News Brief: Dem-Aligned Media Set Up Teachers Unions to Take the Fall for Midterm Losses

Citations Needed | January 21, 2021 | Transcript

Via USA Today


Nima Shirazi: Welcome to a Citations Needed News Brief. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: You can follow Citations Needed on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of the show through All your support through Patreon is incredibly appreciated as we are 100 percent listener funded. Happy New Year everyone. We’re going to be back very soon with full length episodes as usual for all your listening pleasure but in the meantime, we are here today with a News Brief which we do in between our full length episodes when there is something that we just really feel like we need to talk about, and today, Adam, we really wanted to talk about what we are currently experiencing in our COVID reality, the winter of labor discipline and, of course, management discontent.

Adam: Yeah, so over the past few weeks there’s been a full-scale media pile-on of teachers’ unions as the new boogeyman for the midterms in 2022. They’re already setting many pundits like Jonathan Chait, you name it, Josh Barro, Matt Yglesias, pretty much everybody at the Washington Post.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: New York Times editorial board. They’re setting up teachers’ unions to be some big-time boogeyman.

Nima: Yeah, exactly. When Biden blows it and the Democrats get blown out in November, it’s gonna be teachers’ fault.

Adam: So there’s a constellation of forces, of course, that have long hated teachers’ unions, anyone who’s listened to the show, especially episode one, there’s a reason why it’s the first episode we did is that teachers’ unions are routinely part of bipartisan smear campaigns through various forms — vouchers, charter schools, general privatization — there’s a spectrum of anti-teachers’ union forces from obviously the far right to sort of wealthy liberals or kind of Wall Street-backed liberals — the example we use is Cory Booker, whose entire career, of course, in 2001 his maxed out donors were the DeVos family and the Walton family for a reason even while he was on city council in Newark, why would they take such an interest in that?

Nima: Charter schools, charter schools, charter schools.

Adam: They sort of fell out of fashion lately, but recently, many of the same forces that have pushed school privatization from the far right, who have again aligned with liberals — again Cory Booker was on the board of directors of Betsy DeVos’ organization until 2019, who was then of course, the Secretary of Education under Trump the far right, pro privatization, Secretary of Education — they use the CRT panic, of course, to push many of the same goals, which is to weaken school boards, which has been a major goal of the charter school movement for years.

Nima: Under the guise of parents’ love for their children.

Adam: Yeah, parent freedom. And now of course, they’re doing it under the guise of school reopening and so they have this mantra that says kids need to be in school. This is, of course, a mantra that I don’t think anyone disputes. Nima, you and I, of course, both have children, you have school aged children, I do not.

Nima: Kids really should be in school, Adam, here’s the thing, just screaming that doesn’t change the underlying conditions of being two years into a global pandemic, and doesn’t change the fact that that’s actually what everyone wants. The point is how to do that safely, not just for the kids, but also for the teachers and the other faculty and the school staff. It’s not a binary and I think that’s what we really want to get into. Granted, we are not, you know, Third Way-ers here in the way that that is traditionally known, Adam, but we really wanted to tease out kind of what we’re seeing in the media, this false binary, incredibly false binary in order to get a villain, which is teachers’ unions, to be this reason why Democrats are going to get massacred, potentially, in this year’s midterms.

Adam: Yeah, so several teachers’ unions from Oakland to Chicago, made it very clear they had certain standards about going back to in-person from remote schooling because these are more powerful teachers’ unions. The CTU, for example, is not an appendage of the Democratic Party, like other teachers’ unions, it’s fairly independent, fairly radical, which is why they’re the most loathed, the most hated along with the LA Teachers’ Union, and they had a set of standards, of course, various unions had different criteria for what they viewed as being standards for going back and teaching in person, namely that we’re not in the middle of a major surge that has the highest hospitalization rates since the pandemic began and a death rate comparable to the peak winter surge of late 2020 and early 2021. But let’s look at some of the demands, for example, from the DC teachers who’ve asked for higher quality masks, paid COVID leave for quarantine, and better testing for students, and better substitute pay.

Nima: All completely reasonable.

Adam: Right. So it’s fundamentally a labor issue because, again, unfortunately for them, they don’t have robots who can teach, and so the teachers’ unions enter, they say, although the people have to talk about misaligned interest, there’s a misaligned interest between the teachers’ unions, if you read Freakonomics when you were 22 in college, and suddenly you’re oh, misaligned incentives, you are so cool. Now, of course, labor does have misaligned incentives because they’re not robots.

