Stand up, Chicago!

From the July-August 2011 issue of News & Letters:

Stand up, Chicago!

Chicago–Thousands of people rallied on June 14 under the banner, “Give It Back!” Three separate marches downtown, each led by a 12-foot-tall “corporate welfare king” puppet, met up outside a Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce summit. Then 24 people sat down in the street and were arrested. There were contingents of teachers, healthcare workers, janitors, anti-eviction campaigners and community activists.

We were angry that teachers, other public employees and workers in general are being made the scapegoats for the fiscal crises of federal, state and local governments. We were angry about the attacks on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Meanwhile, big banks and corporations get bailouts and tax breaks and their executives get fat bonuses, but they keep cutting wages and benefits for workers.

The rally was organized by “Stand Up! Chicago,” which was set up by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) along with other groups including the Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Jobs with Justice, and a number of community organizations. It identifies its members as “18 different unions and community organizations that are sick of big banks and big businesses getting richer while the people get poorer.”

Its origin from the labor union bureaucracy may explain the curious “Give It Back!” theme. Many preprinted signs read “Give Back Our Schools,” “Give Back Our Homes,” and “Give Back Our Jobs.”

Can we really get anywhere by aiming our sights so low? The structural economic crisis of capitalism is pushing the capitalist class to decimate the middle class and drive all workers down to the conditions of Chinese sweatshop workers.

The solution isn’t to try to save the middle class, within a system that depends on an underclass of undocumented immigrants, prisoners, and excluded workers, as well as a “normal” level of unemployment. Unless the movement is grounded in the lower and deeper layers of the oppressed and in a vision of a classless, non-racist, non-sexist society–not just “getting back” what we’ve lost–the union bureaucracy will be in a position to mislead and squelch the movement, just as they pulled the plug on a general strike in Wisconsin.

–Environmental justice activist

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