Sunday, May 3, 2015

#209 May 3, 2015- Unions, Public Education and the American Dream

America is a nation that is supposed to be based on the concepts of freedom, opportunity, justice and equity for all. In order to achieve these lofty goals we have grounded our political ideology in the concept of democracy and the ability of the individual to exert some influence on the society they live in economically, politically and socially. We can see the efforts of individuals and groups to achieve these ideals throughout our history in struggles for civil rights, freedoms and an ongoing search for social justice.

What is troubling is that we are hearing those who claim to love America most, those who claim to value freedom, opportunity and equity most, those who are among the most vocal in trumpeting the ideals of America, espousing values that directly contradict the goals of freedom, opportunity, justice and equity for all. Instead of honoring the spirit of our founding documents and the legacy of the struggle for social justice that weaves throughout our history, these leaders of the conservative movement, and other political leaders have become the voice for the economic and political elite in our society.

Our nation is one that is built on change and on challenging the status quo. We have made mistakes along the way, but whenever there are periods of progress we see an effort made to change the existing power structures of society. Different groups take the lead at different times, and the stated goals of every movement may appear to be different. Yet, the Progressive ideals that emerged in the very beginning of our nation's history are always present.

Some groups have become relative constants in the push for a better America where the "American Dream" is achievable for a majority of citizens. One of these groups is organized labor. Unions and other labor organizations have provided a counterpoint to the conservative message of individualism, consumerism and the power of an unfettered market. Where the prevailing conservative rhetoric has been one of excessive spending and concentration of wealth in the hands of the minority, unions have a long history of improving the standards of living for all citizens. During periods of the greatest stratification in income and social class, unions have provided a mechanism for the majority of the citizenry to have a voice, and to have hope for upward mobility.

Because unions provide hope and opportunity for so many, it seems curious that there would be such a negative portrayal of unions in our political and economic discourse. Unions are blamed for the fall of industries and businesses, as well as portrayed as undemocratic and un-American. We see a concerted effort by those in power to curtail the power and voice of the American worker through anti-union rhetoric and policy making..

How big business stifled one of the most crucial institutions of the US economy.

AlterNet uncovers an anti-Obama program linked to the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity, spoon-fed to employees of a major home-improvement chain.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he has the “courage…and capacity” to take on powerful interests, including unions, at the federal level. Walker, a Republican who is likely to enter the preside...

Why is it that unions take so much heat in our current political climate? Those who have shaped the view of unions as anti-American and the defender of the inept have done a masterful job of twisting the concepts of freedom and independence in a way that produces results that are contradictory to the stated goal. In other words, by giving American workers the freedom to not unionize, we actually see the power of the individual reduced. In an unequal environment, like the workplace, where the minority has access to the most power and other resources, the individual has fewer enforceable rights. Any individual employee becomes replaceable and essentially powerless. It is only through collective action that the individual gains any traction towards a better working environment. A quick glance through history gives us ample evidence of this.

Anti-union forces have also convinced us that the only way we can all succeed is through a free-market that allows the "job creators" the ability to do whatever is needed to grow their own wealth. Wealth that they will then allow to "trickle-down" to the rest of us. Once again, history provides us with powerful evidence that wealth flows upward and becomes concentrated, it doesn't get shared with the majority of those laboring to create it. Organized labor has long been a way to get wealth to flow back to a greater number of people in ways that tax breaks and incentives to business have failed to accomplish.  

The Pew Charitable Trusts has released an analysis showing that while the percentage of households in the middle class declined in all 50 states between...

How the minimum wage hurts us all.

Massive union-backed protests, an improving economy and regulatory action undertaken by the Obama administration all contributed to McDonald’s’s decision Wednesday to raise workers’ wages. But the move won’t likely be enough to...|By Brian Mahoney and Marianne LeVine

Anti-union sentiment is being fomented and entrenched in the thinking of many and is damaging to our democracy as well. The democracy that our conservative brethren claim to love is unsustainable when only a small number of individuals can access power in any meaningful way. We have seen how the power of the ballot has been weakened by excessive financial contributions that essentially buy candidates.

Unions became targets of conservative politicians because they have historically supported Democrats. This has led to a call for Democrats to abandon their support for organized labor. In reality, it should be organized labor who need to abandon the Democrats. The current two-party system has become a quagmire that fails to represent the vast majority of the electorate. Republican policies have shifted to the extreme right, and the Democrats haven't offered a strong alternative in many states, Wisconsin being one. This failure to harness the power of the citizenry is damaging to our democracy. The time has come for organized labor to unite with other groups and restore democracy to our democracy. 

Democrats need to look to the future — to millennials, start-ups and technology|By Marc Eisen

The wealth gap keeps growing, but nothing will change unless Americans realize they are having the wool pulled over their eyes.|By DAVE ZWEIFEL | Cap Times editor emeritus

Anti-Union forces have relied on a combination of misleading rhetoric, misleading data and a divide and conquer strategy that pits workers against each other. The Wisconsin Uprising was a direct response to this strategy that sought to drive a wedge between the public and private sector unions. This strategy relies significantly on keeping most citizens ignorant about the benefits that organized labor provides our society. It is here where we see the second aspect of the continuing effort to centralize political, social and economic power emerge.

Education is one of the cornerstones of a sustainable democracy. This means that we need a citizenry that is educated, not just in the basics that are needed to live our daily lives, but in ways that cause them to question and challenge the status quo. The "Three R's" may be enough for daily work, but the role of citizen requires an ability to analyze information and to think critically about the world we live in. This is why education is often "rationed" in many societies. Too much knowledge in the hands of individual citizens can be dangerous to those who seek to maintain their power.