Nima: Right.

Adam: And you say, well, they must be in school, the transmission rates amongst children is less, it’s less, you know, for RSV, et cetera, whatever. And it’s like, yeah, yeah, that’s all great, but they’re not robots. It’s still a labor issue for teachers, okay, many of whom, for better or for worse, are not vaccinated in certain states, but still can transmit COVID. So there’s these basic things they asked for, higher quality masks, better ventilation, which they totally shit the bed on, there was under $130 billion set aside to supposedly upgrade public buildings. In Chicago, for example, 60 percent of the CARES Act, COVID funds went to the Chicago Police. So they didn’t really upgrade many of these schools for these billions of dollars.

Nima: Right. Don’t actually ventilate schools and keep people safe, just pump more money into cops.

Adam: And keep in mind that the two-week temporary schooling was at the height of the well, not even the height actually, it was a sort of right as it was beginning to peak, of the Omicron surge, which, again, less deadly, but when you have four to five times more cases, from a frontline workers’ perspective, that doesn’t matter.

Nima: I feel like I also need to point out here and something, you know, we’ve talked about Adam, you and I, offline, is teachers also want to be in school, like this thing about, you know, kids need to be in school. Yes, we all agree, you’re making a false charge that there’s another side to that, that people disagree with that. Similarly, teachers, educators, people whose job this is, who have decided that this is their job, who have spent their careers educating children, they also want to do that in person, that is what they’re trained for. That’s how to do this best. Teachers know that too. They also don’t want to die on the job and they’re not saying to shut everything down, they’re saying, ‘Let’s do this more safely, these are the things that we need as workers to feel safe and to keep everyone safe.’

Adam: Right. But it’s fundamentally about labor discipline. So here’s the big picture that I’ve been ranting on Twitter for the last few weeks. Here’s the big picture, okay, the big picture is that there’s going to be no more deficit spending and no more eviction moratoriums, no more enhanced unemployment benefits, there’s going to be nothing for the worker, because wages have gone up too high for capital, and there’s too low unemployment and workers are getting mouthy and they’re too independent, they’re not precarious enough for a low wage economy so everything’s got to quote-unquote “go back to normal.”

Nima: Right. The normal being labor being disciplined.

Adam: Right. So you have to discipline labor, and when the most visible, most gendered, most bipartisanly loathed, and also one of the more powerful unions in this country is the teachers’ union, and they’re on the vanguard of this, open up everything no matter what, because children going to school is so visceral and so personal for so many people. It’s so emotional, right? It’s not like ordering fucking Chipotle, it’s your children, right? It’s the most precious thing to everybody. So if you frame this not as politicians, local and state politicians failing to create a safe work environment, failing to meet the bare minimum, but lazy, stubborn, greedy, like to sit around in their pajamas, drinking a pina colada while they do some remote learning, teachers’ unions, who have an irrational — it’s also very gender rights — through an irrational fear of COVID, right?

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: If you frame it that way, then you frame it as, oh, well, this thing that’s bad, which is children not being able to go to schools, and again, everybody agrees is bad, you can almost universally says it’s not good, that this is not the fault of administrators, politicians, mayors, and governors, who literally, who just told unions to fuck off and made no real effort to have any mitigation strategies, not quality masks, no guaranteed sick leave.

Nima: And even had the budget to do it and chose not to do it.

Adam: Well, yeah. Because they didn’t really give a shit or they did it half assed, right, and it’s brilliant. So you have this New York Times headline that I wrote about for my Substack that said, the headline was, quote, “As More Teachers’ Unions Push for Remote Schooling, Parents Worry So Do Democrats.” So here you have a classic example of —

Nima: It is set up perfectly just in the headline.

