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Chicago school closing protests.

PHOTO /Southwest Youth Collaborative

By Rosita Chatonda

Cutbacks in education have been devastating. Schools with "achievement" issues are designated "Turn Around" schools. Fired and displaced teachers are the scapegoats for years of administrative neglect and underfunding. Displaced or out of work teachers are now suffering extreme financial hardship including home foreclosure and bankruptcy. They have organized themselves into a forum where they regularly meet, discuss issues, and support others' job searches. What follows are some of their stories and voices.

Rosita Chatonda, a teacher at Daniel Hale Williams Elementary, was introduced to the term "Displaced Teacher" in April of 2001 when 70 employees of Chicago Public Schools stormed her school located in the Dearborn Housing Complex. With four prison buses waiting outside, parents, teachers and students got the message that anyone protesting this takeover and school closing would be jailed.

"We set up meetings to discuss the problems of those fired." Chatonda noted that African American Teachers had been fired at a rate of 1.7%, nearly 3,000 positions, while White teachers lost 25 positions annually since Renaissance 2010 began, resulting in a loss of almost 3,000 positions. Student loss was reported at 1.3 - 1.5% annually or 30,000 African American students since the onset of REN 2010. Data also revealed African American students were 100 times more likely to be expelled from Chicago Public Schools.

A 12 year veteran of Chicago Public Schools was displaced last summer and frequents the forum. She states that "the forum is informative" and that she felt "comforted that she was not alone and that others were going through the same thing." She also added that the "support from the Chicago Teachers Union was incredible" and the empathy and understanding she received as a result of the forum has allowed her to "re-focus herself and re-invent herself as a teacher."

Dawn Dawson feels the illegal termination was a "disgrace" to her as a teacher and "to the teaching profession." Dawn states, that "she was a teacher with 26 years of experience with a Masters in Reading, Curriculum and Instruction, and Administration and Supervision". She has found herself out of work while novice inexperienced teachers from Teach for America and other alternative certification programs who are uncertified are taking jobs of veteran teachers. She states that "The Displaced Forum gives pertinent information." She also said, It helps her "in terms of moral support and even financially through phone banking and resources available through agencies to support unemployment income."

Illegally terminated teacher Pat Gerad awaits the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the Chicago Teachers Union. Pat says that the Displaced Teacher Forum "gives support to teachers." She added, "teachers who have not attended the forum are lost and don't know what is going on". On the other hand, she stated that "teachers have support and have bonded. They have the support of the Chicago Teachers Union and they benefit from having the information needed and they do not feel isolated." Pat acknowledged that isolation from teachers and students has been discomforting.

Some displaced teachers have won their jobs back and frequent the forum to help inspire hope for those who are still waiting. Yolanda Thompson and Rosemary King both won their jobs back and frequent the forum to support teachers. Others like Cynthia Thompson have offered help to homeless teachers by offering a place to stay for a teacher who lost his home. Educational Support Personnel like Carmella Miller and parents Ronald Jackson, LSC member from Tilden High School, April Whitaker, Pact Chair of the South Shore School of the Arts, and Michael Finney LSC member of Goodlow Elementary and 15th Ward Aldermanic candidate, often join the forum to support the teachers.

The message is clear. In these times of great wealth to the few and misery to the many, we all must organize. We, the little people must organize, support each other and take our destiny into our own hands.

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Conference participant Anthony Prince, an
attorney representing Teamsters Local 705, Chicago.


By Chris Mahin

CHICAGO--The Committee to Stop FBI Repression sponsored four regional conferences last month to defend 23 anti-war and progressive union activists falsely targeted for providing "material support" for terrorism.

At the February 12 Conference at Chicago's Teamster City, anti-war activists Jess Sundin and Tracy Molm described what it was like to have their homes raided by FBI agents. Jim Fennerty of the National Lawyers Guild and Christina Abraham of the Council on Islamic American Relations provided legal perspective. (For more information, go to www.stopfbi.net.)

The People's Tribune interviewed conference participant Anthony Prince, an attorney representing Chicago Teamsters Local 705 Chicago. People's Tribune: Why is Local 705 here?

Anthony Prince: We were one of the first unions to condemn these raids. Some of those targeted by the FBI are themselves Teamsters or have walked picket lines with us.

More importantly, however, the laws that the U.S. Attorney is using to justify this witch-hunt represent a major threat to workers, both union and unorganized.

PT: Why is that?

Mr. Prince: These laws, including the "material support to terrorism" law (18 U.S.C. Section 2339B), are so broadly written that they could be misused against an American unionist who might meet with groups fighting for labor rights in a foreign country. For example, many U.S. labor delegations have visited Colombia, South Korea and Mexico to meet with embattled unionists. Workers in these countries are often employed by the same U.S. multi-national corporations that we face every day here in America. And because these workers necessarily oppose the corrupt, repressive, anti-union governments which have created such lucrative, super-exploitative business conditions for the multi-nationals, these workers are often labeled "terrorists" and communications with them could be deemed "material support." It's hardly a stretch that American unionists involved in international fact-finding and solidarity efforts might well be the next ones hauled before a grand jury.

PT: How has the excuse of "fighting terrorism" affected labor?

Mr. Prince: Some of the most important rights enjoyed by workers in this country -- both union and unorganized -- have been stripped, with the justification that these rights stand in the way of fighting terrorism.

For example, under longstanding decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), any worker--union or unorganized--had the right to have a co-worker witness in any work-related investigatory interview. But three years after the 9/11 attacks, the NLRB issued its IBM Corporation decision, ruling that the so-called Weingarten rights no longer applied to non-union workers. The board expressly declared that "new security concerns raised by terrorist attacks on our country" justified the removal of these industrial due process protections. So you see, we are in the same line of fire. It's not just about the injustice of this grand-jury fishing expedition, it's about a broader campaign to use a phony "war against terror" to conduct a real war against our rights in the workplace.

PT: What's the next step?

Mr. Prince: Already three of the biggest unions in Chicago -- SEIU, Chicago Teachers Union, and my local, Teamsters 705 -- have called on U.S.. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to dissolve this grand jury and lift the unjust cloud of suspicion from these unionists and peace activists. The grand jury is supposed to be a safeguard against unjust prosecutions; it's become the very opposite in this case. Not only that, it's a complete waste of taxpayer money. Where are the grand juries for the home foreclosures, for the banks who defrauded working people in this country? For the corporations who robbed our pensions? That's the kind of justice we need.


This article originated in the People's Tribune
PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 800-691-6888
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