unions did not have the right to strike, making all job actions wildcat. The NLRA was passed after a wave of militant and successful strikes during the great depression. NLRA legitimized unions, but also set strict rules for their behavior, setting the tone for their increasing bureaucratization and collaborationist tactics.
In two weeks, Illinois teachers may find themselves working under labor conditions much like the pre-NLRA days, with local school boards acting with greater impunity and arrogance in cutting pay, benefits and job rights. Teachers will find themselves having to take wildcat actions in order to defend their rights and those of their students. However, the union bosses will continue to act as if we are in the post-NLRA era, playing by the rules, trying to appear “reasonable” and “professional,” and increasing their level of collaboration.