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Karen Lewis Draws Criticism For 'Off With Their Heads' Joke

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 8, 2013 9:20PM

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, known for speaking her mind, is being criticized by conservative pundits for a comment she made that was caught on video.

Lewis spoke Dec. 2 at the Illinois Labor History Society’s “Salute to Labor’s Historic Heroes from the History Makers of Today” and tried to make a comparison between the early struggles of the American labor movement with the struggles of unions in the 21st century. Lewis, who said, “there is one party in this country - that is, the party of money,” suggested the wealth disparity in America is reminiscent of the robber baron era. Lewis’ speech was taped by Kyle Olson of the Education Action Group Foundation, a Michigan-based “education reform” group with a virulent anti-public school and anti-union message.

Then she said:

”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.”

The comment drew laughs and some scattered applause before Lewis added, “I don’t think we’re at that point. The key is that they think nothing of killing us. They think nothing about putting us in harm’s way. They think nothing about lethal working conditions.”

But it was the “off with their heads” comment that had Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren and conservative blogger/anchor baby Michelle Malkin up in arms. Malkin called Lewis “Chicago thuggery personified” in a blog post.

Lewis and CTU have kept the heat on Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago School Board in the months since the two sides agreed on a new labor deal, launching a website to serve as a resource for teachers, students and parents to fight neighborhood school closures and releasing a video portraying wealthy allies of Mayor Rahm Emanuel as "fat cats."

CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin defended Lewis' remarks.

“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.”