Friday, January 30, 2009

Rally calls for moratorium on school closings

By Pepe Lozano
People's Weekly World, Jan. 30, 2009

CHICAGO – Hundreds of teachers, parents, students, union leaders and local activists rallied here Jan. 28th at the Chicago Board of Education building against the boards plan to close, consolidate, phase out and turnaround more than 20 schools. Protesters led a march downtown chanting with signs in hand speaking out against the measure which they say will displace students and teachers, throw communities in turmoil, put hundreds out of work and undermine public education in Chicago.

"I'm a soon to be displaced nationally certified teacher," said Daisy Sharp who has been teaching at Oliver Wendall Holmes in the Engelwood community for the last six years.

Holmes is slated for "turnaround," which means that everyone at the school including maintenance, cafeteria workers and paraprofessionals will be laid off. "Why are they firing everyone, some who have been working here for more than 25 years," she asked.

"The number one thing we need to do is to vote Mayor Daley out of office and squash his Renaissance 2010 plan because it's all lies and big business." Not only is Daley trying to privatize our schools he's also trying to bust our union, she said.

Sandy Schultz is the educational issues coordinator with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). "We are here to protest and mourn the death of public schools in Chicago," she said. Shultz taught in Chicago for 32 years before working for the union.

"We feel that schools can be turned around one at a time with a smart educational plan that includes proper funding, adequate supplies and books," said Shultz. "Renaissance 2010 is part of a privatization plan to force the union out and weaken our membership."

The CTU represents 32,000 teachers and is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. The demonstration was organized by a coalition of nearly a dozen groups including the CTU.

CTU President Marilyn Stewart was at the rally and helped organize the protest. "This is a grassroots effort and we're calling for an immediate moratorium on school closings," said Stewart. "It's not right that teachers and parents have to look for new jobs and the board should not be making decisions for our children," she added. "Teachers are tired of being disrespected and we know we could make Chicago a model for the nation but not by proposing to close our schools."

Critics charge Renaissance 2010 is part of a long-term privatization scheme of public education being pushed by Daley, who took control of the school system in 1995. Many believe school closings target poor neighborhoods where populations are decreasing due to destruction of public housing and skyrocketing rents.

The heart of the problem, many say, is George W. Bush's unpopular No Child Left Behind law.

The school district contends that many of the schools in question have low enrollment and are failing academically. Yet others believe modest gains have been made in recent test scores. While others claim that such standards under No Child are a highly flawed indicator of actual learning.

Of the 400,000 students in the Chicago school system, 46.5 percent are African American, 39.1 percent are Latino and 8 percent white.

Charles Hurst lives in the South Shore neighborhood and is a member of a local school council there. He's upset how the school board does not involve community input regarding school closings. "It's our recommendation that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) put money into the present schools and allow them to stay in place and lessen the possibility of violence or harm to our children in the neighborhood," he said. Hurst fears children will be in harms way if they have to travel outside their neighborhood in gang- infested areas.

Arne Duncan, former CEO of the Chicago's school system and now Secretary of
Education led the closing of nearly 70 schools since 2001. Currently there are more than 50 Renaissance schools, which receive corporate funding and are privately operated. Half of the members with the CTU could be forced out of the union by 2020 under the plan.

Since 2004, Renaissance 2010 has led to private-run charter and contract schools that push out teachers and students and outsourcing education in low-income communities targeted by City Hall for real-estate development. Educators and supporters at the protest say Renaissance 2010 fails to take in consideration what parents, teachers and students feel and does a poor job including them in the process of decision making when it comes to closing schools or turnarounds.

Maria Ibarez is in the eight-grade at Carpenter elementary on the city's north side. Her school is on the closing list. "I'm here because I want to help save my school," she said. "It's our second home and it's a community school that opens its doors to us."

Ibarez's father Jose Luis joined her at the rally with his family. "It's not fair what is happening," he said. Mr. Ibarez said they are closing his daughters' school because there is not enough children enrolled, the building is too old and it has low-test scores.

