Saturday, July 07, 2018

Labor Studies

Why on earth do we not teach our children about the history of labor? Why don't we teach them about how laborers organized, and how they organize worldwide? Why don't we teach them about how powerful unions are in Europe? Why don't we teach them about the history of labor in these United States? The story of labor is a long one, and there's been a new chapter attached to it within the last month.

That chapter, of course, is named Janus, for a scumbag government worker who turned on his brothers and sisters for thirty pieces of silver, or perhaps 15 minutes of fame. He claims to believe the very act of representing working people is political. It doesn't matter, supposedly, which candidates they support or that they need to have a dedicated fund to support them. I'm sure I wrote this before, but union tends to underrepresent those who favor more work for less pay.

So the court decided that from now on those who wanted more work for less pay would be able to stand up and be counted. No I don't want you to negotiate more money for me. No I don't want safer working conditions. No I don't want to be released from work when my kids graduate from high school. I'm not all-knowing, and I haven't taken any polls, but I've been teaching since 1984 and chapter leader of the largest school in Queens for nine years. I have never heard anyone make demands resembling these.

The truth is that five justices appointed by Republicans, who have not remotely represented working people since maybe 1959, ruled that people could opt out of union. After all, the rest of us could pay for them, so what's the issue? Of course, what we know is that this is the culmination of decades of work by an anti-labor group financed by billionaires.

Now maybe you think billionaires are our benefactors, who sit around and plot ways for working people to do better. But no reading of unvarnished history supports that. In this world, the one we actually reside on, people have had to sacrifice, fight and often give their lives for rights in the workplace. I don't recall ever having studied stories like this one in school, and the only reason I learned about the struggles in the coal mines Donald Trump claims to love so (despite never having set foot in one) is that they've been written about in films and novels. These struggles still go on today. No one in America should have to choose between working in a coal mine and unemployment. Coal miners are still victimized today.

Here in America, we have an entire network dedicated to fool working people that the rich, who keep all they can for themselves and throw the rest of us crumbs, are somehow looking out for us. Trump talks about "clean coal" as though it exists.  And though Trump has presided over a temporary uptick in miserable, dangerous unhealthy coal jobs, in the long run, they will decline.

I've spent much of the last thirteen years writing this blog and looking closely at UFT leadership. The 2005 Contract was a spectacular piece of crap. Its legacy has left teachers fearful and cynical. Add to that the insane regulations that Bill Gates's puppet Arne Duncan foisted on America called "Race to the Top," and you have a recipe to crush the morale of many working teachers. It's particularly egregious in New York City because years of Bloomberg have left us a legacy of vindictive, small-minded, self-serving, unimaginative administrators who wouldn't know what was good for children if it were banging them over their thick heads.

The best long-term fix for this would be education. People ought to know that weekends were not, in fact, handed down my God on Mount Sinai. People should know that paid sick days were not the idea of benevolent employers. There is just so much that we fundamentally take for granted I can barely begin to describe it.

If the union sucks, it's on us to fix it. It is fundamentally unethical for me to say, "Hey, I'm keeping my money. Screw the rest of you. You can pay for me." Yet that's precisely the sort of thinking the billionaires are going to encourage. We will soon be barraged by ads telling us how to opt-out of union. They'll say hey, we just want them to know their rights. That's nonsense. If they cared about our rights they'd be telling us how to unionize Walmart. In reality, the Walmart family financed Janus because they hate union. They're happy paying as little as they can to their workforce, and they're fine with having their employees rely on food stamps so they don't have to pay a reasonable wage. You and I subsidize Walmart just as we'll be forced to subsidize the lowlifes who opt out of union dues.

The bottom line here is that if you think any of these moneyed interests give a golly gosh darn about your welfare you are deluding yourself. Also, if you think withholding your dues is going to improve teaching conditions, I have a bridge in Brooklyn with your name on it. If you want to work to improve the union, you can do it. You can show up to union meetings. You can make your voice heard. You can tell leadership what we need.

As for me, as long as three of four UFT members can't even be bothered to vote in union elections, it's hard for me to make a case for pulling my dues. If leadership sucks, it's no one's fault but our own. I spend an awful lot of my time trying to influence leadership to improve things. I go to meetings. I talk to people. I write this blog, and have been doing so almost every day for over a decade. I write elsewhere and I do all kinds of small things I can't write about.

If you mostly sit on your ass and plot over how you can make a few extra bucks by withholding union dues, you are the problem. If we end up with another crap contract, it won't be Mulgrew's fault. It will be yours. And if you think the contracts suck now, wait until you see what they're like when union ceases to be a factor.

It's terrible that kids are not learning about organized labor. It's unconscionable that we call ourselves teachers and know as little as the kids.
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