Sunday, September 4, 2011

Issue #23- Sept. 4, 2011 Labor Day Issue

Issue #23- September 4, 2011, Labor Day News, The Years of RE, Some Truth, and Rebuilding Unions

Labor Day…
Happy Labor Day to everyone!!  If you are like most Americans, Labor Day has usually meant the end of summer and the start of the school year.  It's a transition from summer schedules to a busier schedule for many of us.  It's the last weekend at the pool, the last weekend at the cabin, the culminating cookout… We are happy to go to the parades (if your community has one), get together with family/friends and maybe shop at a Labor Day sale.  However, like so many of our celebrations and symbols, the true reasons for Labor Day are lost in the noise of our daily lives. 

With all that has happened involving labor and workers this past year we need to reevaluate our Labor Day celebrations.  Take time this year to remember and value the efforts of previous generations as they fought to gain valuable rights and privileges for all workers.  Also use this time to connect with others in the Labor Movement and lay the groundwork for the continuing fight to advance the cause of all workers in all places.

2011-12 The Years of "RE"…
In my family we are always looking back at events and naming them.  For example, we "fondly" remember the "Summer of the Mosquito", the same holds true for the "Year of No Sleep", and recently the "Week of the Shopping Cart".  Putting a name on something can help connect memories and also can give a focus to events or time periods. 

In that vein, I've decided to name the years 2011 and 2012 the "Years of Re".  Of course the "YoR" have already started with the mass REsistance and the successful REcall of two Republican senators.  Now we need to continue and work towards the REcall of our governor, REbuilding our unions, REvitalizing the worker's rights movement and REclaiming our political process.  We also can REeducate the people of Wisconsin, the United States and the world about the facts behind the corporate control of the economic and political structures across the globe.  This will REduce the ignorance and apathy of the electorate REenergize our base, and REstore hope for the future.  

Any other RE ideas out there?       

Proud To Teach…
It's not much of a stretch to say that there are those in America who hold public education accountable for the decline of our country's values, economic power and any other problem that faces our nation.  Those people will haul out the same tired old facts and figures and even offer some insights of questionable accuracy.  For example, a beloved talk show host ranted this week about how public school kids are taught that everyone should get the same amount of money whether they work or not.  Comments like this are taken in by uninformed listeners and create an image that totally discredits our public education system. 

Here are a few articles that should get more attention and an event that looks to be a good one:

The Attack on Public Education & the “Fight Back”: A Forum with Bill Ayers
Time:               Wednesday, September 14 · 7:00pm - 9:30pm
Location:         Anderson Auditorium, Edgewood College
                        1000 Edgewodd Drive (Off 2200 Monroe St.)
                        Madison, WI

We Hold These (half) Truths…
The best lies contain some truth.  An old saying that is very true.  This is the genius of the propaganda that is being put out by the right about labor and the economy in general.  Unfortunately, the sound bite lies that are put forward are very well presented and have that ring of truth that resonates with the general public.  One of our major challenges in the battle to educate our fellow citizens is to overcome these lies about our economy and our unions. 

Over the weekend there will probably be editorials, letters and comments made about how labor unions are obsolete.  Many will pay lip service to the idea that, at one time we needed unions, but…  They will point to the "fact" that workers today enjoy many protections and privileges.  They will go on to say that it is the fight for the rights of workers that has caused our economy to reach the state it is in today.  They will go on to say that the union movement has stolen Labor Day and that most workers now are not and don't want to be a part of a union. 

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Just look at what the climate in many school districts has become as the power of unions is either eliminated or at the least significantly restricted.  Unions have been, are, and will continue to be a vital part of our democracy. 

I am frequently appalled by the comments that follow many on-line articles about current events regarding worker's rights and other political news.  The hostility and gross exaggerations are disturbing.  The comments usually seem to descend into personal attacks and usually lack depth or thoughtfulness.  Here's a favorite example of what can be found.  Note Maxsale's insightful comment about Mad Dog Trchn's intelligence.  Which your/you're/yore do you use?  

We Hold These Truths…
In order to counter the propaganda of the right we must get information out to the public.  We need to share articles and ideas whenever possible.  For example, when someone talks about how teachers are overpaid, counter with:

Then when they backtrack and say that we shouldn't compare our country those socialist, European… you can always counter with, "Then we shouldn't compare test scores either."