"None of these are true," said Mr. Ibarez. "I know the students and they are all very bright and they deserve a chance. We are one of the best schools in the city," he said. Mr. Ibarez is hoping CPS officials will visit the school before deciding to close. "Please come and see our school and get to know the students, teachers and families before you take away the children's education." He added, "Don't close our school for the sake of our children who are the future of this country."

Meanwhile Daley recently appointed Ron Huberman as the new CEO of CPS. Huberman is a former police officer and recently served as president of the Chicago Transit Authority. Many feel he is unfit for the job and out of his league especially because he has no background in education.

The Board of Education plans to hold public hearings about the closings and is expected to make its final decisions at its meeting next month.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Working for a new, new deal

Oak Park, IL - Nearly 100 activists and concerned citizens gathered on Sunday, Jan. 25 for a lively forum hosted by the Oak Park Coalition for Truth and Justice (OPCTJ) entitled, “A new, new deal: what should it look like?” (

The gathering was like hundreds of others that have been held in the wake of the victory of President Obama and continuing the fight for a people’s agenda in the new era.

The panel of well informed speakers included renowned Dr. Quentin Young, of the Physicians for a National Heath Program and a leading proponent of a single payer health system; Bill Barclay, an economist, member of Progressive Democrats of America and co-convener of the Illinois Coalition for Peace and Justice; Robin Rich, an organizer for United Steel Workers of America, District 7 and the Blue-Green Alliance; and Bamshad Mobasher, a DePaul University professor and an OPCTJ activist.

James Thindwa, executive director of Chicago Jobs with Justice, moderated the event. He noted it was a great time for progressives to engage in a dialogue and the progressive movement was having a powerful effect on the direction of the country.
“Let’s not forget, Barack Obama himself is a product of the ‘hyper-charged’ movement in Chicago and Illinois. And to his credit in one debate when asked who would Dr. King support for president, he or Sen. Clinton, Obama replied, ‘neither, he would be out organizing for to make sure we did the right thing.’”

The panelists wove together issues of national health care, an economic stimulus, rebuilding the manufacturing base, green energy and changing US foreign policy into a long term vision for the basic changes needed in the years ahead.

Dr. Young noted that President Obama has voiced on numerous occasions that the single payer model is the best health care system. The challenge for the progressive movement is to create the conditions to allow for its passage.

“The single payer model has become now the best and only answer to the deepening health care crisis facing the nation. The country spends $2.3 trillion on health care, over $7,200 per person. And yet we have 45 million uninsured and another 45 million underinsured,” said Young.

“One half of all bankruptcies are due to medical bills,” said Young, who noted the crisis will get worse because there is now a sharp decline in primary care physicians.

The resources are in place to convert to a single payer system, he said. The US spends twice on health care per person as any other country; we have all the high tech equipment, the trained workforce.

Young said it would take a huge struggle to win a single payer system. The opposition is very powerful and includes the for-profit hospitals, insurance and pharmaceutical companies. They will push the Obama administration to keep much of the current for profit system.

More can be read at the PNHP website:

Robin Rich has been a steelworker since 1977 in Gary, Indiana. She spoke about her experiences in the labor movement and especially the impact of the “Battle in Seattle” that brought the labor movement together with the environmental movement to oppose unregulated “free trade.” Out of that experience both labor and the environmental groups saw the commonality of the struggle for higher labor and environmental standards in trade agreements. The Blue-Green Alliance was born with the USWA and the Sierra Club at its core.

Rich said the global warming issue has emerged more urgently and demands a conversion to a sustainable economy that relies on green energy. She said global warming is a “jobs killer,” for example thousands of forestry workers in the USWA are losing their jobs because of the infestation of tree killing beetles in vast stretches of timberlands across the west. The loss of water in the Great Lakes is causing barges to be damaged by scraping bottom.

Rich said everywhere the idea of saving and creating jobs and saving the environment is taking hold. For example it tons of steel to make one windmill. States like Illinois have set a goal for 25% of their energy needs to be from renewable sources. Today there is a four-year backlog of orders for windmills.

