Belabored Podcast, Episode 1: “We will shut down your city”

Design by Stephen Minasvand of

We’re proud to present our first episode of Belabored, featuring hosts Josh Eidelson and Sarah Jaffe. Huge thanks to our talented producer, Natasha Lewis. If you’re in New York, please join us for our launch event next week. Subscribe on iTunes here. Ideas for the podcast? Tweet with #belabored.

In this episode, Sarah and Josh highlight developing stories that they’re watching in labor, interview Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, and talk about the stories they wish they’d written. Like what you hear? Your support makes it possible.

– Editors

Episode One
Josh Eidelson and Sarah Jaffe

This Week In Labor

In our first segment, we discuss several stories, including fast food worker strikes in NYC. You can read our on-the-ground coverage here and here.

“We will shut down your city”: an interview with Karen Lewis

In 2010, a slate led by Karen Lewis ousted the incumbent leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union, promising deeper community engagement and a more aggressive defense of teachers and public education. In 2012, with Lewis as president, CTU mounted the city’s first teacher’s strike in a quarter-century, and the most dramatic recent challenge to the bipartisan education reform consensus. For the inaugural episode of our new Dissent podcast, we sat down with Karen Lewis last month to discuss teaching and intersectionality, professionalism and solidarity, and unions and Democrats. Some excerpts from Lewis’ answers to our questions follow.

On the Chicago school closure fight:

School closures are a symptom of a really bad school policy that we as Chicago have been struggling under for over ten years…As schools close, they destabilize other schools that are close by…Children don’t do better…

I kept saying, why are they continuing to close schools, open up charter schools that don’t do any better and don’t even take the kids that were in the schools that were closed?…What we saw years ago was that the union did not have a response to this, had not done any research about it, and certainly had not mobilized its membership around it, but was dealing with things on an individual basis. So they would help teachers write resumes…

Our children know their culture, they know where the safe streets are, [and now are] going to another school that may or may not have the same culture.

Chicago has a very, very different gang structure than many other cities…this block may be fighting against the next block, literally. And so we have little fiefdoms and again they’re not defending drug territory – they’re defending respect, because our children have so little of it, if somebody disrespects them it escalates outrageously. Part of the problem is we don’t have counseling programs for children early enough. We have almost gotten rid of play in preschool and kindergarten because we’re so busy trying to get them to pass tests that we don’t focus on the things that actually build their social-emotional learning along with the academic piece. So some of the conflict resolution that you learn through play has disappeared…

Our children have to walk from where their neighborhoods are. They know their culture, they know where the safe streets are, [and now are] going to another school that may or may not have the same culture…

45% of the [99% black] apartheid schools are on this [closing] list, and 37% of the intensely segregated schools are on the hit list.

On race, class, gender, and the union’s opponents:

…We just feel like teachers have been an easy target. Because we’re not used to fighting. We’re not used to confrontation. We’re used to kind of like, OK, whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it, because we all care about what’s best for kids…But it is never enough when your goal is to really destroy public education, so you don’t really care who you take out with you. So the narrative that teachers don’t care about children has been very interestingly woven. People kind of took it and ran with it – the only problem is it absolutely makes no sense…

We’re used to saying, OK, whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it, because we all care about what’s best for kids…But it is never enough when your goal is to destroy public education.

This is a narrative that we started poking holes in about four or five years ago, and then people started to [say], so explain to me how the billionaires who don’t believe in public education, don’t care about black and brown children, don’t send their own children to public schools – all of the sudden they care deeply about black and brown children as if they exist in some kind of vacuum?

…On one level, there’s still this sort of paternalistic ‘I have to protect women’ thing, and on the other hand, ‘Let’s cut them off at the knees, let’s put women out of work,’ women who may actually be caring for their own children and families. So this is a very anti-family mentality. And it’s also the magical thinking, as if children don’t have their own parents that love them, as if they don’t live in communities that have been destroyed by not having appropriate places for the parents to work. So my question has always been: If you love black and brown children so much, why do you hate their parents?

If you love black and brown children so much, why do you hate their parents?

On “professionalism”: necessary shield against teacher-bashing, or obstacle to solidarity with other education workers?

I think it’s something people need to find where they feel most comfortable…My experience has been that the people who serve the food, the people who work as para-professionals, those are the people that actually have experience with children in that neighborhood, because they by and large work in the neighborhood where they live…The professionalism piece is important, on one level because the billionaires boys club is saying we don’t need professionals, we can just train somebody for five weeks and throw them in there and let them do it, like they do in the army…

We’re working right now with unions that represent the janitors, the security officers, and the lunchroom ladies. We’re working together with them because school closings affect all of us. Our problem is that we have to defend professionalism, but we can’t defend it as the only thing that we’re doing.

Listen in for much more, including thoughts on whether the CTU’s model should and can spread to other unions, and whether labor should drop the Democratic party.


Stories We Wish We’d Written

Sarah discusses “Mexican Workers Win Ownership of Tire Plant with Three-Year Strike” by Jane Slaughter in Labor Notes.

Josh discusses “China in Revolt” by Eli Friedman in Jacobin.


Parties We Hope You’ll Attend

Please join us for a launch on Thursday, April 18 at the Smart Clothes Gallery on the Lower East Side at 7:00 p.m. We’ll be surrounded by the revolutionary artwork of Molly Crabapple, a gorgeous exhibit called “Shell Game” based on the financial crisis. There will be wine. There will be labor. There will be conversation. RSVP on Facebook.


Fight for It

Thanks to the members of Fight for 15 for lending their track, “Fight for It,” to the Belabored podcast.

The Last Great Strike - UC Press [Advertisement]

Want to read our Spring issue for free? Sign up for our newsletter by March 31 to receive a full PDF when the issue launches.


The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.