Sunday, September 2, 2012

Issue #77 September 2, 2012- Labor Day Thoughts

What This Is…
Issue #77- September 2, 2012
In this issue: Labor Day Weekend!!

Happy Labor Day
Over the last year or more, I've written a significant amount about the struggle for worker's rights and the importance of that fight.  Recognizing that this is a long weekend for many of us and that it also is the unofficial end of summer I'm trying to keep my remarks short and "focused". 

We've been hearing an awful lot here in America about the evils of unions.  Conservatives claim that unions are the cause of our economic woes, they cause workers to become lazy and complacent, they eliminate "healthy" competition in the workplace, and on and on go the anti-union arguments.  They claim that America was built on the concept of "rugged individualism", that pioneering spirit that caused our ancestors to leave the safety of settled lands and forge a new civilization in the American wilderness. 

These claims sound wonderful and make for great speeches and spectacular ads.  Unfortunately they ignore a few details that render the arguments invalid and essentially ridiculous.  The idea that any human being can exist and thrive outside a network of connections with other people is patently false.  We all need others for support, ideas and to be successful in any endeavor.  That the GOP and its supporters have such difficulty accepting this as fact is surprising and shows their ignorance of human nature.  Following their logic that corporations are human beings, then it makes sense that corporations would also need other human created organisms (individual people, other businesses, organizations and even government) to prosper.

One might think that there are professions or some super-humans who exist above these needs, but that isn't the case.  Even a mega popular author like Stephen King, recognizes this and states the concept in his introduction to a collection of short stories called Nightshift.  He states that no one except for a select few ever read an author's introduction.  Among those who do are "the people who want to know whether or not the writer's head has gotten so big that he has managed to forget that he didn't do it by himself".  If a legendary author needs others to help him revise, edit and market his work, that makes a pretty strong case for all of us being interdependent. 

So, on a holiday that originally was all about recognizing the role of labor in developing, expanding and improving our nation (not just closing the pool down, last trip to the beach, shopping, or grilling out) the question of the day is… why do we need unions and organized labor?  

--Unions improve working conditions, wages and benefits for all workers.  Since most of us will be employees at some point (or most) of our lives this is a benefit for all of us.

--Unions are a major balancing force in the political and economic spheres that would otherwise be dominated by the wealthy elite and politically connected.

--Unionized wages and benefits helped build a healthy middle class and were a vital part of the most prosperous times in American history.  It seems silly to see efforts to eliminate unions use the arguments that claim we can achieve widespread prosperity while concentrating wealth in the hands of a small number of people.  A strong middle and working class is built on strong wages and benefits that corporate America is unwilling to give out in any quantity.

--Union jobs provided a bridge, or stepping stone, for working class families to improve their social and economic status in America.  We don't have any mechanism in place that provides the same opportunities as unions do and have seen social stratification as union membership has declined.

--Well run and member maintained unions are among the most democratic institutions in the world.  Members make decisions and have power that they wouldn't have in society in general.

--Unions negotiate agreements with employers collectively and this allows for more equality of opportunity as members create rules that benefit all workers.

--Individual workers have little if any power and need to unite with their fellow laborers to balance the power between management and the workforce.  There will always be more labor and that fact can be exploited by owners to keep benefits and wages low.  The market that conservatives hold in such high esteem is heavily weighted in favor of the wealthy and management.  Unions keep this power in check.

--Where would our workers be without the influence of unions?  Do we really want to return to the late 1800's and the "Robber Barons"?  Do we want to live in a society where only a few people have a voice and the rest of us toil in jobs that force us to surrender our rights and scramble for the crumbs left by the elite?    

--Unions must be important and conservatives must view them as a threat, otherwise they wouldn't be putting so much effort into eliminating them.  By restricting voting rights and working to reduce the influence of labor through unions the GOP seeks to cement their hold on power in the social, economic and political spheres. 

--Where else will working families get any representation or find allies in their struggle to close the income gaps?  As union membership has declined we've seen real incomes of families decline right along with them.  In the years from 1979 to 2009 the top 1% of Americans saw their incomes grow by 275% while the rest of us saw a gain of 62%.  Put another way the top 1% got 58 cents out of every dollar in income growth during this time period.  Without some counter to the political strength of the economic elite this gap will continue to expand. 

So, this Labor Day, take a moment an remember why we celebrate and just how important organized labor has been, is and will be to American society.    
Some Recent Ugliness…
Along with the pride that I feel about the efforts of many Wisconsinites, trying to counter the conservative message and agenda comes some embarrassment as well.  It's strange that one state can be so widely recognized and acclaimed by two such opposing political viewpoints.

Obviously 1st Amendment rights are not a #1 priority here.  The rhetoric that has surrounded the protests in Madison has been a key vehicle for conservatives trying to divide the state.  From the claim of $7.5 million in damages that never existed to the reports of widespread violence and rioting, conservatives have painted a false and misleading picture of what has been happening in "Our House".

As I white male I find myself cringing every time I hear about comments and actions like these.  I know that they don't represent my thinking, but can't help feeling disgusted by sharing any traits with people who think this way.  We have a real problem in America as we try to address the issues that our wonderful diversity brings.  Hatred and fear do nothing to resolve the problems that we face.  Instead we must deal with each other as human beings with common goals and dreams.  We all want to live in a safe, prosperous and equitable society with equal opportunities for all.  The sooner we recognize this and work together instead of dividing ourselves into separate and unequal groups, the better off our nation will be.

The frustrating thing here is the amount of time that it takes to put together a thorough investigation.  Our opponents are not above lying or using any possible trick to avoid responsibility for any wrongdoing and we have seen our hopes dashed many times before.  Most of us who are paying attention to Wisconsin politics know that there is something "fishy" about the current administration, the question is whether there will be real, tangible consequences for the unethical behavior of these individuals.  

Real Education Reform…
Madison's public schools officially start on Tuesday.  The morale of educators is fragile.  We look ahead to another year of doing what we love, but fear that we won't be able to enjoy our professions much longer.  We know that we are engaged in a battle that will determine what public education will look like in the future and must find ways to balance our need to defend our profession with the need to be present and accountable in our daily work with students.

The upcoming elections will significantly impact our public schools.  While the Democrats haven't impressed us with their efforts, they are clearly the lesser of two evils.  A Romney presidency will see an increase in the privatization of all public services and education will be a primary target.

Here in Wisconsin we face the prospect of losing the gains we made in the recalls and must work to avoid this.  This letter from Senator Fitzgerald shows where the power in shaping educational policy lies.

Honest Elections…
Between the recent plethora of laws restricting voting and the misrepresentations (lies) being told by GOP candidates it is becoming clear that this election cycle will be filled with strife and ugliness.

We will continue the fight for equal access to voting and celebrate our successes.

On Labor Day and all the days after, don't forget to spend your money wisely on products and in places that support labor.  It doesn't hurt to remind people that you are spending your money purposefully and with the intent of furthering the cause.  

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