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Chicago teachers strike against austerity duo 'Rahm & Rauner'

Chicago teachers strike against austerity duo 'Rahm & Rauner'
Teachers in Chicago’s public schools went on strike Friday in a “day of action” to protest funding cuts and poor management by austerity Mayor Rahm Emanuel and billionaire Governor Bruce Rauner.

The teachers have been threatening to strike for months, and when the latest round of cuts of $100 million were announced in February, coupled with the continuing threat of layoffs, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis called it an “act of war”.

The rare one-day strike started with picket lines at schools around the city - with the focus due to move downtown for a rally outside City Hall and the state office building, followed by an evening rush hour march to "shut down the Loop".

“We are dying the death by 1,000 cuts,” Lewis said after the strike was announced. “The labor conditions have gotten to a point where they are not tolerable.”

Emanuel, who sends his children to the same southside private school where Obama’s kids attended when they lived in Chicago, has been the target of the public teacher’s union’s frustrations due to the closures of dozens of schools, including 49 in 2013.

While Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has called the mayor out on his closures, layoffs, and ties to Wall Street, Hillary Clinton said she would follow in his footsteps and close schools that weren’t doing a good enough job.

Clinton, who was born and raised in the suburb of Park Ridge, won the recent Illinois primary by a slim margin of 50.5 percent versus 48.7 percent for Sanders, who attended the University of Chicago.

The people of Chicago side with the teachers union over Emanuel three to one, according to a poll in the Chicago Tribune, the leading newspaper that's published several anti-union editorials during this battle.

Media Matters has called out the 'Trib' for mis-characterizations of the issues and repeatedly accusing teachers of throwing a “tantrum”.

In its latest editorial, it accused the union of “whipping members into a froth” and described the strike as a “hastily planned, unfocused Day of Tantrum”.

The union formally called for Emanuel’s resignation in March, saying, “the leadership of Rahm Emanuel contributed to the shocking and inexcusable murder of Laquan McDonald.”

READ MORE: Chicago police to release officer shooting videos within 2-3 mos as mayor caves to pressure

Republican Governor Rauner is also the the target of the protests, due to the former venture capitalist’s 'tax-cuts-for-the-super-rich, austerity-for-everyone-else' agenda and his holding the budget hostage until legislators agree to rollback union rights.

Rauner also called for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to declare bankruptcy and fall under the control of the state.

CPS maintains February's $100 million cuts were necessary because it did not receive $480 million in funding from the General Assembly, thanks to Rauner’s nine-month hold on the budget.

Teachers have been forced to take three unpaid days this year, in what the district says is an effort to save $30 million to keep schools open for the year.

Teachers were also asked to cover 7 percent of their pension which is currently covered by CPS. The union estimates this will cost a teacher on $55,000 about $4,000 a year.

Instead, the union is calling for tax reform to increase taxes paid by the top 5 percent in Illinois, which would include Emanuel and Rauner.

The Chicago Teachers Union went on a week-long strike against austerity measures in 2012 before coming to an agreement with Emanuel, which ran out last June.

Educators from colleges and universities are supporting the strike, as they too suffer from budget cuts.

The leading African-American CPS teacher training school, Chicago State University, faces hundreds of layoffs due to a lack of funding, with new president Thomas Calhoun claiming the school may not be able to make payroll in April.

“I’m profoundly shocked at the apparent willingness to suffocate higher education in the state of Illinois, while at the same time, the governor, speaking about the economic future and desire, has not seen fit to fund the very engine that contributes the most,” Calhoun said.

The strike is supported by many in the community, with one Ravenswood neighborhood cafe offering striking teachers free breakfast on Friday morning.

"Teachers, please enjoy a bagel with cream cheese and a coffee on us," Spoken cafe posted on Facebook. "Thank you for all that you do."