“This is crazy. We could easily reopen shuttered factories in NW Indiana and across the country. Tons of steel are required for infrastructure rebuilding too,” she said. “Steelworkers will be in the streets for a Main Street recovery plan, to shape the present stimulus bill so there are buy American and green clauses.”
More about the Blue-Green Alliance can be read at:

Bill Barclay is part of a group of Chicago economists and community activists who have crafted a jobs creation plan which goes farther than Obama’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act, one that meets the crisis level unemployment. The full plan can be viewed at:"

Barclay said in 1932 unemployment in Chicago was 45%. After the New Deal was passed in the wake of a huge movement of the unemployed and Roosevelt’s leadership, unemployment dropped to 14%.

Barclay said an effective jobs program had to deal with the long-term unemployment due to de-industrialization and population growth, as well as that, which has occurred in the last year. The groups plan calls for creation of 4 million new jobs a year for 5 years. Obama will be forced by objective circumstances to think bigger, said Barclay.

Barclay called for the creation of a maximum of public sector jobs at a living wage by social investment in public infrastructure projects and the expansion of public sector employment in education, health care, etc. and reestablishing an industrial development policy, especially in alternative energy production. The plan needs to tackle long-term structural unemployment that has had a special impact on communities of color and youth, especially youth of color.

Barclay said such a project would cost about $675 billion/year which could be paid for by imposing an income tax surcharge on the top 2% of earners, let expire Bush’s estate tax, impose a tax on all stock transfers and slash the military budget.

Bamshad Mobasher said the new administration and the incredible movement that swept Obama into office offered many new opportunities and possibilities to pass a progressive agenda. But he warned that addressing the economic, health care and other crises could be derailed if the Obama administration pursues a policy that leads to deepening military involvement in Afghanistan and continues the occupation of Iraq.

Mobasher said a big part of why Obama won was his opposition to the Iraq War. He said there were hopeful signs and also signs of concern. The Status of Forces Agreement signed between the Bush Administration and the Iraqi government actually provides the framework for an expedited US withdrawal, something the Bush administration didn’t want. They were hoping for a permanent occupation that would turn Iraq into a colony, but the opposition in Iraq prevented this. As a result the US military must get permission to conduct missions, US troops and contractors are subject to Iraqi law, US troops must withdraw to bases and all troops must leave the country by 2011.

There has been some discussion of a residual force, but this will cause a dilemma for the Obama administration. It could provoke a firestorm of protest in Iraq if the SOFA is changed.

Mobasher said in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration must engage Iran to arrive at a comprehensive solution to the crisis in the region. He said the basis might be there in the form of a letter the Iranian government sent to the Bush administration last year that called for solution of the nuclear issue and a pledge to stop supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. Bush rejected the letter but Mobasher said it could be resuscitated and used as the basis of an accord.

Mobasher warned the situation in Afghanistan is more perilous. He said the Obama plan calls for a military surge then negotiations. He called this a flawed strategy. He said there was no possibility of militarily defeating the Taliban, which was gaining in strength. Such a surge could destabilize the region further and the US should learn from the history of Afghanistan and failed efforts by Alexander the Great, British Imperialism and the Soviet Union to control developments. A diplomatic surge and a plan to help the country overcome underdevelopment are needed, including overcoming reliance on the poppy production, which funds the Taliban.

The presentations sparked a lively question and answer period and plenty of enthusiasm to keep mobilizing the grassroots for the battles ahead.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Republic workers anticipate new owner for closed plant

From combine sources
Chicago, IL - A leading company in the green window business, California based Serious Materials, is in the final stages of working out a purchase agreement of Republic Windows and Doors assets, according to United Electrical Workers Local 1110.

The 250 production employees at the Chicago factory staged a 6 day sit-in last month to win severance, health benefits and earned vacation pay after Republic closed it’s doors abruptly. The company had been denied a $5 million loan to continue operating from Bank of America, their chief financial backer. BofA had recently received $34 billion in federal bailout funds, which enraged the workers who were represented by UE.

Though some details still need to be finalized, the union is told the parties are very close to inking a deal. "We are all hopeful about the possibility of Serious reopening our plant. This would be a very happy ending to our struggle," said former Republic worker and Local 1110 vice president Melvin Maclin.

