The Chicago Democratic Socialists of America stands in solidarity with the demands of the Chicago Teachers Union for a safe work environment and an agreement with Chicago Public Schools that establishes conditions for a safe return to in-person work. We need unity of parents, students, staff, and educators to stand against the #LoriLockout and to fight for safe in-person learning.
For close to two years, the coronavirus pandemic has raged across Chicago, the U.S. and the world, causing sickness, sometimes severe and long-term, and millions of deaths. In Chicago alone, close to 7,000 people have died and well over 400,000 have contracted the virus.
Covid has disproportionately affected Black and Brown communities and immigrants, particularly on the South and West Sides of the city, many who are family members of students in CPS. It should come as no surprise that these are the same communities that have faced decades of disinvestment and been plagued by inadequate healthcare. The backbone of the working class in our city—nurses, healthcare workers, service employees, warehouse workers, and all other workers who were told they are “essential”— have borne the brunt of the trauma of this pandemic and been on the front lines of a complete systemic failure to act.
Amidst a surge of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, positive cases have dramatically increased in just weeks and Illinois COVID hospitalizations have reached their highest level since the start of the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, new hospital admissions for children with Covid-19 has risen to record highs, increasing by 66 percent in just the past week to 378 per day. The sharp increase in cases has slammed healthcare workers already struggling with staffing shortages, with only about 10% ICU beds and 20% non-ICU beds left available for Covid patients in Chicago hospitals. Our already threadbare public healthcare system, desperately under-staffed, is at a breaking point.
At the same time, Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez last week said that he “feels very comfortable” with the return to schools and Mayor Lori Lightfoot said a few days ago, “We need to keep our kids in school, which is what we’re going to do.” These statements from Martinez and Lightfoot clearly show that neither the CEO nor the Mayor have any grasp of the reality of Omicron, nor a sense of the public schools they oversee, which are overcrowded with poor ventilation, lack of cleaning supplies and optimal PPE for students, educators and support staff. CPS has failed to address a number of safety concerns brought to them by CTU, including increased testing and tracing protocols, increases to emotional and health supports, and other steps necessary to guarantee safe in-person learning.
While Lightfoot and the rest of the city’s elite claim this is about the quality of education, we know the truth: It is essential to keep students in schools while refusing to allocate more resources in order to keep the gears of the economy moving and the already exorbitant profits for the ruling class flowing and to push the march towards privatization of public education. The Mayor’s complete disregard for the working people of Chicago has been a hallmark of her tenure, best exemplified by her funneling of 60% of federal Covid-relief funds to police overtime pay. That money could have instead provided relief to the thousands of people struggling to make rent or pay their mortgage, or to pay parents to stay home so that they aren’t forced to choose between sending their children into unsafe schools or losing pay.
Lightfoot’s strategy fits neatly into the approach of the rest of the Democratic Party that has proven completely incapable of overcoming the current crisis. The Biden administration’s inaction around school reopenings and hoarding of vaccine patents makes it clear that his priority isn’t in the wellbeing of the working class but in the demands of the super rich ruling class. This is a systemic failure, rooted in capitalism’s insatiable drive for profit. In any just or rational society, vaccine apartheid would never exist. Even compared with other countries, Biden’s failure to ramp up testing capacity is a profound disaster rooted in his unwillingness to challenge for-profit health corporations.
In their 2019 strike, the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU 73 fought valiantly to improve staffing, put nurses in school buildings, and improve school sanitation, but those conditions still remain entirely inadequate. If Chicago educators, staff and students continue to be forced into schools, positive cases of Omicron will increase exponentially, further devastating students and school staff already traumatized by the past two years.
The Chicago Democratic Socialists of America stands in solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union’s demands for increased health and safety protocols necessary to respond to the Omicron surge. While we recognize that remote learning is an enormous burden on educators, students, and working families, we unequivocally support CTU’s remote work action until CPS commits to real, enforceable safety measures, like weekly district wide testing. We denounce the city’s craven retaliatory lockout of teachers, students, and staff. This Lightfoot action shows that our movement needs to be prepared for a real fight to win even the most common sense measures.
This fight is part and parcel with the larger struggle to end the pandemic and keep our communities safe, healthy, and protected from exploitation and degradation. As socialists, we know that the only path forward is through solidarity and collective struggle, and we will put our full force behind every worker—whether they are the teachers and school staff here or the many labor militants across the country—who have thrown themselves into the fight against the capitalist class and their failure to act against this nightmarish virus.