Posts tagged ‘Labour movement’

August 31, 2013

Protesting Teachers Block Mexico City Airport

by JOHNNY HAZARD | Published Aug 30 2013 by

Thousands of teachers (seven thousand, according to detractors, more according to organizers), members of a dissident caucus within the dominant Mexican teachers union, blocked access to the Mexico City airport for about 11 hours on Friday July 23. The action was part of a series of escalating protests against the passage, without discussion, of an education “reform” package in the congress in the first day of the term of new president Enrique Peña Nieto, inaugurated in December amid charges of electoral fraud.

News reports have focused more on passengers’ and airline employees’ lamentations about inconvenience than about the teachers’ demands. One newspaper carried the complaints of a flight attendant who hurt her feet because she had to walk a mile or two to the airport in high heels, as if her unfortunate choice of footwear were the teachers’ fault. Teachers were about to enter and shut down the airport when some of their leaders paused, negotiated with authorities, and decided to limit the action to a blockade of all roads that lead to the airport (a highway and several major thoroughfares). This, while disappointing some of the more avid participants, still had the effect of forcing the delay or cancellation of most flights.

The week of intense protests began when the congress was to begin a special session to pass legislation that would enable the reform measures, which include more standardized testing for students and teachers and a fast-track route to fire teachers in violation of collective bargaining agreements. Media, business, and government leaders here tend to blame teachers for the low academic achievement of students who attend school only a few hours every day in schools with peeling paint, crumbling walls, no running water, soap, toilet paper, or nutritious food and a teacher shortage (not for lack of applicants) that creates class sizes of 40 or 50 in the early grades. In rural areas it is common for teachers to appear only via closed circuit television.

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August 15, 2013

When Schools Become Dead Zones of the Imagination: A Critical Pedagogy Manifesto

By Henry A. Giroux | Published 13 August 2013 by


While pedagogies of repression come in different forms and address different audiences in various contexts, they all share a commitment to defining pedagogy as a set of strategies and skills to use in order to teach prescribed subject matter. In this context, pedagogy becomes synonymous with teaching as a technique or the practice of a craft-like skill. There is no talk here of connecting pedagogy with the social and political task of resistance, empowerment or democratization. Nor is there any attempt to show how knowledge, values, desire and social relations are always implicated in power.  Any viable notion of critical pedagogy must reject such definitions of teaching and their proliferating imitations even when they are claimed as part of a radical discourse or project.  In opposition to the instrumentalized reduction of pedagogy to a mere method that has no language for relating the self to public life, social responsibility or the demands of citizenship, critical pedagogy works to illuminate the relationships among knowledge, authority and power. 24 For instance, it raises questions regarding who has control over the conditions for producing knowledge such as the curricula being promoted by teachers, textbook companies, corporate interests or other forces? 

Central to any viable notion of what makes a pedagogy critical is, in part, the recognition that pedagogy is always a deliberate attempt on the part of educators to influence how and what forms of knowledge and subjectivities are produced within particular sets of social relations. In this case, critical pedagogy draws attention to the ways in which knowledge, power, desire, and experience are produced under specific conditions of learning, and in doing so rejects the notion that teaching is just a method or is removed from matters of values, norms, and power – or, for that matter, the struggle over agency itself and the future it suggests for young people. Rather than asserting its own influence in order to wield authority over passive subjects, critical pedagogy is situated within a project that views education as central to creating students who are socially responsible and civically engaged citizens. This kind of pedagogy reinforces the notion that public schools are democratic public spheres, education is the foundation for any working democracy and teachers are the most responsible agents for fostering that education.

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August 14, 2013

Labour’s battle for the public mind and the crucial social role of unions

By Rick Salutin | Published August 2, 2013 by


Why doesn’t the union protest loudly that they’re taxpayers, too? Or that fairness in pay is something anyone who has a job can identify with and support. Plus: higher wages lead to more demand in the economy, therefore more jobs and taxes paid, lowering deficits, etc.