One holdup is resolution of bankruptcy papers filed by Republic Windows and Doors. The workers hope the court appointed trustee will act to bundle the remaining assets and sell them to Serious, and not allow them to be split up.

On Jan. 6 the UE sought a court ordered injunction through the National Labor Relations Board against the owners of Republic Windows and Doors to force the company to return a production line and other assets they had removed from the plant. The company had moved the equipment to Iowa and reopened production with a non-union workforce. The sit-in actually prevented the company from carrying out plans to remove even more equipment.

Serious Materials is a leading manufacturer of energy saving green building products. Their mission is to reduce greenhouse gasses by 1 Billion tons annually. "These are the green-collar jobs we need for the future of our community," said Armando Robles, former Republic maintenance worker and president of Local 1110.

Serious Materials and the union believe there is market in the Midwest for the energy efficient, super-insulating windows and commercial glass that Serious Materials makes. Funding from the Obama stimulus plan to reinsulate millions of residential homes with energy saving windows would create a huge market that companies like Serious hope to tap into.

It is expected all of the former Republic workforce will eventually be rehired. The workers are hoping for quick action by the bankruptcy court. "We hope that the creditors, trustee and judge will allow Serious to purchase the assets soon, so I and my co-workers can start making windows again," said Robles.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Communist Party, USA Denounces Gaza Invasion

The Communist Party of the USA expresses its outrage at Israel's invasion of Gaza, carried out in defiance of world public opinion.

The entry of ground troops into Gaza at a time when the United Nations and many others were working toward a cease-fire and a return to negotiations is arrogant and irresponsible. It will cause many more deaths and injuries and untold destruction of the essential infrastructure of a community already devastated by economic blockade.

It is an illegal action and a major threat to regional and world peace, and carries a grave danger of setting off a wider war.

The Israeli government justifies the invasion as necessary to stop Hamas rocket attacks. Although we condemn those attacks, we believe that by its actions Israel is pursuing more far-reaching aims in the region than stated by its representatives. The attacks by Hamas could be quickly ended in the context of a cease-fire.

Launching a ground offensive into Gaza is also designed to box in the Obama administration and new Congress and prevent them from changing US policy vis-à-vis this conflict.

We repudiate the outrageous speech made by President Bush yesterday, which gave a green light to a new Israeli escalation of the conflict. With this act, Bush leaves an even uglier legacy to our country and the world.

We also strongly condemn the attempt by the US delegation to the UN to block the Security Council from taking action to stop the invasion.

We repeat our call for an immediate cease-fire to be strictly monitored by the UN and other international organizations. It should include the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops as well as an end to the bombing of Gaza and a cessation of the rocket attacks into Israel.

It is urgent that Gaza be open immediately to receive food, medicine and other humanitarian aid, and that Israel end its economic blockade.

There is no military solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. We call for an immediate return to negotiations for a peaceful solution based on the two-state concept, which will address the national aspirations of the Palestinian people as well as the security interests of both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.

We hope that as soon as President Obama takes office, he will pursue a new policy in the Middle East that contributes to peace, justice and stability in that region.

Finally, we urge the American people to add their voices to the millions worldwide protesting the invasion and calling for a cease-fire on both sides and for a just peace.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Gaza crisis: challenge and opportunity for Obama to turn the page toward peace

By Susan Webb

The tiny Gaza Strip, with its 1.5 million people crowded into 139 square miles, has been a tinderbox since Israel's unilateral pullout in 2005.

Israel has maintained a punitive military and economic grip on Gaza, keeping the population in what is internationally condemned as a deepening humanitarian crisis. Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) seized power there in 2007, and began its "resistance" policy of firing rockets into southern Israel. A tenuous six-month ceasefire ended in early December despite reported behind-the-scenes initiatives to extend it, and now we have the horrible spectacle of a massive aerial bombardment of this densely populated strip by Israel, with the civilian toll mounting daily (currently nearly 500 Gazans dead and approaching 2,000 wounded, including children). Hamas has continued rocket attacks on Israel, killing 4 Israelis as of this week, and is threatening suicide bombings and other attacks in Israel.