Adam: Right. So you have parents versus teachers’ unions, right? Nowhere in this piece does it say that the majority of parents oppose the teachers’ union, in fact they even have a throwaway paragraph in the second to last paragraph that mentions that for the most part, parents in Chicago support the Chicago Teachers Union, that they’re actually quite popular in many ways, and they do a lot of community organizing, and in fact, two years ago, they strike not for their own benefit, not for higher wages, but they specifically strike for better social services and healthcare for the local poor communities in Chicago, and so that obviously engendered a lot of goodwill. So they don’t really have any evidence that says, quote-unquote “parents oppose the teachers’ union,” right.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: They just kind of assert it. Then they do a Vox Pop, they introduce somebody from Third Way, a pollster from Third Way — Third Way, of course, is a Wall Street-backed, corporate funded by Exxon, funded by Facebook, Big Pharma, it’s a pro-corporate, anti-left organization that literally exists to just show up in these articles and bash teachers’ unions, because they are a pro-charter school organization. In fact, their whole manifesto, a third of it is about fucking charter schools. So you have these pro-charter school organizations that reinforce this frame that this is going to punish Democrats in the midterms.

Nima: Right. So again, parents aren’t punishing Democrats, parents aren’t the ones that are doing this, because they’re not, but also who is? Teachers, right? The teachers’ unions.

Adam: So it’s to be read not as a warning about November 2022, it’s to be read as a threat because obviously polling right now shows Democrats are going to eat shit in November of 2022, of this year, that they need a sort of scapegoat and because they can’t take responsibility for dropping the ball on Omicron and basically having the worst hospitalizations since the beginning of pandemic and kind of throwing their hands up and doing tests maybe, you know, whenever like six weeks after they really needed them.

Nima: And stopping any kind of support for workers.

Adam: Any kind of support, cutting off UI, the most popular, the biggest transfer of wealth to the poor and 60 years was just cut off overnight, nobody really gave a shit. And then, of course, the framing is, ‘Oh well we care about poor kids and the teachers’ unions are in the way,’ but then of course, there’s a really inconvenient poll that Axios did, a very conservative sort of corporate-backed media outlet, they asked the question, the percentage who said they quote, “say schools should move to remote learning to prevent COVID-19 exposure,” they found 56 percent of adults overall, and 62 percent of adults with children support that as an option, and those who opposed it had a tendency to be far more Republican, obviously, and they tended to be wealthier, they tended to be whiter by a pretty large margin, the people who opposed it, 49 percent, over $100,000 a year. Now, even if that wasn’t the case, it doesn’t necessarily make it true. But this whole argument that the people, the masses, the quote-unquote “parents,” especially minority parents, are opposed to COVID mitigation efforts simply isn’t true, it is largely pushed by more wealthy, white, more conservative, quote-unquote “parents,” and that’s fine. It’s not as if those people don’t exist. It’s not as if there isn’t a huge contingent or cohort of people who hate teachers’ unions for demanding COVID restrictions. The problem is that that doesn’t become quote-unquote “parents.”

Nima: Right.

Adam: We’re not talking about the class and racial makeup of those bashing teachers’ unions, especially when you’re doing these quotes from these undisclosed organizations that are basically just Wall Street front groups, then you get a really distorted picture of who the constituency is being upset here, and then they reference of course, again, another corporate Third Way — it’s been going around forever, it’s been cited more than the Constitution, this focus group done after Virginia saying that school closures were the reason Democrats lost, it was a focus group of 18 Biden voters. This is The New York Times reporter who linked to this, this is a credible source, that says quote, “because this is qualitative research, it cannot be projected onto the Virginia electorate as a whole.” But this didn’t stop The New York Times from not only projecting on the Virginia electorate, but projecting it on the entire American electorate.

Nima: The entire nation.

Adam: 18 people! That is less than a hockey team. 18 people.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: And so this is the data they have, and it says okay, well, again, this is one of these kinds of topologies, right? Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are not electable. Well, it’s because the media says it every five minutes.

Nima: Right.

Adam: If you keep blaming teachers in this kind of meta sense, ‘Oh, the voters are going to blame teachers.’ Well, they’re going to blame teachers in November because you’re doing it nonstop for fucking three weeks, because the White House press secretary threw teachers’ unions under the fucking bus on nightly news blaming them for school closures, you have all these liberal mayors throwing them on a bus. Imagine if the White House says, ‘You know what, actually everyone agrees kids should be in school, this is more complicated than the media’s making it out to be, I stand in solidarity with the unions.’ Of course, they would never do that.

