Fed Up Followers in the Windy City

Little did I know when I wrote my most recent blog, titled “Hired Hands,” that just a few days later labor unrest would hit the front pages – not abroad but at home.

Little did Rahm Emanuel know at the Democratic Convention that just a week later he would be transformed from big man on the Dems’ campus to embattled mayor – challenged by a monster teachers’ strike that is crippling his city of Chicago.

Emanuel emerged more powerful than ever from Charlotte, having been asked to raise money for one of the Democrats’ most important super PACs, Priorities USA Action. As Nicholas Confessore wrote in the New York Times, the move thrust Emanuel into “the kind of role long played by Karl Rove,” arguably the most prominent of professional Republican pols. But Emanuel’s moment to bask in his newfound power was short-lived. For the past couple of days the city of which he is mayor has been rocked and roiled by some 20,000 teachers who walked off their jobs, and by a union that chose to take a stand against what it charged were unfair labor practices. (This fight is not about money but about other issues, such as how teachers get evaluated.)

Americans by and large are piling on the union, castigating it for selfishness and greed at a time when the city’s youngest and most vulnerable need nothing so much as good schooling. Moreover the strike gets at the heart of some of the most sensitive issues in American education – which itself has long been the subject of national hand-wringing. But whatever you think of the union’s decision to call a strike, its decision to face off is a timely and necessary reminder that, as I said in “Hired Hands,” rumors of labor’s death are greatly exaggerated.

As to Emanuel, he likely will emerge from this flight slightly bloodied but completely unbowed. Still, he’s been put on notice: uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

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