"Off With Their Heads"

Karen Lewis, via Huffington Post:  "We are in a moment where the wealth disparity in this country is very reminiscent of the robber baron ages. The labor leaders of that time, though, were ready to kill. They were. They were just -- off with their heads. They were seriously talking about that. I don’t think we’re at that point. And that’s scary to most people. But the key is they think nothing of killing us. They think nothing of putting our people in harm’s way. They think nothing of lethal working conditions."


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  • That's probably not as egregious as some of the things she's said.

    Also, I see that with the strike over, district299reader has to be in the classroom, and the hundreds of them aren't posting here.

  • President Lewis' comments at the meeting of the IL Labor History Society were not outragous in the least. In fact they were objectively correct.

    If we use the historian Matthew Josephson time frame for what President Lewis calls the time of the Robber Barons its about from 1861–1901. During that time frame there were indeed leaders of the labor movement who advocated armed action against the so called Robber Barons, there were also plenty of labor leaders that argued against such extreme actions.

    So President Lewis is correct completely on that score. In relation to wealth disparity in America, currently the share of total wealth owned by the top 1% of the population is around 37.1%, and that owned by the top 20% of Americans is about 87.7%. I have not been able to find solid comparable data for the historical period of of time of the Robber Barons. One major study I just looked at indicated that the current concentration of wealth is greater than in 1920, so I have no reason to believe President Lewis was not correct about the current level of wealth disparity being as high as in those times.

    What is amazing I think is the commentary on President Lewis' presentation made by CPS that appeared this morning on WGN TV, FOX TV and on other stations. CPS' Chief Communications Officer Becky Carroll responded to the issue in a statement saying:

    "Our focus is on our students and their education. This kind of rhetoric has no place in the work that must be done to address the issues facing our District. We all must look for constructive ways to address and resolve these very serious issues in order to best support the academic success of our children. "

    I guess I would have to ask Ms. Carroll what are her thoughts on a constructive approach to addressing the question of wealth disparity in America? I doubt somehow she has ever contemplated such an issue.

    Moreover, since Ms. Carroll was as of July 2012 was making about $165,000 a year without bonus payments that would place her in terms of income in the top 6.44% in the nation. Possibly, Ms. Carroll took President Lewis' comments personally. But she really shouldn't because President Lewis has to be making between the CTU and IFT at least $148,000 a year. The people President Lewis was discussing in terms of guillotining back in 1900 made far more than folks currently working in education even at the highest levels. So Becky calm down you are safe the class war is not at your door.

    Rod Estvan

  • In reply to Rodestvan:

    I am glad you are off the slopes and back to commenting here... it is always worthwhile to read.

  • Yes, I snorted at Carroll's statement in response to Lewis's speech. I just assumed Carroll probably doesn't know her history (or current affairs) --- or want it taught in the schools.

  • In reply to district299reader:

    I'm confused as to why Carroll would even chime in here as it's apparent that CPS does not want to work with the Union. Along those lines, the side that's losing also resorts the the "for the kids" argument/stance. It's the surest sign in any battle between the Union and CPS (or CPS and parents). Carroll has relied on this talking point more than anyone I can remember.

  • i have to admit i was confused about whether lewis was suggesting that the rich wanted to kill labor or vice versa - both seemed like they were possibilities in her remark.

    the real question for me here is what benefits to CPS kids are accruing from lewis and CTU's ongoing saber-rattling? what are we getting for all of this? i have no sense whether things are any better now after the contract successes, which you'd think they would be.

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    I guess it depends on your interpretation of the Haymarket Massacre.

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    It isn't just Lewis and the CTU, it's also CPS. Just as valid a question would be why would CPS even comment on something like this? What benefits do students get out of CPS continually going to battle with the CTU even on subjects that have nothing to do with Chicago or education?

    But on another note, Alex, are you really that out of touch? The CPS of the Daley and Stewart era is long gone... do you still view it through those lenses?

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    "what are we getting for all of this?"

    By "we," do you mean you and other old-money, privately-educated, Brooklyn-based bloggers?

  • In reply to district299reader:

    that's a lame attempt to duck the question of what's better or different about school this year for parents, kids, and taxpayers?

    i'd really like to know. is it better, worse, or about the same? is it better than it would have been otherwise, at least?

    sometimes it feels like the strike and negotiations happened but didn't actually change much on the ground, which is sad for everyone if it's true. is it?

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    Was it suppose to be better? The teachers got a little raise but have been unable to stem the tide of job insecurity. I expect they will be extra cranky until the impact of school closings becomes clear.