You can also counter with this fact about educator salaries.
A single wage earner in a family of 4 takes a starting teaching job.  Remember that they are a college graduate and are considered a professional.  Guess what? They easily qualify for reduced lunch under the federal guidelines.  A couple with two children decides to become special education assistants and work full time in the Madison School District.  They also qualify for reduced lunch.  Should one of them get laid off, their family now qualifies for free lunch.  So much for being overpaid. 

Tired of hearing about teacher and other public worker salaries/benefits.  Here's some statistics from the manufacturing sector:
According to an article in Farm Week, using 2010 dollars the average manufacturing worker produced about $58,000 worth of product a year.  By 2010 that number had risen to $180,000, or about 3 times the productivity.
It's been well documented that the real income of middle and working class people has grown little over the past 40 years.  So a 2010 manufacturing laborer is producing more and getting the same compensation as their predecessors.  Now look at the wages of CEO's which have risen from around $700,000 to about $2.2 million over the same time frame.  Notice how their salaries have grown in a similar ratio to production.

Here's a very informative article about this trend. 

Who Rules America: Wealth, Income, and Power

Liberal has become a 4 letter word in many circles.  The historical reference to liberal philosophy would certainly surprise some of our conservative friends. 

What's Uplifting? , Union Building!…
It needs to be repeated over and over and over and over…  The fight isn't finished yet.  We are engaged in a struggle that encompasses our past, present and future as a country.  It's not a fight that has been chosen by most of us, but it is certainly being pressed on all workers by the economic elite of our country.  It's a fight that involves many groups and many interests, but is one that in the long run will benefit our entire country and our world. 

One of the biggest questions that faces many workers and directly impacts public workers in Wisconsin is the future of unions as bargaining agents for employees.  Sudden drastic change like we are currently facing is distressing and the response is frequently conservative in nature.  We want to hold on to what we have at any cost.  Another response can be total capitulation and withdrawal from events, "If I can't see it, it can't hurt me".  Others take a more revolutionary and aggressive approach and rework their organizations to an attacking format.  There are many degrees of response between these that fall on a sort of continuum. 

Because people in the same group have such different responses it becomes difficult to unify a movement and organize a collective response to attacks from outside forces.  So far the response of public workers and their unions have been strong and well coordinated on many fronts.  The massive rallies had a huge impact on the political events in our state.  Our political actions resulted in successful recalls of two Republican senators.  Legal actions are still pending and we need to wait and see what success those have. 

However, this isn't a 6 month fight.  As time goes by and the financial effects are felt, responses will become more extreme in nature.  Enthusiasm will be challenged and any cracks in solidarity will be emphasized.  Unions need to prepare for these challenges and establish ways to stay unified and effective.  School districts and other organizations that have lost their ability to bargain collectively due to the recently imposed legislation need to find ways to stay organized and rebuild their unity.

Three things I think unions need to do (and some potential suggestions for taking action):
Provide hope for the future.  This means that they need to show their members that they have a way to successfully impact political and societal events.  They need to continue to emphasize the success that they've had.  Unions also need to show members why they should continue to pay dues and maintain their membership in the future. 
*Celebrations like Labor Fest provide opportunities for promoting successes
*Continued participation in protests or other actions
*Plans for future actions that will support all members
For example, in the Madison School District our support staff employees have been hard hit in all ways (wages, hours, etc.).  If the current legislation stands it is difficult to convince them to pay dues when they are already financially hurting.  A union plan to change their pay scale in the future to reflect training and education similar to what teachers currently have could be an incentive to keep involved in their union.    

Consider changing organizational strategies to utilize new communication tools.  Social media and electronic communication tools provide ways to get information out quickly to a wide audience.  Traditional ways of organizing don't always respond quickly enough to rapidly changing events.   
*Unions need to find the most effective way to reach their members quickly.

Effectively communicate their goals and objectives beyond their traditional base.  While it is vital that current members stay motivated, we need to reach the "independent" voters in order to make an impact in the political arena. 
*Advertising campaigns could promote union workers and union objectives
*Continued efforts to engage the media in meaningful coverage of labor related news
*Union members and supporters need to be active in the political process, including efforts to get elected to local offices

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