Nima: I stand in solidarity with the unions and we think that all possible mitigation efforts based on labor demands should be met and are completely reasonable, you know, and it’s not just in these headlines, but I’m going to mention the headline again, The New York Times headline from January 8, 2022, which we just mentioned, it’s, “As More Teachers’ Unions Push For Remote Schooling, Parents Worry. So Do Democrats.” Here, we’ve talked about the teachers’ union, we’ve talked about parents, we’ve talked about Democrats, push for remote schooling is such a disingenuous shorthand, because it’s not meant to be permanent, it’s meant to mitigate the current Omicron surge, and it’s a reasonable thing in schools and in school districts where mitigation efforts are not happening, where kids are wearing masks, where kids are being tested, where teachers can get good quality masks, where there’s good ventilation, where they can get tested, where most of the population, say, is vaccinated, they are not going to remote schooling, nor are teachers’ unions in those places pushing for it. It’s where there needs to be safer conditions for workers and students alike that there is this demand for safer work environments or, until that can happen, remote schooling.

Adam: And of course, there were invariably shutdowns anyway, in Dallas, Texas, Oklahoma, Wichita, almost, but then the governor stepped in, Kentucky, Mississippi, there’s been scores of shutdowns just because the teachers are home sick. So the subtext to all of this is they want them to work sick, I mean, it’s the only way the math adds up, and the problem is that no one’s honest enough, except for Matt Yglesias has kind of said it, they’re not honest enough to just say, I believe that these teachers need to work sick because the health and wellbeing of the workers, these teachers, it is less than the value of children going to school and we’ve determined that they’re expendable, or that they need to work sick, or that they can, that if they have to work through having COVID even when they’re symptomatic, again, the math doesn’t add up unless they actually teach while they’re symptomatic, which is why they’re having to bring in fucking cops in many of these, and random people across towns and substitutes, why a third of the teachers aren’t showing up, why entire districts closing, because many school districts are still failing protocols that when people are symptomatic, they don’t show up, so the math doesn’t add up. And of course, these stem from the same underlying problem, which is that there was not enough effort and money put into making these schools safe for these workers, and then you have people like Matt Yglesias who say, ‘Oh, well, why am I just hearing this from teachers?’ And he literally says it’s not grocery workers and delivery drivers and others, it’s like because they don’t have strong unions you fucking idiot.

Nima: Yeah, yeah.

Adam: The squeaky wheel gets the grease, you dumb fuck.

Nima: Where is the Gristedes grocery checkout workers union? That would be fucking great. Let’s do that and then send emails to Matt Yglesias telling him what you want.

Adam: Public school teachers are over 75 percent unionized and grocery workers are under 23 percent unionized and they’re not nearly as powerful. So that’s why you don’t hear about them because they’re largely not unionized and if they weren’t unionized, of course, you have all these wildcat strikes, you have grocery workers not showing up, retail workers not showing up, restaurant workers not showing up, because either they’re sick or there’s no protocol, the boss doesn’t give a shit. So no, again, is Omicron less deadly? Yes, it is. Is it less deadly in children? Obviously.

Nima: Yeah, sure.

Adam: But when you have four or five times as many cases from a frontline worker’s perspective, right, from a nurse’s perspective, teacher’s perspective, and there’s an objective way of measuring this, which is hospitalization, or even deaths, and hospitalizations and deaths are comparable to their peak. Now, people say, ‘Oh, we can’t do this forever, you know, you go into lockdown, you wrap yourself in bubble wrap, I’m just a tough guy and move along,’ and it’s like, look, this is the middle of a surge, it is going to go down.

Nima: It’s already going down.

Adam: It’s already going down in New York, all they asked for is a temporary fucking remote option, and everyone melted down.

Nima: Because it is seen as going back to remote, we’re shutting everything down, it is so disingenuous.

Adam: They had to hold the line against labor, because if they can see to this particular constituency of labor, they would have had to give it to everyone else. There’s a new fucking policy in town, which is you have no choice but to work with COVID, we’re gonna arbitrarily change it from 10 to five days, ‘Oh, and now we’re going to arbitrarily change it again to not symptomatic and if you test positive’ —

Nima: Right and if you’re not symptomatic just come back —

Adam: And this is from the Trust Fucking Science party, and it’s like, look, just admit that you have no other fucking strategy, that you have no other mitigation strategy, you’re not going to demand maybe, I don’t know, we don’t fill up the United Center for every fucking basketball game or any, you know, kind of sensible mitigation effort that other countries take, Canada takes, France takes, et cetera, right? And by the way, the teachers in France are on the verge or have gone on partial strike over many similar concerns about COVID, this isn’t just an American neurosis, and there’s this dogma, people say kids have to be in school. Kids have to be in school.