In other words, why don’t they contest the battle for the public mind? I don’t know why but they don’t, or rarely do. They seem to have lost track of that tactic. It went missing in the Ontario teachers conflict this year, too. The unions made little or no effort to explain their case and enlist parents, students and citizens on their side. That left the McGuinty government with the role of defender of the taxpayers. It’s not inevitable. The Chicago teachers’ union laboured for wider support and won their strike with it.

This matters not just because it would be smart for unions. It’s because they, for about a century, have been central to general social improvement. They provided inspiration, resources, organization: without them there would not have been public health care, universal pensions, health and safety laws, the whole panoply of the (now disputed) welfare state. It’s hard to imagine today how central they recently were to the electoral and legislative calculations of all political parties, not just Democrats in the U.S., or Liberals and NDP here.

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August 8, 2013

Building fighting teachers unions

By Lee Sustar | Published August 8, 2013 by The Socialist Worker


CERTAINLY, OUSTING ineffective or conservative leaders is an important goal of militants among teachers, as it is for other union activists. And as the Chicago experience shows, a fighting union leadership can make a critical difference. But for most teachers union locals, those are long-term goals. So what do they do now?

That’s where CORE’s history is key. While the caucus only came into existence a couple of years before taking office, its roots go back decades to previous CTU reform movements. More recently, many CORE members were part of the reform administration of Deborah Lynch from 2001-2004, which was ousted after negotiating a weak contract. Others were active in the fight against the militarization of schools as well as school closures. Many first met in organizing around issues of violence that claimed their students.

As CTU President Karen Lewis often points out, CORE wasn’t formed with the idea of taking over the union, but simply making it more effective. The first step was understanding the enemy: hence a study group around Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine. CORE’s first big public meeting in January 2009 drew 500 people in the midst of a classic Chicago blizzard, compelling the then-union president to show up to speak.

Certainly there’s much to be learned by trade unionists everywhere in studying CORE’s activist orientation and organizational savvy. But what makes CORE different is the politics behind the operation. While it is far from a politically homogenous group–CORE unites everyone from Democrats to socialists–the role of the left has been crucial. Socialists, radicals and militants from various organizations and political currents work together in CORE to emphasize union democracy, rank-and-file activism and militant action. This comes not from a nostalgia from labor’s better days, but from a sober recognition of the prospects for unions in an era of a depressed economy, a rollback of the public sector and rampant social inequality.

Just as important, CORE militants saw from the beginning that the teachers’ struggle had to be the same as that of students and parents. Thus, there was no difference between the CTU’s message to its members during the strike and to the wider community: Chicago teachers were defending public education, and got overwhelming support as a result.

CORE’s argument can be summed up as this: Teachers unions will have to struggle harder than they have for decades simply to hold on to what they have–and their fight must be part of a wider working-class movement to defend public services and a decent standard of living. If the revival of teacher reform groups is any indication, it’s a message that teachers are ready to hear.

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July 25, 2013

Public School Teachers: New Unions, New Alliances, New Politics

By Michael D. Yates | Published 24 July 2013 by

The U.S. working class was slow to respond to the hard times it faced during and after the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Finally, however, in February, 2011, workers in Wisconsin began the famous uprising that electrified the country, revolting in large numbers against Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to destroy the state’s public employee labor unions.  A few months later, the Occupy Wall Street movement, which supported many working class efforts, spread from New York City to the rest of the nation and the world. Then, in September 2012, Chicago’s public school teachers struck, in defiance of Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s attempt to destroy the teachers’ union and put the city’s schools firmly on the path of neoliberal austerity and privatization.

These three rebellions shared the growing awareness that economic and political power in the United States are firmly in the hands of a tiny minority of fantastically wealthy individuals whose avarice knows no bounds. These titans of finance want to eviscerate working men and women, making them as insecure as possible and wholly dependent on the dog-eat-dog logic of the marketplace, while at the same time converting any and all aspects of life into opportunities for capital accumulation.