America is a somewhat unusual nation in that we have a system in place to provide education to all citizens, and we have laws that are supposed to create systems that are equal for all. While we haven't always lived up to this ideal, the fact that this is a part of the fabric of our society gives us opportunity and hope for a future where education is a resource accessible to all, and one that can drive change for the better.    

The rapid growth of market-driven charter schools erodes a cornerstone of American democracy.|By Jerusha Conner

Because education has this potential power, and public education is the home of a highly unionized workforce, it shouldn't surprise us that politicians who are under the influence of the wealthy and powerful have focused their attention on controlling public education. The same anti-union agenda that seeks to weaken the voice of the people is present in the efforts to weaken public education and limit access to education for many citizens. 

Red-state politicians in Wisconsin, Iowa and North Carolina pick a fight with professors. They're dangerously wrong|By Aaron R. Hanlon

Education reformers stymied by teachers unions and liberal state legislatures increasingly are turning to the courts to get their way on everything from funding charter schools to making it easier to fire teachers. It’s an end-run strategy...|By Stephanie Simon

As public educator unions have seen their power diminish we are seeing individual educators lose their ability to express their ideas and advocate for their students. The loss of income and the loss of contractual protections like "just-cause" create an environment where public educators are unable, or unwilling to speak their mind about "reforms" that harm students and schools. 

Audrey Beardsley, a professor at Arizona State University, recently visited parents, educators, students, and state leaders in New Mexico. There she learned that...

This has led to a disturbing trend in education. Veteran educators are leaving the profession in droves, and fewer and fewer younger educators are entering the field with the intent to make it a life-long career.  

While other school superintendents prepare for more budget cuts from the state, Dave Polashek is throwing in the towel.

Educators are currently in especially high demand, but fewer and fewer high school graduates want to become teachers, a new report finds.

Kathleen is joined by a professor of Sociology to discuss what he calls “A Crisis In American Education.” The crisis? That teacher morale has hit a new all-time low. The result is that large numbers of teachers are leaving the profession, and...

All isn't lost, in fact the opposite may be true. Once again we look to history for evidence that there is always a pushback from the people. Centralization of wealth and power leads to a resistance that makes change happen. We can't always predict the form that this change will take, but we know that it will come. The question for us now is just how long can and will we wait to make this change happen. The more stratified our society , the more difficult the struggle to change becomes. As Patrick Henry said in the late 1700's, "These are the times that try men's souls," but no matter the challenges we also have the knowledge that we can move our society in a positive direction. It is up to us to decide if we are going to be "sunshine patriots" or utilize the freedoms, opportunities and power we have to accomplish our goals of a socially just society.

Milwaukee Area Technical College’s education professionals voted overwhelmingly this week to recertify their union, despite Gov. Scott Walker’s labor legislation limiting bargaining.|By Karen Herzog

By: Hallie Schmeling Dear Non-Union Teachers in Wisconsin, Let me start by introducing myself. I’m Hallie, a 27-year old, fifth year teacher in South Milwaukee, WI. I am certified to teach math, sp...
The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . MTI will lead an effort to stock local food pantries for the summer again this year. We know that summer can be a difficult time for many of our students who rely on school meals as a staple of their diet and this food drive can help replenish the shelves of our food pantries in preparation for the summer months.

The MTI Cares Committee is organizing a second annual food drive in partnership with AFSCME, MMSD, and Second Harvest FoodBank. The food drive is scheduled to take place during the week of May 11 – 15. The deadline to sign up to participate in this district-wide event is April 29, 2015.

Here's a candidate that I can support in 2016

From the Mother Jones archives.

The Bad . . . As Governor Walker continues to devote a majority of his time and energy to his bid for president we are seeing him remain consistent in being inconsistent. He appears to be willing to change his positions quickly based on his audience and how he can gain the most political advantage. He also tends to avoid issues that will cause him political damage or that are controversial with alarming regularity. Of course, this isn't a characteristic that is exclusive to him. However, his actions have caused a significant amount of damage to the citizens and state he was elected to serve, and he was elected based on the incomplete or inaccurate information that his campaigns provided the electorate.

Both Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch have said the state already has the necessary balance between preventing discrimination and protecting...|By Jessie Opoien | The Capital Times

Gov. Scott Walker suggested that voters should seek a constitutional amendment to allow state-level bans.|By Jessie Opoien | The Capital Times

The governor has flip-flopped on several issues, but this one is a big deal.

The likely GOP presidential contender just laid off a big chunk of Wisconsin's environmental watchdogs.

Republicans in the state Legislature want to eliminate personal property taxes. Realtors and cities say that would shift $290 million.|By Steven Verburg | Wisconsin State Journal

Of particular interest to me is his, and many others, continuing effort to undermine public education with vouchers and charters that don't do enough to earn the public's money or trust.
Gov. Scott Walker will be the keynote speaker at the American Federation for Children's national policy summit on May 18 in New Orleans.|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

A new study set to be released at the Statehouse Thursday will reveal how beneficial school vouchers are to Indiana taxpayers and students.|By Lauren Lewis, Eric Cox

MPS high schools took Wisconsin’s top two spots on this year’s Washington Post list of “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” — those that are best in the nation at challenging their students to achieve through college-level exams. Six MPS schools in total made the national list, which was releas…

The Ugly . . . Money shouldn't be considered free speech. Money is a corrupting influence in politics and policy making at all levels of government.

Large Pile Of Cash Announces US Presidency Bid April 13, 2015 A LARGE stack of money has announced that it will make a run for the White House in 2016. The pile of cash, estimated to be around 1.2 billion US dollars, said yesterday at a...

Billionaire hardware store chain owner John Menard Jr., who reportedly funneled $1.5 million to a secretive, dark money group that spent undisclosed millions to help Republican Gov. Scott Walker and GOP senators win a wave of recall elections, also contributed $30,000 since the beginning of 2009 to…

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