French teachers on strike in the city of Clermont-Ferrand, January 2022. (Adrien Fillon / Hans Lucas / Reuters)

Nima: Yeah, we know.

Adam: Yeah. We know that.

Nima: We all agree, teachers agree.

Adam: Teachers are fucking babysitters. They’re supposed to be educators.

Nima: That’s where teachers do their work. They know that.

Adam: They want that.

Nima: They want that.

Adam: And the reason, again, is that we, you know, and here’s a good rule of thumb, right? Because I think, again, I think this is a complicated issue, people get frustrated, and you know, all I’ll say is this, if you ever find yourself yelling, not at an institution, or someone in power, but a worker who makes $58,000 a year as the sort of sole mover of your suffering, where the primary mover, rather, of your suffering, if you think the teachers’ union is why we have bad schools, or why black kids don’t have opportunities or money, if you think that’s why we’re having to close down schools, you need to sort of reexamine your worldview, and who this gets off the hook, and there’s, of course, a lot of people including up to and including the White House and their own COVID Task Force, who this kind of anti-teachers’ union rhetoric gets off the hook, it’s fundamentally, people at the bottom rung of the ladder yelling at each other frustrated, I mean, you could write a whole book about the mutual antagonism of the poor and the working class in this country between how we sort of take our frustrations out on teachers’ unions, and the fucking cashier at Burger King and the fucking person at the, you know, the call center who’s telling us they need to charge us $200 from Comcast, there’s always sort of this mutual antagonism. Meanwhile, those in power, who actually had the resources to make these decisions, largely escaped criticism, and everything gets projected back on the evil teachers’ unions, who both parties fucking hate anyway, Democrats have to play ball with them, but for the most part, you know, again, corporate Democrats, they loath the teachers’ unions for the reasons we’ve laid out before, and it just becomes this extremely convenient boogeyman and again, there’s a reason why this became the primary point of tension between labor disciplining because, again, it’s a very gendered, very politicized union, but it’s also one that is powerful, and can’t just be brought, you know, the CTU can’t be brought into some backroom with Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff, and strong armed, they don’t give a shit, they’re going to tell you to fuck off, and that’s why they’re so hated.

Nima: Now, of course, you know, a year and a half ago, these very same people were deemed essential frontline heroes.

Adam: Heroes.

Nima: Nurses, doctors, healthcare workers, teachers, delivery people, grocery store workers, these were the essential, the frontline, the heroes, and now Adam, where are those descriptors or those epithets found in our mainstream media?

Adam: They are disappearing, at least in The New York Times, I didn’t have the resources to do an entire analysis of every outlet, but The New York Times has a really good search engine, so it’s easy to do. I did an article showing the disappearance of the use of the words “frontline” and “essential workers” compared with hospitalizations. So hospitalizations reached an all time high of 150,000 last week, by the time we listen to this, it’s about five days old, I think now it’s hovering around 150–155,000. But meanwhile, so last time, they were at 130,000, 120,000, The New York Times used the terms frontline worker and essential worker about 120 times, 98 times about a year ago, they used it about 100 times in February of 2021, in March of 2021 to use it about 95 times, then this correlated with the actual hospitalizations. So their use of “frontline,” “essential workers” logically went down when they, when the hospitalizations went up. But this time was different, hospitalizations went up 150,000 and in the month of January, projected, because I did it from the 15th, and so I just basically projected it to the 31st, they used it only nine times, in December they used it about 20 times. So they’re phasing it out. They’re not really using the term anymore despite the increase in hospitalizations because, of course, again, from a nurse’s perspective, there isn’t much difference, right? Again, it’s like oh, it’s less deadly but if you have a higher numerator than the denominator is less important.

Nima: But it’s because media is just trying to be over it and if you still have heroes, then there’s still something to be heroic in the face of.

Adam: Well, it’s a necessary rhetorical demotion when the bipartisan policy decision is that we’re just going to kind of move on and we need to discipline labor, which this is the winter of labor disciplining, we can we got rid of eviction moratoriums in New York last week, we got rid of the Child Tax Credit that was saving people, hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year.

