Chicago Teachers on Strike

Update (9/10): read Bill Barclay’s background on the strike here.

Update (9/12): watch Dissent contributor and editorial board member Joanne Barkan discuss the strike on Al Jazeera English.

After unsuccessful negotiations between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, the CTU went on strike today, with approval from over 98 percent of union members. (The Chicago Tribune has up-to-the-minute coverage of the strike.) The union is striking over disagreements on a host of issues, including compensation, the length of the school day, social services at schools, classroom size, job security, and the use of a new curriculum and standardized tests to evaluate teacher performance. But as David Moberg of In These Times reports, teacher grievances “run much deeper,” including anger over money Chicago has spent on expanding the city’s charter school network.

Teachers are angry at how the mayors of the city, especially the current office holder, Rahm Emanuel, and CPS administrators and board members have treated them as the source of most school problems and not respected their professional training. “We’re tired of not being listened to,” said one Roosevelt high school teacher. “And we’re pretty unified.”

Theresa Moran, at Labor Notes, describes how the strike has pitted the Democratic Party against organized labor, just on the heels of a national convention that ran on non-union labor.

Observers see the strike as a “which side are you on?” moment for Democrats. On one side is the teacher union, which says too big class sizes, too few school services, and too little support for teachers are the problems. On the other are the corporate-education pushers, who heap blame on bad teachers.

For background on the goals and methods of the corporate-style education reformers, read Joanne Barkan’s extensive and essential reporting in Dissent: “Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools,” “Firing Line: The Grand Coalition Against Teachers,” and “Hired Guns on Astroturf: How to Buy and Sell School Reform.”

Photo from CTU, via Flickr

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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.