While a guest on a local Chicago radio show, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) VP Jesse Sharkey was questioned over his recent participation in the Midwest Marxism Conference and refused to answer why he was there and what relationship the Chicago Teachers Union has with the conference and sponsoring organization, the International Socialists Organization. Sharkey, who was documented by Breitbart News attending the Marxist conference at Northwestern University last month, appeared caught off-guard and struggled to respond to the question.
WLS radio’s Bruce Wolf and Dan Proft had Sharkey on their show to discuss the ongoing school closing battle between the CTU and the Chicago Public Schools. Sharkey had been discussing the Chicago Teachers Union’s network of coalitions that supported the recent teachers strike, when Proft asked him to address the union’s relationship with “revolutionary movements.”
Sharkey first stammered that Proft’s question was “McCarthyism,” but when he persisted [Editor’s note: in an effort to keep Sharkey’s response intact, we have done our best to transcribe the stutters and “ums” as uttered]:
Sharkey: What our union has done, is work very hard to build a coalition between people who work in the schools and depend on the public schools and the people who go to school, the students and community …And, uhm, I think the fact that we’re dedicated to that is reflected in the fact that there’s been broad support for the things we’re trying to do.
Proft: Where do the revolutionary movements fit into that coalition? I understand that a couple weeks ago that you appeared at the Midwest Marxist Conference at Northwestern University to talk about the important support that Chicago teachers get from revolutionary movements’ use of the strike weapon. What’s the alignment with Marxist organizations and revolutionary movements?
Sharkey: Ha, ha, ha, look guys, I mean, thanks…
Proft: That’s a legitimate question. That’s actually just happened. That’s actually true. That’s not McCarthyism.
Sharkey: Thanks for the 1950s McCarthyism.
Proft: It’s not McCarthyism.
Sharkey: Uh, uh, well look it, the, the, the um–every time that unions or social movements have raised issues about what’s fair and what isn’t in base and equality, people have branded them as communist. I, I know…
Proft: Wait a second. You spoke? Did you, or did you not, speak at the Midwest Marxist Conference?
Sharkey: I… [pause] No I did not speak at the Midwest Marxism Conference.
Wolf: You were there though.
Proft: You didn’t?
Wolf: You were there.
Wolf: You were there. We’ve got you on video there. Why were you there?
Sharkey: Uh. I’m allowed to attend a Marxist conference, like I’m allowed to [inaudible]…
Wolf: Do you subscribe to their beliefs Mr. Sharkey?
Sharkey: Eh. Look, look guys, I mean, if you want to have me on as part of a, uh, uh, witch-hunt…
Wolf: It’s not a witch-hunt. What do you believe?
Proft: You attended this conference, I’m just asking you what value you derive from this conference and how you see revolutionary movements as so described to connect to the teachers unions, that’s all. It’s not a witch-hunt. It’s something you did.
Sharkey: Ah, uh, look gentlemen; I’m not sure where you’re going with…
At that point Bruce Wolf was forced to cut the interview for a commercial break and thanked Sharkey for the “lucid interview.” (Listen to the full interview here)
During the conference, a heavy focus was placed on the relationships between revolutionary organizations, including the International Socialist Organiation’s intervention in the Chicago Teachers’ strike.
In a breakout session about Marxism and education, Sharkey participated by discussing what he referred to as an interesting dilemma regarding the challenges facing a revolutionary movement isolated by geography and chronology in relation to the lack of other concurrent revolutionary movements:
It’s very hard to have a huge struggle in Chicago over the set of things that are being pushed–education reform, or frankly workplace reform–and not have that struggle taken up anywhere else.
Just in the same way, it’s hard to have you know, if one freight way, has got wages that are $10 an hour higher than their competitors. Guess what! The logic is that high wage place gets smashed down, and that’s the logic of the market. And it’s only when you start to generalize that there could be some alternative to that, that you have the ability to push back…
The magic of struggle is just how easy it is to generalize those lessons. Whether it’s Wisconsin or Occupy or the CTU strike.
Sharkey then went on to joke about class discrimination lawsuits over what is considered appropriate attire for female teachers in schools.
This occurred at the same all-day event where, upon being labeled as “not in solidarity” and recognized as a Breitbart News correspondent, I was forcefully removed by a group of teachers, social workers, and others members of the ISO attending the Marxism conference.
WLS radio’s follow-up coverage of the Chicago Teachers Union’s presence at the conference (they were even selling CTU t-shirts in the foyer) provided some additional light on the collaboration between the ISO and CTU leadership.
That is more than local mainstream media provided; two days later, after Sharkey’s appearance at the Midwest Marxism conference, I attended a protest being led by the CTU, ISO, and many leaders of socialist and communist organizations headquartered in Chicago. While there, I questioned Mr. Sharkey about his participation in the conference and the ISO’s celebration of their coordination with the Chicago Teachers Union during the teachers strike, but Sharkey refused to answer any of my questions.
I noticed that NBC Chicago’s Charlie Wojciechowski was also “covering” the protest. Thinking that he might be able to elicit a response, I briefly informed him as to Sharkey’s recent participation in the Midwest Marxism Conference, asking if he might raise the issue with Sharkey as part of NBC’s coverage.
I was more than taken aback when, besides just refusing, Wojciechowski sneered at my suggestion he cover this news, saying on camera, “Breitbart is full of shit.”
And true to his word, Wojciechowski’s coverage of the protest that day did not contain one mention of information he had been provided by Breitbart reporting about the organizers of the protest he was covering that day. By willfully covering news up from his audience, veteran mainstream news reporters like Charlie Wojciechowski essentially aid and abet their subjects in swindling the public.
The Chicago Teachers Union leadership has much to hide from the public. It was clear when, being recognized as “not in solidarity,” I as a journalist was booted from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where the Midwest Marxism conference was being held. It was even clearer when Sharkey, after being questioned on WLS about his presence at the conference, stammered and obfuscated rather than confirm his speaking at the conference.
But clearest of all is how unfortunate the Chicago public–and that includes the rank-and-file members of the teachers union–are to have a news network that abandons truth-seeking and coverage.
Perhaps the educators of Chicago’s children, after being used successfully as protest props in the recently well executed “strike weapon,” might want to take an honest look at who their leadership really is, who they are really fighting for, and think deeply about whether or not they are in the right fight.