Nima: That took so many children out of poverty and food insecurity.

Adam: We’re now just going to sunset that and again, nobody cares, no one talks about it, doesn’t matter because frankly, workers have too much power and too much money and that needs to be disciplined. So as we shift into this labor disciplining, this lack of deficit spending, again, build back better bill is dead, all the kind of big policy goals, again, because of the threat of inflation, otherwise known as a capital strike, bullshit inflation stories, basically a capital threat against the White House — not to sort of excuse them, but there’s definitely pressures, right, from corporate America, basically saying you can’t do any more deficit spending — is that this kind of hero narrative just fucking went away overnight. We just stopped using the words “essential worker” and “frontline worker,” New York Times being one example. I’m sure, again, if I had the resources, Washington Post, CNN, they don’t use those terms anymore. They certainly don’t use them when they discuss teachers asking for safe healthcare conditions, even though last year they were called “frontline workers” non-stop in The New York Times, I got a dozen examples last spring, last summer, “frontline workers,” “essential workers,” they routinely included teachers, and now you just don’t see it. You don’t see it at all. There were only four examples in the first 15 days in January. They just don’t really use the term anymore, and the reason again, the reason is, is because the political winds have shifted now. It’s time for all those people, the “essential workers,” that we’re going to replace them with cops and the National Guard, and we’re going to do anything at all other than compensating them for their increased exposure to risk and hazard pay.

Nima: And they’re being scolded everywhere. I mean, the Washington Post from early January 2022, this is from January 5, had an opinion piece, “Teachers unions are in the wrong on covid-19. Democrats must force them back to work.” The same day Politico ran this, “Chicago mayor: Teachers unions made us a ‘laughingstock.’” And then there was a Bloomberg editorial board piece from January 11, 2022, Adam, headlined, “Democrats need to break grip of teachers unions.”

Adam: Oh, yeah, the “grip.” Yeah, they’re so powerful. They just run everything. That’s why Barack Obama had a fucking screening of Waiting for Superman in the White House, because he’s just in the pocket of the teachers’ unions.

Nima: Right.

Adam: The most anti-labor film produced in the last 20 fucking years. Yeah, so this is the kind of schlock you get, and again, so many of these districts ended up closing anyway. Now, of course, some don’t, because it’s a fucking numbers game, but you’re playing COVID roulette with the labor force, just kind of hoping everybody gets it moving on but the problem is, the White House can’t really say that’s their strategy. So it’s totally incongruent with what they claim they’re doing versus what they’re doing.

Nima: And again, we all wish we could just move on. There’s no other side to this. That’s what’s so frustrating.

Adam: That’s the thing that makes me fucking livid is that people pathologize and say, ‘Look, these people,’ you know, I get this all the time, ‘you want to stay home.’ Are you fucking insane? You have any idea how much I wake up every day and wish I wasn’t right and wish this wasn’t my opinion and just wish I could do what Donald Trump did and Republican governors did, which is just kind of wish it away. I wish to God I could. But you have to look, again, we’ve had almost 900,000 deaths in this country. When you compare it to any other wealthy country, or even poor country for that matter, we blow everyone else out of the fucking water. It’s not even close. We’ve lost almost a million people to this pandemic. We’re losing almost two thousand a day and we have botched this fucking pandemic categorically and we still botch it today. Our hospitalizations are way higher per capita than any other fucking developed, quote-unquote “developed country.” And you look at this, and you just like you’re going crazy, because you’re like, there has to be something more we can do. There’s basic stuff we can do and we just kind of said, nah not really, we’re kind of over it and if you have any complaints, you’re just a fucking pussy who wants to live in bubble wrap and I am not a fucking COVID doomer, I am very much not a COVID doomer, but the evidence is the evidence, the hospitalizations and the deaths, and the hospitalizations and the deaths, and the overwhelming burden is falling on these frontline workers who we now no longer call frontline workers.

Nima: And if the workers are saying, these are our demands, which is not remote schooling. Remember, the demand is not remote schooling, it is if you don’t do these things that keep everyone safer, we’re gonna be forced to do this thing because no one’s going to be safe, everyone’s going to be sick, and you’re not going to have enough teachers. So you have to shut down. That’s not the preference. It’s the reality.