Israel says its assault is a defensive operation, yet also says it intends to physically wipe out the Hamas leadership. Other objectives appear to be to intimidate the Palestinian people, further weaken Palestinian civil society and promote disunity, and reassert Israeli power.

There is growing international condemnation of Israel's disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of Gaza's civilian population, both violations of the Geneva Conventions.

It's possible a temporary truce may emerge in the next few days, but, more than ever, the underlying issues will at long last have to be resolved. And the incoming Obama administration will have the challenge, and the opportunity, to lead the way to peace.

Who benefits from the crisis that has erupted in Gaza?

The election of Barack Obama brought with it the real possibility for a just solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict based on two states, as long ago envisioned by the United Nations.

During his campaign Obama told Jewish leaders on a number of occasions that his support for Israel did not mean he would support the policies of Israel's Likud Party. This was a courageous stand by Obama, but it also reflected the growing awareness in influential U.S. circles that a peaceful two-state solution is in U.S. interests, including the long-term global interests of U.S. capitalism, not to mention the interests of the Israeli and Palestinian people.

When he announced his naming of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and other top national security appointments, Obama singled out a lasting solution for Israel and the Palestinians as one of his four top foreign policy priorities.

Many believe the current military explosion in Gaza seeks to take advantage of the post-election/pre-inauguration leadership vacuum in Washington and the Bush administration's knee-jerk green-lighting of Israeli military confrontation. Some see it as a challenge to Obama, and an effort to stymie his peace efforts. The Gaza crisis, rather than advancing peace, has the potential to strengthen military extremism in Israel, among the Palestinians, and in the region.

Not everyone wants a political solution

Reactionary forces in Israel, like the fanatical settlers who attacked Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron recently, don't want a political settlement of the conflict. The Israeli far right rejects Palestinian statehood and even the state of Israel within the UN-recognized pre-1967 borders, claiming the entire West Bank as part of "the land of Israel." Other right and center forces in Israel, while in some cases giving lip service to a two-state solution, want to hold onto as much of the occupied West Bank as possible.

Noted Israeli historian Avi Shlaim wrote last May, "Sixty years on, Israel is not fighting for its security or survival but to retain some of the territories it conquered in the course of the war of June 1967."

The real purpose of Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 (snubbing negotiations with the Palestinian leadership), Shlaim wrote, was not peace, but to concentrate on unilaterally redrawing the borders of "greater Israel" by incorporating Jerusalem and key settlement blocs in the West Bank. "Anchored in a fundamental rejection of the Palestinian national identity, the withdrawal from Gaza was part of a long-term Likud effort to deny the Palestinian people an independent political existence on their land." Since then, Israel, with the help of provocations by Hamas, has continued to use Gaza as a lever to disrupt the overall peace process.

Regional power struggle/failed Cold War strategy

Reactionary Islamic and Arab elements don't want a political settlement either. For them, and thus for the rest of us, this crisis is part of a regional power struggle with global ramifications.

Continuing a centuries-old struggle for dominance in the region, Iran's reactionary Islamist regime is contesting for power against the reactionary regimes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. All of them have used the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the suppression of Palestinian national aspirations as an opportunity to claim the mantle of leadership by wielding militant anti-imperialist and/or Arab nationalist rhetoric, while suppressing their own democratic and working class movements.

The rise of extremist Islamic movements is due in large part to the bloody repression and even extermination of communist, left, working class and other democratic currents in all these countries (as in others such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Indonesia), promoted and abetted by the U.S. as part of its global Cold War strategy.

The U.S. Cold War strategy also included using Israel armed to the teeth as a beachhead in the region, encouraging and supporting Israeli militarists. Israeli government policy, dominated by this approach, has long been to undermine the PLO, in which secular left and democratic forces have played an important role. It is widely known that Israel aided and abetted the formation of Hamas in the early 1980s as a counterweight to the PLO and the secular left/progressive trend within it. Ironically, it is the Palestinian communists and their Israeli counterparts who stood alone in supporting the two-state solution when it was adopted by the United Nations in 1947. Thus Israeli government policy, carrying out the U.S. Cold War policy, has helped created today's crisis.

