ISO Covers for CTU Leaders’
Non-Defense of Black Militant

by Jason Rising

From everything I’ve been able to find, the International Socialist Organization is covering up for the Chicago Teacher Union’s failure to defend anti-racist activist Page May, first through silence and now in the recently published Socialist Worker article “Lessons from a day of defiance.” [1]

I was at the CTU’s April 1st rally and march on the day of its one-day strike against anti-union attacks by the Republican governor and Democratic mayor. I was disappointed to hear the union president, Karen Lewis, pause in her speech and say that “Cops are not our enemy.” So I was glad to hear a subsequent speaker powerfully and eloquently express anger at the idea that people still thought police were there to serve the people. She then went on to say, to cheers from the crowd, quite simply and directly: “Fuck the police.” I didn’t catch her name, but now I know it’s Page May. You can see her on the video linked below.[2]

I only learned her name because saying “fuck the police” at such an events gets more and faster media attention than does virtually any police murder. Her name also came up when the CTU leadership decided to distance themselves from her comments instead of defending her from the backlash from all the worst elements of society.

As May says herself in the post linked below: “CTU (as an institution and the members as individuals) have a choice ... just cus you’re union doesn’t mean you’re on the freedom side.”

The CTU’s top leadership made their choice in this case, and they chose the wrong side. Karen Lewis quickly ducked in response to people calling for May to be fired: “She doesn’t work for us,” she wrote on Twitter. And in response to calls for denunciation from a Trump supporter, she dodged again: “Our media director is ill.”[3]

In solidarity with May, I think the only appropriate response to calls for her to be fired was to say: “She doesn’t work for us, but if she’s fired, we’ll hire her.” I for one agree with May’s comments on the police, but in this case even if one disagreed with her, the principle of solidarity – the only way unions can even exist – would say that the right thing to do would be to hire someone who was fired due to the pressure of reactionary forces.

Then it got worse. News reports quoted an official union email saying:

“Although one speaker went off message and condemned police in a way that our Union does not condone, and we regret what was said, the rally was a resounding success. We hope that this unexpected incident, which could not have been predicted, does not obscure the tremendous power and momentum we created on April 1.”[4]

This amounts to capitulation to reactionaries. As one who heard her speech, I don’t regret what Page May said. I do regret that it was the only time I’ve heard something like that spoken from a trade union platform, because the union movement in this country will continue to spiral into oblivion as long as it remains tied to collaborating with the bosses and their politicians – and the cops who defend them. I regret that such a politically necessary speech could be seen as something that can “obscure” our power rather than being seen for what it is: an expression of our power.

Further, it is indefensible but predictable that this is the default mode for trade union leaders of this country – to distance themselves from such comments. It is even more disturbing and shameful that the reported signature on that union statement is that of union vice-president Jesse Sharkey, who belongs to the International Socialist Organization. Compounding that shame is the official silence from the ISO, which did not address the attacks on Page May for almost two weeks, and now does so in an article that de facto covers up the CTU leadership’s abdication.

The ISO’s article cited above correctly says:

“It is important, before anything else, that we teachers unequivocally defend May from these attacks. The threats against her are threats to the whole of our movement.”

Yet the ISO says nothing about Lewis’s public statements or the widely reported union leadership email to members, but it does criticize May for criticizing the CTU. Even if everything the article said about the CTU’s past record against police brutality was true, their refusal to lend their public voice to “unequivocally defend May from these attacks” suggests the idea that May and her supporters are completely off base. But in fact May did not criticize the CTU for completely failing to confront racism, but this article sets up such a straw man to then debunk.

The ISO article, which no fewer than six people contributed to, also says:

“Far from the union being ‘too easy’ on the cops, as May’s supporters have claimed on social media, the organization that speaks for police thinks the CTU is far too critical.”

Dwell on that statement for more than one second and it falls apart: does one really want to defend the CTU leadership from critics by saying the police “union” is unhappy? The cop union has called for a public apology, which the CTU to its credit has not given. But it hasn’t defended her either.

And what about Sharkey? The ISO cannot mention Sharkey because his role cannot be defended. It can only hope it doesn’t get too much attention. This capitulation has to be seen in the light of Sharkey’s uncritical endorsement of the pro-cop Democratic Chuy Garcia in the mayoral election last year – and the organization’s lack of a clear and unequivocal public response to Sharkey’s role then.[5]

The ISO leadership has once again shown that their commitment to the struggle against capitalist oppression is worth less to them than their connection to the CTU leadership, a wing of the labor bureaucracy. As we wrote in the above-cited article, theirs is a classic case of opportunism – sacrificing fundamental principles in order to take apparent advantage of short-term opportunities.




3.; 5.


5. See our article The Left’s “Independent Political Action” Scams