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Chicago Organizers and the Reelection Machine

Chicago Teachers Union got the strike desired by a core group of activists, but the strike is not about the issues on the table. The strike is about who is in charge: union bosses, or the taxpayers.

It’s the latest example of government union employees turning up their noses at the conditions private sector employees can only dream about, especially during the economic downturn. But the CTU knows they are playing with house money, and that it is in the interest of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools to give in on the money. 

The issue in the strike isn’t money, working conditions, or benefits per se, though the union has demanded an exorbitant pay increase to their already extraterrestrial salaries, to keep their lavish health benefits, and that instructional materials be provided immediately, as if by magic. These are only on the table as bargaining chips, so that the union can back down on those and say they’ve compromised. They know the money isn’t there anyway.

Most importantly, the union wants not to be tied to the performance evaluation rules put in place under President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative.

At the center of the strike is power: who will decide how teachers are hired, are compensated, may be fired, have their performance judged, and what basic curriculum they use. The real prize in the strike is the balance of power between union bosses on one side and the representatives of city, state, and federal taxpayers on the other.

The backdrop of the drama is, of course, the presidential election coming November 6. President Obama has been a supporter and practitioner of community organizing in the style of Saul Alinsky, as is the current leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union.

A transcript of that video, and more about Lewis, can be found here.

But Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has extremely close ties to the President, as his former Chief of Staff and current bag man. Amid criticism from Illinois Republicans, Emanuel took a hiatus from fund raising for a pro-Obama superPAC.

While Emanuel may believe that the waffling President Obama will back him up, he doesn’t offer much evidence:

“I want you to understand, the president has weighed in,” Emanuel said. “Every issue we’re talking about regarding accountability of our schools, quality in our schools to the education of our children, is the core thrust of Race to the Top.”

Emanuel added that the “notion” of the teacher evaluations he proposed came from Race to the Top.

“In that sense there couldn’t be a bigger push for the president,” Emanuel insisted.  

As the Washington Examiner editorialized it,

Most public expenditures are decided through legislation and the democratic process, but not monopoly collective bargaining agreements for public employees. Systems that allow them give government employee unions an inordinate incentive to throw their political weight around because the unions understand they can help choose their own adversary across the negotiating table.

We’re all part of The Machine.  The Machine doesn’t refer to Chicago machine politics, but to … well, just watch it:

The Chicago Teachers Union strike is not about kids, but union power.

That’s because the machine that runs the K-12 education system isn’t designed to produce better schools. It’s designed to produce more money for unions and more donations for politicians. We’re spending more money on education but not getting better results for our children and now America’s public education system is failing.

Our kids deserve better.

For decades, teachers’ unions have been among our nation’s largest political donors. As Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell has noted, the National Education Association (NEA) alone spent $40 million on the 2010 election cycle (source: As the country’s largest teachers union, the NEA is only one cog in the infernal machine that robs parents of their tax dollars and students of their futures.

Students, teachers, parents, and hardworking Americans are all victims of this political machine–a system that takes money out of taxpayers’ wallets and gives it to union bosses, who put it in the pockets of politicians.

So, don’t be concerned about whether the teachers will get their money or their benefits. That’s not the issue. Whether the union bosses get to control who gets to be a teacher — that’s the thing to watch.

Want to fix all of this? Work to get school choice and right to work laws in your state.