Seeing the real or potential threats to their power from extremist Islamic groups their policies helped to create, the Saudis and other reactionary Arab rulers are caught in something of a dilemma. Their alliance with the U.S. became problematic for them following the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has turned from an opportunity to a major problem for them. At the same time Iran's Ahmadinejad regime is widely seen as backing Hamas as well as Lebanon's Hezbollah as part of its project to assume regional dominance by claiming the mantle of "resistance" to imperialism.

Meanwhile, the Israeli right and center forces are in their own crisis. Many commentators tie the current assault on Gaza to the power struggle leading up to Israel's February elections. As in the U.S., Israeli politicians feel they have to show they are "tough" on national security, and that has translated into aggressive military action. But many Israelis and others warn that, as in the Israeli "defensive" attack on Lebanon in 2006, there will be no good outcome. Many fear the Gaza offensive will only lead to a February election victory by the right-wing Likud Party led by Benjamin Netanyahu, which would further impede the prospects for peace.

Militarism a dead end

Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab made relevant points in a Dec. 30 Washington Post op ed:

"For different reasons, Hamas and Israel both gave up on the cease-fire, preferring instead to climb over corpses to reach their political goals. One side wants to resuscitate its public support by appearing to be a heroic resister, while the other, on the eve of elections, wants to show toughness to a public unhappy with the nuisance of the Qassam rockets.

"The disproportionate and heavy-handed Israeli attacks on Gaza have been a bonanza for Hamas," Kuttab wrote. "The movement has renewed its standing in the Arab world, secured international favor further afield and succeeded in scuttling indirect Israeli-Syrian talks and direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations."

He concluded, "By choosing the waning days of the Bush administration to attack Gaza, the Israelis knew they would face no opposition from the leader of the so-called war on terrorism. Just as George W. Bush's misadventure in Iraq played into the hands of radicals and terrorists, this Israeli action will produce nothing less than that in Palestine. Let us hope that the Obama administration will see the consequences of what is not only a crime of war but also a move whose results are exactly the opposite of its publicly proclaimed purposes."

Gershon Shafir, an Israeli sociologist who directs the Institute for International, Comparative, and Area Studies at the University of California in San Diego, writes: "At a strategic level, Hamas is not interested in political alternatives to armed confrontation. But whether one wants to call the Hamas strategy resistance or terrorism, the lack of a serious political plan to accompany military strategies is always counterproductive, as it is has been for Hamas and for the people of Gaza.

"It will be equally counterproductive for Israel. It appears that Israeli political leaders and military planners labor under the illusion that there is a military 'solution' to Hamas. The extended military operation in Gaza is expected to serve as a pedagogical tool for moderating or eliminating Hamas. But this will not work, and the idea that a ground invasion of Gaza could actually eliminate Hamas as a force in Palestinian politics is delusional. The Israeli approach is every bit as driven by militarism as Hamas' strategy is. Beyond a certain point, it can serve no realistic political goals."

Challenge and opportunity

For the Obama administration to finally achieve the much-needed peaceful solution not only for Gaza but for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it will have to break with the disastrous Cold War policies of the past. This means serious diplomacy that promotes the realist, peace-inclined forces in Israel who realize that peace is in their interests, and, on the Palestinian side, furthers rather than hinders re-establishment of unity and advancement of a more realist, peace-oriented approach. It means promoting the realist, peace-oriented forces in U.S. politics as well. It means diplomacy with Iran that recognizes its legitimate role as an important country in the region. It means political, economic and social foreign policies that promote mutual de-nuclearization and demilitarization, labor rights, grassroots economic and social development and culture, and real democracy — not the phony kind trumpeted by Bush and his ilk.

Susan Webb (suewebb @ is associate editor of the People's Weekly World.

Daoud Kuttab, "Has Israel revived Hamas?"

Gershon Shafir, "War without end?"

Avi Shlaim, "Israel at 60: the 'iron wall' revisited"