Two Lockouts, A Strike, and a Pizza

This is a column about rules. It’s about rules we are expected to follow and rules that the rulers – call them the new aristocracy, the 1%, the Masters of the Universe – don’t deign to notice. It’s about hypocrisy, double standards and twisted logic. But it’s really about a strike and two lockouts that on basic principle demand our support.

The Chicago teacher's strike has more angles than Cecil Cooper's swing. But there is one criminally under discussed aspect of it. It would be so helpful if just one of the many politicians and newspaper editorial boards lining up to lambast the teacher's union can explain why Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s vision for a model Chicago public school is so at odds with the education he is providing for his own children.

Mayor Rahm is fighting to create a school system dominated by high-pressured standardized testing. Everyone and everything must bow to the test. Cut art, cut music, cut physical education, extend the school day, and create an educational environment that revolves around filling in a bubble.

Yet Rahm sends his own children to the University of Chicago Lab School. As labor journalist Mike Elk reported,  “The Lab School has seven full-time art teachers to serve a student population of 1,700. By contrast, only 25% of Chicago’s ‘neighborhood elementary schools’ have both a full-time art and music instructor. The Lab School has three different libraries, while 160 Chicago public elementary schools do not have a library.”

Rahm wants les art and more standardized testing for Chicago's children while he wants more art and less high-stakes testing for his own children. One set of rules for him and one for the rest of us.

Then there is the ongoing lockout of 119 National Football League referees. NFL owners, led by their flak-catching Commissioner Roger Goodell, don’t care that for the cost of several dozen Peyton Manning autographed footballs, they could rehire their highly trained officials.  This is a league that secretes money but the billionaires in the owner’s box can’t stand the thought of paying for competent officiating when there are replacements willing to work for less pounding at the doors.

The connective tissue with the teachers of Chicago isn't the greed. It's the gap. It’s the gap between the rules Commissioner Goodell and the owners expect others to follow and their own moral code. Goodell has decided to make the “health and safety” of players, golden buzzwords that justify all decisions. “Health and safety” are why players should be fined $50,000 for “helmut to helmut contact."

“Health and safety” are why the league leveled reckless “bounty” allegations against four members of the New Orleans Saints despite what’s now been deemed an absence of evidence. And Roger Goodell’s care for the “health and safety” of players is why the league just donated $30 million to the National Institute of Health to study brain disease.

Yet here are the NFL referees, uniquely charged and trained to protect the health and safety of players and they can’t get on the field. The very people called “the first responders” by the league, comparing them to emergency medical technicians, have been locked out. I don’t want to argue just how embarrassing their scab, lingerie football league replacements have been. The point is that Roger Goodell has one set of standards of safeguarding “health and safety” for players and another for himself, just as Rahm Emanuel feels that there is a kind of school good enough for his children, but not anyone else’s.

Lastly, the owners of the National Hockey League are going to lock out their players this weekend. This will be the league’s fourth work stoppage since 1992. Rather than negotiate, their commissioner Gary Bettman has left the players with a “take-it-or-leave it” proposal.

Since the league cancelled their 2004 season in the last lockout, revenue has grown from  $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion. Despite this growth, or perhaps because of this growth, owners wanted players to cut their piece of the pie from 57 to 43 percent. But the issue isn't the revenue. It's the existing contracts. As one official said to me, “This isn’t about revenue as much as it is that they don’t want to have to pay the contracts offered over the last year. They want to be able to rip up and renegotiate all existing contracts. They want us to save them from themselves.”

And here once again we encounter the problem of rules. A contract is supposed to be an inviolate, legally binding agreement. That’s what working families were told when they signed onto the predatory loans that eventually claimed their homes. That’s what we are told when our cars are repossessed. That’s what the union autoworkers in the United States were told only to see their wages slashed in half in the much-ballyhooed auto-bailout. Instead not only NHL players but also all of us get sent a message that a contract is only worth a damn if those in power choose to honor it.

There is no winning a game when the rules have been rigged but there is power in numbers. There is power in struggle. And there is power in pizza. The easiest way to support Chicago teachers is to order them a piping hot pizza pie. You can get food to the picket lines by calling Gus or Daisy at Primo’s Pizza at (312) 243-1052. When pizza shows up to the tired picketers, everyone's spirits are lifted. It's read to them from which part of the country a pie was ordered and it makes them feel that much less alone. We don’t have the power of a Rahm Emanuel or Roger Goodell. But we do have numbers and perhaps we can even the score one pizza at a time.

8 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Count the Hypocrites

What would be interesting would be to find out the amout of Chicago public teachers who send their children to private schools or charter schools. Would DZ then call these folks hypocrites? BTW I am a proud respresentative of the Chicago public schools. I attended and graduated my first twelve years of education.

