Sunday, September 1, 2013

#128- Labor Day Issue, Singing and Politics

Keep Labor in Labor Day!!!…
For many Americans the reason we celebrate Labor Day has been forgotten.  For many it has become the unofficial end of summer, just a three day weekend before the school year really gets underway.  Even more troubling are the commentaries that will speak about the historical achievements of labor while at the same time implying that the need for workers to organize is just that, historical. 

There is no doubt that organized labor in America has a rich history that should be celebrated.  The economic power of America has been built on the backs of the working and middle class, and the working and middle class owe a large measure of their successes to organized labor.  We can use Labor Day to celebrate these achievements.       

However, to view Labor Day as a day only of revisiting the history of the movement is to ignore the real need for continuing efforts to defend the rights of workers.  Organized labor is not the dinosaur from the past that those who attack worker's rights in modern America would have us believe it is.  In fact, in the current climate, the need for workers to organize is every bit as important as it ever has been. 

We are seeing a concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a small number of people that threatens the very fabric of our society.  This isn't something new in our history.  The very wealthy have always sought to dominate our society and to cement their status through a variety of political, social and economic efforts.  In the face of these efforts, organized labor has often been the sole voice that has protected the majority of citizens and served as a balancing force against the power of the few. 

The current climate for workers is troubling.  Low pay, cuts in hours, reduced or non-existent benefits and an increasingly hostile political climate are putting significant pressure on employees in all fields.  The past decades have seen a gradual erosion in the power that unions are able to exert and an, all too frequent belief, that the need for unions is gone.  After all, we have laws to protect workers and other policies that insure workplaces are safe and fair treatment for employees is guaranteed, right?

The reality for many workers is that they are facing significant workplace challenges and that the working conditions for workers have degenerated.  Places like Wal-Mart that used to be more worker friendly are now anything but that.  Workers are told that they should feel lucky to just have a job, and that any dissent or effort to improve their conditions will not be tolerated.  Once again, this isn't anything new to our nation.  In challenging economic times we have always seen the wealthy use this strategy of controlling the labor force by pitting workers against each other and using the "market" to drive down wages, benefits and working conditions.  Individual workers struggle to be heard, but organized workers have a voice that is more powerful.    

We certainly can't rely on politicians to protect the workers of our society.  In Wisconsin this fact has been made crystal clear over the past couple of years.  The idea that public policy is designed to promote and protect the rights of workers is so far removed from the reality as to be laughable.  The "focus" on jobs is simply political rhetoric designed to garner the support of voters, but has no real substance to it.

The attacks on worker's rights extend to all types of employment.  The attacks on public employee rights to organize, are the latest in the efforts to dismantle organized labor in America.  A significant amount of energy has been put into creating the illusion that public employees, like educators, don't need organized labor to protect their interests.  Even individuals speaking publically in support of  public educators question their need to be involved in labor issues.
"Teachers have not always helped themselves, due in large part to occasional periods of what look like out of touch labor militancy."

Educator unions and the actions of their members are not "out of touch labor militancy".  The collective bargaining agreements that have been negotiated over the years allow educators to focus on doing their jobs and advocating for the students they serve.  They are an effort by employees to exercise some measure of control over their working conditions and benefits.  Anyone who denies this needs only to look to school districts across the state and nation where union protections have either been weakened or eliminated.

There is a clear effort to de-professionalize education and to turn the field into a stepping stone to a "real" career.  The combination of eliminating incentives and protections provided by negotiated contracts with the wave of educational "reforms" creates an attitude of disrespect for professional educators.  Despite significant evidence that educational outcomes for students are improved by educator stability the rhetoric of reform puts more faith in programs than in educators.    

The budget crisis that was manufactured to create the "need" to attack public employee bargaining rights also has allowed for Wisconsin Republicans to enact state budgets that will perpetuate the perception that public employees are to blame for the economic woes in Wisconsin.  By cutting state funding to school districts, these districts are forced to increase property taxes.  This literal passing the buck, increases public sentiment against educators and school districts.  

The politics of "divide and conquer" are obviously being used here in Wisconsin.  It is being employed to pit different groups against each other.  Those who employ these strategies hope that the citizens of Wisconsin forget that we all have an interest in the success of every laborer.  A strong, healthy society is built on the belief that every citizen is valued and every job is important.  They hope to continue to deceive the citizenry that they are acting on behalf of the majority.  On Labor Day we need to remember and celebrate our history, but also look to the future.  A future that must include a place for organized labor at the table. 

How unions help all workers | Economic Policy Institute

How unions help all workers | Economic Policy Institute

Solidarity Sing…
Bizarre and disturbing are two adjectives that somewhat adequately describe the past week at the Wisconsin State Capitol. 
It was a week where we were reminded that just a year ago the Wisconsin Senate unanimously honored the Solidarity Sing Along.

It was a week where the fear that we would see violence in our capitol was realized.  That this violence came from law enforcement is extremely troubling to say the least. 

We are seeing continuing issues around the applications for permits.  Sometimes supposedly on the "behalf" of the Solidarity Sing.  Some wonder if this isn't an attempt by the administration to defuse the situation without conceding defeat.  

It was also a week of  hope and solidarity.  We are reminded of the violations of our rights and the need to continue the struggle.

How will this struggle be resolved?  What will the eventual outcome be?  The answers are not clear and the end of the conflict is not yet visible.  However, it is clear that the Solidarity Sing will continue to be a voice in Wisconsin despite the efforts of the administration to suppress it. 
Wisconsin Politics…
Anyone who thought that the political battles in Wisconsin were behind us is sorely mistaken.  If anything the conflicts here will only escalate in the immediate future.  The stakes are extremely high for all of us who are interested in returning Wisconsin to a progressive and socially just path. 

If anyone needed evidence that we need to continue to work to change the course that our current leadership is taking us in.  A few examples of corruption, questionable ethics and dubious motives. . .

Governor Walker is clearly in campaign mode (as if he hasn't been campaigning since Day 1 of his tenure in office).  Whether for another term as governor, or aiming for a higher office is a reasonable question.

Absolutely love the quote from this article, “'Campaign' refers to Walker’s 2014 re-election bid, although it is unclear how many Wisconsin voters will be in Seattle next week.”

 80% insurance rate hike under ACA will take four years - Milwaukee -...

Along the way we will need to work to combat the intentional ignorance that so many in our society seem to enjoy, and that is perpetuated by major media outlets.  

We must to begin mobilizing and preparing to defeat Walker in 2014.  This begins with finding a candidate that will truly represent us and can generate statewide support.  

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