The public sector is still, despite the effort of capital to dismantle it, the one sanctuary people have against the depredations of the 1 percent. Through struggle, working men and women have succeeded in winning a modicum of health care and retirement security, as well as some guarantee that their children will be educated, all irrespective of the ability to pay for these essential services. They have also found decent employment opportunities in government, especially women and minorities. The public sector, then, is a partial barrier to the expansion of capital in that it both denies large sums of money to capitalists (social security funds, for example) and protects the workers in it from the vagaries of the labor market.

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July 20, 2013

How Mass Civil Disobedience at a Seattle High School Catalyzed the ‘Education Spring’

By | Published July 1 2013 by


This victory against a standardized test represents a high stakes test for corporate education reformers who have attempted to reduce the intellectual process of teaching and learning to selecting answer choices, A, B, C, or D. Their entire project of denying students graduation, firing teachers, closing schools, and privatizing education through the proliferation of charter schools rests on their ability to reduce teachers and students to a single score. Our ability in Seattle to unite students, parents, and teachers in a movement for a more meaningful and empowering education is a threat to their whole project.

In an effort to demonstrate what authentic assessment could be, educators in Seattle established a Teacher Work Group on Assessment, which engaged in months of research resulting in the “Markers of Quality Assessment” (PDF)—recommended guidelines for developing assessments. The guidelines promote assessments that reflect actual student knowledge and learning, not just test-taking skills; are educational in and of themselves; are free of gender, class and racial bias; are differentiated to meet students’ needs; allow opportunities to go back and improve; undergo regular evaluation and revision by educators.

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July 4, 2013

Beating the Neoliberal Blame Game: Teacher and Parent Solidarity and the 2012 Chicago Teachers’ Strike

By | Published in of the Monthly Review

It was Monday afternoon on the first day of the historic Chicago teachers’ strike. The streets surrounding the downtown headquarters of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were quickly filling up. Red-shirted teachers, paraprofessionals, students, parents, and community groups arrived in waves smiling, hugging, and chanting, some arm-in-arm, while others held up the now-familiar Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) signs that read, “On Strike, for Better Schools,” as well as witty homemade posters such as, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”

This was the first massive demonstration of the strike. I arrived downtown a little early to meet other parents eager to show support for the incoming teachers and school workers. We certainly were not alone. Numerous parents, students, and community members turned out to stand with more than 26,000 teachers and paraprofessionals (many of whom are also parents of CPS students) who were taking a courageous stand not only for their dignity and rights, but also for a just and equitable education for their students. My sign was hastily made that morning on the sidewalk in front of my children’s school where my family and I picketed with our teachers. All it said was “Parents Support Teachers,” but the reaction from incoming strikers to this simple show of solidarity was incredible. Many shouted, “Thank you parents,” “that means so much to us,” and “way to go parents.” Others snapped pictures, clapped, or held their fists in the air.

Soon the streets were jam-packed, overflowing with red as thousands of people continued to march toward CPS headquarters. It was at this point that I felt the power of this historic moment. Chicago teachers and paraprofessionals in solidarity with communities across the city were posing one of the most formidable challenges to neoliberal education policies that are privatizing public education, undermining the teaching profession, intensifying racial and economic inequities across the district, and dehumanizing the children in our public schools. These damaging policies have gained traction in part because of the neoliberal blame game in education, where corporate and political elites are writing the rules and faulting teachers and parents for the complex problems facing public schools. The power of solidarity exemplified in the Chicago Teachers Union strike has changed the rules in this neoliberal blame game.

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July 2, 2013

When “Teachers Want What Children Need”: Reconciling Tensions in Teachers’ Work and Teacher Unionism

By | Published in of the Monthly Review

“Teachers want what children need—or do they?” Questioning—and rejecting—the slogan used by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to fight for collective bargaining in the 1960s, David K. Cohen, a contributor to Socialist Revolution, in 1969 dismissed the progressive potential of teachers’ unions.1 This article revisits the AFT’s slogan and Cohen’s question, examining tensions between “what teachers want” and “what children need.” The history of U.S. teacher unionism supports the argument that when teachers’ unions adopt a “social movement” orientation and press against the confines of the scope of bargaining embedded in collective-bargaining agreements, the unions minimize tensions between teachers’ rights to organize as workers in defense of their material interests and the unique political and social responsibilities of their work.