Interesting topic, but not this simplistic

Mayor Emmanuel was tasked with the unenviable duty of making lemonade out of some of the city's failing schools. In the best of times this is difficult without offending somebody, but Chicago has a high rate of unemployment even by Illinois standards, whose is likewise above the national averages. Earlier this year he abolished two city-mandated school holidays in hopes of squeezing more curricular hours into a school year, and although that is not the actual reason why, I was not surprised to see a labor impasse soon thereafter. Emmanuel isn't cancelling art curriculum just to ruin the lives of teachers and students. This trend was lamentably underway in municipalities in Illinois, with closings, consolidations, and displaced teachers. The CTU has reasonable concerns and fears, but they want assurance from a fate that may not be avoidable. Emmanuel, like any other civil servant, gets a pay check. It is no more a crime to spend his money on private school tuition than if he were a mail carrier or, yes, a teacher. Cities and states have budgets, responsibilities, and restrictions. Like it or not, elected officials are not obligated to manage civic affairs the same way as their own households.

As for the NFL referees, there is a reason "there are replacements willing to work for less pounding at the doors." There are a total of 119 officials currently locked out. Does anybody seriously believe that there aren't several thousand people who would be just as competent, given the chance? While these guys have their skills and training, we're not talking surgeons or air traffic controllers. NFL refs make 6 figures a year on 20 days annually on a part time job with a pension. Scoff if you want at the replacements, but the regulars are a long way from irreplaceable. Hell, until this lockout, there had never even been a woman on the field. Maybe because a woman can't handle the physical and mental workload of a bespectacled, septuagenarian accountant, or maybe because the regulars stay on this cushy gig for 20+ years if they can. While viewers nitpick over every potential mistake, the regulars have made these same calls every week for 50 years, and we have all griped about them just as long.

It's Not About the Budget

Hi, I'm a UFT delegate. Rahm Emmanuel's "reforms" in CPS have nothing to do with the city budget. Just last year, Mayor Bloomberg threatened to lay off teachers here in NYC to make a political point about education "reform" when the city was running a budget /surplus/. The 1% is trying to strip mine public education because it's one of the last places they haven't got to yet - they've already got healthcare, prisons, the military, etc - and Rahm is just their agent helping them do it. If he wanted to, he could move CPS in the direction of the education provided at UCLS. Maybe he couldn't get the same facilities, but he could push the same philosophy. Instead, he's pushing this "race to the top" (the characterization of education as a race is sickening but nothing new) philosophy designed to drive dedicated professionals out of schools and replace them with corporate boards.


Bloomberg and Emmanuel are two different people, and Chicago and NYC are two different cities. If you look at Bloomberg's resume as mayor--the smoking ban, strict prosecutions on gun crimes, soda bans--you could reasonably argue that he launches moral crusades based at leastas much on personal agenda as anything else.

In the case of Chicago, the entire state outside it has been closing buildings, and cutting programs for 5 years before Emmanuel even took offfice. While the city does not have all the exact same problems as the surrounding locales, it does have the unemployment issues and whatnot. As a parent of a public school child in one of said state's afflicted burgs, I hate like hell that these things have happened. But unfortunately, the teachers are facing the same prospects as so many of the area's working men and women. I'm not saying Emmanuel's plan is the best course of action, but this isn't How Green Is My Valley. Sometimes our options aren't this or something better; rather, the choice is between this and something much worse.

The 1 or the 99?

Of course, everyone wants the best schooling for their kids, but in this society, it's like everything else - health care, retirement, decent housing - if you have money, you get, if you don't, you have to make do. There is a reason public schools are in such sad conditions - there are a lot of people who don't care about them and don't want to pay for them. Zirin's point is well-taken, and I haven't heard anyone respond to it. Testing is the worst way to evaluate schools and teachers, because year after year, test scores exactly reflect socioeconomic status.What is Rahm's vision? More testing! Is he trying to make the public schools like his kids' school? I think not.
As for the refs, there are plenty of people who could do your job, too. Does that mean you shouldn't try to make your job better? Quit bashing workers. What about the owners, who won't pay ther miniscule amount (compared to the billions the League makes) to provide the safest game for players and the best game for the fans? Which side are you on anyway? The 1 or the 99?

The referee lockout

It's interesting how the lockout is covered on ESPN, Fox Sports, and the network NFL talking heads. It's never the owners' fault that they want to go from a "defined benefit" retirement package to a "defined contribution" program (i.e. raid the refs' pension fund). Years ago, Bud Grant argued that the NFL needed full-time referees, and should pay for them. Nothing happened then; nothing has changed to date. The owners and Godell all want to run the league on the cheap: part-time refs, publicly-funded stadia, ownership of all logo products, exorbident TV contracts. etc. I understand that most of the player contracts are not guaranteed, either.
And yet it's the refs fault? C'mon, man!

Two tiers

I am 100% opposed to Private Schools. That said, I send my kids to one because I want the best education they can get. We can barely afford it but we do it because the Public Schools today look nothing like the Public Schools we went to many years ago.

If Private Schools were ever eliminated you can bet the Public School system would get all the funding it ever needed to be the best system in the world.

But since the wealthy donít use it, they donít want to pay for it, and over time the public system degrades.

This is the inevitable result when you create a 2-tier system, regardless of whether it is education, health care (in Canada), or unions (you can have your union as long as new hires are on a lower pay scale or benefit structure, i.e. not equal).

As far as balancing the budget is concerned, it always seem to come from cutting public services but never from higher taxes on the top end or higher corporate taxes. Cut taxes in good times, cut public services in bad times, rinse, repeat.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to
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