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    Let us not forget that Lewis' cries regarding school closures and gang activity was to some like yourself considered "saber-rattling" now 2 years later the school closing panel speaks the same language. The need for a well-rounded curriculum and art classes... more Lewis "saber-rattling" to some. Now, BBB mentions a "kiln" and access to art as part of the possible decision making on school closing. See the forest through the trees dear.

  • Alex quoted the most news-worthy part of what she said:

    "But the key is they think nothing of killing us. They think nothing of putting our people in harm’s way. They think nothing of lethal working conditions."

    What does she mean by that? Or is she not accountable for what comes out of her mouth? She reminds me of Michele Bachmann. A politician who needs the personal rewards that can only be obtained by ratcheting up absurd rhetoric.

    Why does she even bother with connecting words between meaningless zingers? blah blah "ROBBER BARONS!!" blah blah would work just as well for all of you who have such a clear understanding of your righteousness.

    In the long run the KL "full blown paranoid" schtick will not work any better for the CTU than it did for the tea party.

  • Responding to both Alexander and Don. President Lewis is creating what I would call a left poll in the labor movement and she is politically reflective of her political base in CORE. Tactically within the broader labor movement President Lewis could effectively eventually challenge some one like Jorge Ramirez the President of the Chicago Federation of Labor for his position or even AFT President Randi Weingarten.

    Jorge Ramirez is deeply compromised and co-opted in many respects. For example Ramirez currently serves as a member of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Labor Advisory Committee, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Advisory Council on Agriculture, Small Business and Labor, the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau Board of Directors, the Navy Pier, Inc. Board of Directors, the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership and is co-chairman of the City of Chicago Labor Management Cooperative Committee (LMCC). Its hard for someone like Ramirez to challenge big money interests because he is tied to them and its hard for President Weingarten to unload on things like the Common Core Standards since she was a full time teacher for only a very short period of time (she was an UTF lawyer) .

    Weingarten has not opposed charter schools on the basis that they are an anti-union force. Rather, she sees charter schools as worthwhile experiments in public education so long as these teachers are organized. In general I have agreed with President Weingarten on that issue, but I would say that the bulk of AFT members nationally who work in urban school districts that have lost high paying teaching positions to charter schools do not agree with her.

    President Lewis has made it clear that charter schools are being used by the CPS Board as a tool the wreck the CTU here in Chicago. She has gained great support among teachers based on her militancy in relation to that issue.

    The primary reason President Lewis is being starked by the conservative media is fear on the part of the right and conservative Democrats in America that Lewis is the harbinger of social disorder and class conflict in America. Its best to cut her off at the knees.

    I think it is becoming clear to many teachers that pragmatic unionism that counts on paying off democratic politicans in the big cities with campaign contributions has maybe run its course. Not that you burn all your bridges to Democrats, but you realize paying these folks off won't save your unions without militancy. Urban public sector unions have entered a fight or die situation and President Lewis has become a standard bearer of that battle and not just in Chicago by the way.

    I do not think Chicago's media understands in the least what is happening here. Whether or not the trend represented by Lewis in the labor movement can turn back the assult o npublic sector workers relatively higher standard of living is yet to be seen.

    Rod Estvan

  • I see it the way Rod does, with this being key:

    "The primary reason President Lewis is being starked by the conservative media is fear on the part of the right and conservative Democrats in America that Lewis is the harbinger of social disorder and class conflict in America. Its best to cut her off at the knees."

    I don't see hyperbole in referencing the Robber Barons and unionists of yore.

  • As a parent of two CPS students, who would never send them to a charter school, please explain to me how this helps with my children's education?

    On second though, my girls will be ok, how does this help CPS students, and please leave charters out of your explanation.

  • In reply to ChiKev:

    I assume ChiKev is referencing how President Lewis' comments before the Labor History Society helps with the education of your children. President Lewis was speaking in her capacity as a significant and important leader of what is left of Chicago's labor movement.

    The intent of the presentation as far as I can understand was comparing labor history's past to its present. Let's be clear here President Lewis did not distribute video of her presentation to the media, it was handed out by by Kyle Olson of the Education Action Group Foundation a very conservative and anti-union organization. So her presentation may not have been just about education, but rather it may have been about the American labor movement as a whole.

    Rod Estvan

  • In reply to Rodestvan:

    Sadly, labor history is barely taught in schools, even up through college.

  • Because her comments are historically accurate, some might deem it a history lesson.

    Whether or not historical accuracy helps or does not help students would depend upon their own personal interests and values.

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