Though not apparent from either the capitalist mass media or many critiques of what has come to be called “corporate school reform,” the fate of the world’s children depends in great part on resistance from teachers and their unions. We in the United States are experiencing a version of a global project that financial and political elites began forty years ago when they imposed school reform on Latin America, Africa, and Asia, first under brutal military dictatorships supported by U.S. imperialism and then as a quid pro quo for economic aid. Though well-documented by scholars and activists in the global South, the project (and resistance to it) is still not well-known in this country.2 Specifics differ from one country to another, yet its program has the same footprint and purpose of making schools fit neoliberalism’s vision of what the world needs: vocationalization of schooling, privatization of the educational sector, and deprofessionalization of teaching. All of this is tied to reliance on standardized tests as the exclusive measure of students, teachers, and schools.3

The powerful elites who share information and policies across international borders understand (unfortunately, better than do most teachers) that despite their all-too-glaring problems, teachers’ unions are the main impediment to the full realization of the neoliberal project. As is true for labor unions generally, teacher unionism’s principles of collective action and solidarity contradict neoliberalism’s key premises—individual initiative and competition. Neoliberalism pushes a “survival of the fittest” mentality. Labor unions presume people have to work together to protect their common interests. Another reason unions are a threat is that they can exercise institutional power: as organizations they have legal rights; because of their institutional roots, they are a stable force; and they are able to draw on membership dues, giving them a regular source of income. These characteristics give teachers’ unions an organizational capacity seldom acquired by advocacy groups or parents, who generally graduate from activity in schools along with their children. Yet, the very factors that make unions stable and potentially powerful also induce hierarchy and conservatism. Neither unions as organizations nor union members as individuals are immune to prejudices that infect a society, even when these prejudices contradict the union’s premises of equality in the workplace.

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June 25, 2013

Creating a New Model of a Social Union: CORE and the Chicago Teachers Union

By | Published in of the Monthly Review

The success of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike in September 2012 was a stunning rebuke to the forces of privatization and corporate education reform. The defeat of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ambitions to deal a decisive blow against the largest union in Chicago took on national implications precisely due to continued implementation of the school reform model of closing public schools and replacing them with publicly funded but privately run charter schools. Chicago teachers and a majority of the parents of Chicago students fought back against the national basis of this campaign, fronted by Arne Duncan, the former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Obama’s current Secretary of Education, through national programs like Race to the Top.

Three years ago when the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) ran for leadership of the CTU, few would have predicted their ability to turn the union around from six years of do-little leadership into a force capable of taking on a nationally funded, bipartisan “education reform” movement that seemed likely to achieve its goal of weakening and possibly destroying the largest remaining union sector in the United States—public education unions. CORE and the CTU’s success was not due to replacing a weak leadership with a militant one willing to strike, but rather to the creation of a layer of union members in the CTU who saw the struggle as one for what CTU president Karen Lewis calls “the soul of public education.”

I would like to trace the evolution of CORE as a coherent and fundamentally different union leadership that transcended traditional trade-union politics and became the inspiration for a new vision of social unionism. This new model is needed if the union movement is to survive the corporate onslaught, much less expand to champion the needs of the increasingly impoverished working class. Secondly, the articulation of a new type of unionism capable of both mobilizing teachers and reaching out to a community that is underserved by underfunded schools had to be carried out both within the CTU and in the community of parents and students who make up public education in Chicago. There were significant barriers to achieving this melding of trade union demands and the needs of Chicago’s students that had to be overcome during the course of organizing for the strike. A key part of how this was accomplished was by building alliances between the union and the community that involved developing a shared vision of what education should be, and pointing out where it falls short.

