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Tape of CTU President Karen Lewis draws fire from right


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Updated: February 10, 2013 5:53PM

An “off with their heads” joke caught on videotape by the boisterous president of the Chicago Teachers Union referring to robber barons is sparking criticism from the right.

Karen Lewis, in a speech at the Illinois Labor History Society’s “Salute to Labor’s Historic Heroes from the History Makers of Today,” compared labor’s current situation with a more violent time.

“We are in a moment where the wealth disparity in this country is very reminiscent of the robber baron ages,” Lewis said in the speech videotaped Dec. 2. “The labor leaders of that time, though, were ready to kill. They were. They were just — off with their heads. They were seriously talking about that.”

Laughter rose up from the audience then Lewis continued: “I don’t think we’re at that point. And that’s scary to most people. But the key is they think nothing of killing us. They think nothing of putting our people in harm’s way. They think nothing of lethal working conditions.”

The speech, aired locally Jan. 5, caught the attention this week of Fox News host Greta Van Susteren and conservative writer Michelle Malkin, who called Lewis “Chicago thuggery personified” on her blog.

The CTU has been attacking the rich in its ongoing campaign to stave the growth of charter schools while CPS is shuttering neighborhood schools.

In December, the union released a video of a satirical bedtime story portraying wealthy friends of Mayor Rahm Emanuel as “Fat Cats,” accusing cronies of “The Rahminator” of privatizing public education.

Lewis is known for speaking her mind. She’s called Emanuel a “liar” and a “bully”.

In 2011, she had to apologize for mocking the lisp of Arne Duncan, the former CPS CEO who’s now U.S. Secretary of Education, saying she was trying to lighten the mood during a speech.

Lewis could not be reached Tuesday for comment. CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said Lewis’ critics should read labor history. “Karen was using rhetorical license to make a point about a dark part of labor history in the U.S. In fact, she prefaced her remarks by paraphrasing a quote from Lucy Parsons which stated: ‘Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth,’” Gadlin said.

“When you close schools, put thousands of people out of work, or destabilize neighborhoods while raising taxes and fees it is perceived by some as a violent assault on people’s lives. Parsons advocated violence against her perceived oppressors. Karen Lewis believes in education, research, litigation, direct action and reconciliation.”

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