Adam: The Chicago Teachers Union put it to a vote and 73 percent of the teachers who voted for this, well effectively a lockout, but it was a bunch of, it was a demand they’re making of the mayor, right? 73 percent. Do people think 73 percent of these teachers are a bunch of mustache twirling villains or that they’re lazy, you think they don’t care about their students, you don’t think they care about teaching kids? They do. They just made a series of demands to Lori Lightfoot and she said, ‘Fuck off,’ and so labor’s not going to take that sitting down, and of course, you almost never hear from these unions, maybe you’ll get an op-ed in The Washington Post here and there, these demands are never met so they get caricatured as these immovable, pro-remote learning, again, who just want to kick back, relax, put their feet up and just fucking teach over zoom while they paint their nails, and that’s the impression people are getting. So then they say, ‘Oh, well it’s going to hurt Democrats?’ And it’s like, how do you think your political prospects work when you fucking throw one of the biggest — again, most reliable Democratic voters, you know, disproportionately women — unions, you just fucking casually throw them under the bus. What do you think that’s going to do for voter turnout in 2022?

Nima: Right, because the media is deciding already what the narrative is and therefore dooming that to then be the case.

Adam: Yes. Without any evidence at all that there’s this parents-versus-the-union framing, which has absolutely zero empirical basis, there isn’t one. Again, even if it’s, you know, even if it’s 50/50, it’s not this caricature of, they always say “the parents,” every single fucking Koch funded, Gates funded, Walton funded front group for anti, it’s always the parents union, the parents advocacy, the parents, what, which fuckin’ parents? Where? What is their racial and class makeup? What does that mean “the parents?” There’s no fucking singular parent view, they have different views. There’s 10,000 parents in X district, there’s 10,000 different fucking opinions.

Nima: A lot of teachers are also parents, by the way.

Adam: A lot of the teachers are parents too, of course. And so, again, this caricature is already cemented, you know, this News Brief is probably entirely futile, you know, the cliche is set and you have so much anti teacher fucking propaganda out there, editorial to editorial, article after article, CNN does that, you know, MSNBC doesn’t even touch it, and so it’s like, when the midterms come, again, the pieces sort of write themselves, it’s going to be the grip of the teachers union, the liberals haven’t really addressed the critical race theory issue, it’s going to be the new scapegoat because these, again, this is the same forces that have been opposing the teachers’ unions for decades, right? These are the people who gutted the teachers’ union in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. These are the, you know, these are the groups that have worked non-stop and these inner cities to bust the teachers’ unions for decades and they see a great opportunity to exploit such a visceral and emotional topic.

Nima: Because it’s at its core, just pro-privatization rhetoric.

Adam: Yes, of course, they want, you know, Matt Yglesias says, ‘Why are teachers complaining’ and he lists 10 industries that are not unionized and asking why they’re not complaining, they want what’s happening to retail restaurants, and these other extremely low-wage, non-unionized labor —

Nima: To happen to teachers, to be forced to have no recourse and no power and no voice.

Adam: That’s obviously what they want because they can’t go complain to their fucking manager. If there is one thing a rich liberal hates more than anything, it’s they can’t complain to their manager. I guess the CTU doesn’t have a manager. It’s just a fucking union and it drives them insane, and again, I understand our real frustrations here. I can’t emphasize that enough. I know this fucking sucks.

Nima: Right. I want my kids in school every fucking day.

Adam: I know. I know you do.

Nima: Believe me.

Adam: Yes. There’s real frustrations here and they’re taking that real frustration and they’re brilliantly redirecting it at the absolute wrong party in such an immediate and effective way that I watch this unfold, and again, there were so many people in power, so many people in local, federal and state level who had the resources and capacity to address these issues, and for the most part, they just didn’t do it.

Nima: Right.

Adam: Probably because they knew we would just end up blaming the teachers’ unions anyway.

Nima: Right because that actually just kind of works for them every single time.

Adam: Yes.

Nima: Well, that will do it for this Citations Needed News Brief. We will be back very soon with new full-length episodes of Citations Needed so stay tuned for those. Of course you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of the show through But until then thank you all for listening. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Associate producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks, everyone, we’ll catch you next time.


This Citations Needed News Brief was released on Friday, January 21, 2022.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.