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June 13, 2013

The Rebirth of the Chicago Teachers Union and Possibilities for a Counter-Hegemonic Education Movement

By and | Published in of the Monthly Review


For nine days in September, Chicago belonged to the teachers, school paraprofessionals, and clinicians. On September 10, 2012, 26,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went on strike. It was the first teachers’ strike in Chicago in twenty-five years. While public and private sector unions have taken concessions and capitulated to cuts in wages, benefits, seniority rights, job protections, and much of what was won by the labor movement in the twentieth century, the CTU stood up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Commercial Club of Chicago, and the billionaire hedge-fund managers who have set out to break teachers’ unions and dismantle public education. Chicago was a sea of CTU red. Teachers—and their parent, student, and community supporters—picketed at schools across the city, marched through neighborhood streets, and brought downtown Chicago to a standstill with mass rallies of thousands, day after day. There was no need to defend school entrances against scabs—there were none!

For nine days, the city was a carnival of resistance—subway cars were an opportunity to show off your CTU red. Truck and bus drivers and motorists honked incessantly, not just at teachers massed at schools and on corners, but at anyone walking down the street wearing a teacher solidarity T-shirt. After seventeen years of absorbing the punishing effects of high-stakes tests and top-down accountability that have come to dominate public schools, and are destroying teaching and learning, teachers had had enough—and so had parents and students. After seventeen years of being abused and blamed for everything that is wrong with public education, Chicago teachers were the heroes. Their courage, militancy, and power electrified the country. They were standing up for all of us against the destruction of the public sector and the arrogant concentration of power and wealth that has defined neoliberalism in the United States. Contrary to predictions of both Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials and the mayor, people backed the strike and the union across race, class, and neighborhood boundaries. Polls showed that two-thirds of CPS parents supported the union, despite the hardships the strike caused.

But Chicago has a specific history, and the strike was one battle in a complex and protracted war to defend and transform public education and to rebuild unions on new grounds, as part of a larger battle against neoliberalism. How then do we understand the broader significance of the strike and the potential for a broad social movement in education?

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May 15, 2013

Victory in Seattle as Teachers Win Battle in Standardized Test Boycott

By Jon Queally | Published May 14, 2013 by Common Dreams

Seattle teachers who took a strong and public stance by refusing to administer a “flawed” but mandatory standardized test earlier this school year are celebrating a victory after an announcement by the school district saying the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test will not be given to high school students next year.

“Finally, educators’ voices have been acknowledged,” said teacher Jesse Hagopian, who teaches history at Garfield High School in Seattle where the boycott movement began. “This is a great moment in the movement for quality assessment.”

“The teachers at Garfield are overwhelmed with joy,” Hagopian said. “I think this is a real vindication of the movement that was started at Garfield High School by teachers but was quickly joined by parents and students at our school, and around the city, and really around the country.”

The district’s decision was announced in a letter sent to school administrations throughout the city on Monday and followed on the recommendations of a review panel that looked at the testing regime and determined it was not “effective for high school-age students.”

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May 11, 2013

The Chicago Teachers Union: A New Template for Social Justice Unionism?

By Robert Green

This article appears in the Spring 2013 edition of ‘Our Schools / Our Selves’ published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

247175_460871493992960_1910992725_nOne of the first major protests I can remember attending was outside of the PQ government’s socioeconomic summit in 1996. I was an undergraduate at Concordia and while I definitely understood that this summit represented a threat to social spending, I had no idea of the extent to which this event would be a turning point in the province’s politics. The summit’s so-called consensus on eliminating Quebec’s deficit in 4 years would usher in the deepest cuts to social spending in the province’s history. I’ll never forget the ominous feeling in the crisp fall air outside the summit as evening set and a large effigy of Lucien Bouchard was lit ablaze by protestors, right in the middle of Boulevard René Lévesque.

Since then I’ve watched over and over again as neoliberal governments, in Quebec and elsewhere, have thwarted the efforts of public sector workers to defend their working conditions and protect the quality of public services.

I began my teaching career at what was unquestionably a low point for union morale amongst Quebec’s teachers. Jean Charest had just legislated the province’s teachers back-to-work with a draconian law that imposed massive sanctions on both teachers and their unions if they continued to strike. The only gains made by teachers in this imposed contract carried a dollar value of roughly the same amount that government had saved in unpaid salaries during the strike. The whole experience understandably left a bitter taste in the mouths of many of my colleagues. In the most recent round of negotiations teachers showed little interest in work action and ultimately voted to accept the contract proposed by government.

Meanwhile in Ontario the McGuinty government recently threatened back-to-work legislation before teachers had even announced any intention to go on strike! The heavy handedness just seems to be getting heavier.

As a public sector employee and as someone who strongly believes in the power and potential of unions to improve the lives of working people, these have not been the easiest of times. But as heavy handed as various neoliberal governments have been in dealing with teachers and other public sector employees, their attacks in no way represent some kind of permanent defeat. The rise of neoliberalism is however cause for a serious rethink about the way that unions operate. It is a challenge that calls on the labour movement to do what it has always done when historical circumstances have warranted; it calls on the labour movement to adapt!

It is for this reason that the recent victory of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is so significant. The CTU found a way to win in a context far worse than that of any teachers unions in Canada.

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April 25, 2013

How One Group Held a ‘Play-In’ to Promote Appropriate Early Childhood Education

By Michelle Gunderson | Published by The Network for Public Education

Michelle Gunderson, Early Childhood Committee Chairperson of the Chicago Teachers Union explains how a group of parents, children, and educators held a ‘Play-In’ in the front hallway of the Board of Education of the Chicago Public Schools as a way of promoting appropriate curricula in the early grades. You can also read Michelle’s letter to Arne Duncan regarding the Play-In.

On April 17th parents, children, and educators gathered in the front hallway of the Board of Education of the Chicago Public Schools for a Play-In. Participants brought blankets to create play centers on the floor with legos, play dough, art projects, puzzles, games, music – and much laughter and a sense of joy. This painted the picture for our community of what an early childhood classroom should look like.

Our youngest children’s classrooms in Chicago have become increasingly focused on testing and developmentally inappropriate academic practice. Children need play. It is how they learn. It is how they thrive.

Our Play-In had a strong message – less tests, more play.

When taking action on any issue we need to analyze whether the action unites us, makes us stronger, and gives us power. We also need to design actions on a continuum so that people can find a comfort level in which they can enter a movement. Not everyone is willing to protest in the streets or get arrested the first time they enter a cause. Our Play-In helped build unity in which approximately 100 people participated, and was an action that everyone was comfortable entering. It is hard to make an informed argument against play. Our cause was just.

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April 13, 2013

Ontario Teacher Explains Why He’s Voting No on Proposed Deal With the OSSTF

By Jason Kunin | Published April 13 2013 by The Bullet

Teachers in Ontario may not know it, but their actions in this coming week will have huge ramifications for unionized workers across Ontario and across the country. We stand poised either to hold the line against the austerity agenda and mounting attacks on workers, or pave the way for escalating attacks on the labour movement.

After a year that has seen the provincial Liberal government strip education workers of their collective bargaining rights and legislate strips to our wages and benefits that took decades of struggle to win, public secondary teachers in Ontario will be voting this week on whether to accept a peace deal that offers some minor improvements over the “contract” imposed four months ago by Bill 115 but which leaves most of the major strips intact.

The deal, which was hammered out over several weeks of negotiations, is being touted by the elected leaders of our union, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), as the best we can hope for.

If ratified, the deal would see us agree to many of the provisions we have spent the last year fighting against. These include a two-year wage freeze, a grandfathering of banked sick days, and delayed movement up the salary grid for younger teachers, who are already being told to accept a future of diminished expectations. To make this more palatable, we are being offered small improvements in maternity leave and some language around job security.

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March 30, 2013

Video: Over 100 Arrested Protesting Mass School Closings In Chicago

Published March 28, 2013 by The Real News