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Rally For Education In Davenport

free educationJOIN STUDENTS, TEACHERS, BOARD MEMBERS AND COMMUNITY SUPPORTERS 

RALLY
FRIDAY AT 5PM 
NORTH HIGH SCHOOL – 626 W. 53RD STREET, DAVENPORT

None of Iowa’s children are worth-less

On Monday night, Davenport School Superintendent Art Tate made headlines when he announced he would violate state law and dip into $29 million in cash reserves in order to stave off severe budget cuts caused by the State Legislature’s failure to adequately fund education. The School Board followed this announcement by saying they fully support the Superintendent in his actions, and will stand behind him.

We need you to stand with Superintendent Tate and the School Board members, as well as all Iowa children.

At issue are two separate points:

1. Supplemental State Aid bill is being held up by union busting Republicans. State Legislators are required by law to establish a supplemental state aid bill by February 15th to allow ample time for School Districts to make decisions on local school budgets. The state of Iowa has failed to do this for the past two years. Additionally, since Branstad took office, the supplemental state aid approved by lawmakers (aka “Allowable Growth”) has been inadequate to make up for the cuts put in place when the economy collapsed in 2008. There is now more than enough money in the state’s cash reserves to implement a 6% growth formula – what the majority of school superintendents said were needed in a recent survey. However, Republican lawmakers are holding the funding bill hostage trying to force concessions on binding arbitration.

2. Inequities in the funding formula. Iowa’s school funding formula results in inequities that allow more per pupil spending in property rich districts and less in other districts. Consequently, the ability of districts to meet all their students’ needs is grossly unequal, and is one of the factors that results in a flight from those school districts due to Iowa’s “open enrollment” option.

The QCFL commends the Davenport School District’s actions and asks you to show your support for the district by contacting your state legislator. Ask them to fully fund Supplemental State Aid at 6% (aka “Allowable Growth). Then ask them to support SSB 1254, a bill to amend the state’s funding formula to create equity among school districts.

We do not think any of Iowa’s children are worth-less.

Senate
Rita Hart: rita.hart@legis.iowa.gov 563-374-1368
Roby Smith: roby.smith@legis.iowa.gov 563-386-0179
Joe Seng: joe.seng@legis.iowa.gov 563-940-0671
Chris Brase: chris.brase@legis.iowa.gov 563-260-5416

House

Norlin Mommsen Norlin.mommsen@legis.iowa.gov 515-281-3221
Gary Carlson: gary.carlson@legis.iowa.gov 515-281-3221
Jim Lykam: jim.lykam@legis.iowa.gov 515-281-3221
Phyllis Thede: Phyllis.thede@legis.iowa.gov 515-281-3221
Cindy Winckler: cindy.winckler@legis.iowa.gov 515-281-3221
Ross Paustian: ross.paustian@legis.iowa.gov 515-281-3221
Linda J. Miller: linda.miller@legis.iowa.gov 563-620-9539 or 515-281-3221

Also please write a letter to the editor and send to: OPINIONS@qctimes.com

Story and details here:

qctimes.com/news/opinion/mailbag/davenport-school-board-backs-tate/article_74c2f211-82b7-5d73-b30f-56b1f12c9107.html

qctimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/tate-s-gambit/article_be4931d2-30ea-51a1-bd76-fd3db1873694.html

qctimes.com/tate-s-speech-i-care-more-about-our-students-than/article_9b210dbe-70b0-5c56-a696-7ccf27c722e8.html

qctimes.com/news/local/education/davenport-schools-leader-vows-to-break-law/article_0bb5f624-8d32-50c8-97de-62eab273d436.html

Iowa Workers Demand Apology From Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

iowa afl-cioAs Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker makes his first appearance in Iowa after making comments at CPAC comparing union members protesting his policies to ISIS, Iowa workers are speaking up and demanding an apology. Union Members and workers from all over Iowa are planning to hold a press conference in Dubuque to address Walker’s unpatriotic remarks in front of the Hotel Julien, at 6 pm on Saturday March 7.

Bruce Clark, President of the Dubuque Federation of Labor will be the main speaker. Other officials have been invited to speak at this Press Conference.

WHO: Veterans, Nurses, Schoolteachers, Parents, and other Iowa workers
WHAT: Press Conference with Iowa workers demanding an apology from Wisconsin Governor Walker.
WHERE: In front of the Hotel Julien, 200 Main Street, Dubuque, IA 52001

WHEN: Saturday, March 7, 2015, at 6PM

Tracy Leone
Organizer – Iowa Federation of Labor

www.iowaaflcio.org
www.iowalabornews.com
https://www.facebook.com/IowaAFLCIO
http://www.youtube.com/AFLCIOIowa

Here’s more:

On Saturday, Governor Walker of Wisconsin will be in Dubuque at the Hotel Julien for a fundraiser for newly-elected IA 1st District Congressman Rod Blum. The fundraiser is part of a day-long trip by Walker to Iowa who will speak earlier in the day at the Ag Summit in Des Moines – an event that profiles would-be presidential contenders.

However, when Walker arrives in Dubuque, he will be greeted by Iowans who are deeply offended and shocked by his recent comments at a CPAC conference that compared union members to ISIS terrorists. Saying, “If I can take on 100,000 protestors, I can do the same across the world,” Walker suggested that his experience in 2011 pushing through a bill that gutted public sector bargaining rights, is similar to the skills needed to handle global threats such as ISIS.

This absurd analogy prompted AFL-CIO president Trumka to tweet, “@GovWalker stmt comparing workers & terrorists is revolting. It’s clear his judgment is impaired & he’s not qualified for the Presidency.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren added, tweeting, “If Scott Walker sees 100,000 teachers & firefighters as his enemies, maybe it’s time we take a closer look at his friends.”

Walker was asked by labor groups to apologize for this comment but has since resisted. He did extrapolate on his remarks on FOX News, explaining, “The leadership we provided under extremely difficult circumstances, arguably the most difficult of any governor in the country, maybe in recent times. To me, I apply that to say, if I were to run and if I were to win and be commander-in-chief, I believe that kind of leadership is what’s necessary to take on radical Islamic terrorism.”

Again, Walker’s response is not only woefully inaccurate, but it is very concerning. The reality of dealing with peaceful public protest against anti-worker legislation is a very different reality than dealing with the magnitude of warfare. For Walker to act like his experience with one qualifies him to deal with the other both underrates the very serious contemplation of war, it alternately conflates peaceful protests with armed conflict.

Whenever I hear some dismiss these comments as “stupid” or by an “idiot,” I pause, because this type of thinking, even as it appears stupid, is actually quite dangerous. Analogies grow on people. What is first just a thought, a suggestion, after repetition becomes conventional wisdom. The lines get blurred between what is our just, lawful, right to protest, use civil disobedience (and to do so while standing up for the rights of workers to collectively organize and bargain), and terrorism.

It is also absurd to think about what on earth would Scott Walker do to deter ISIS, based on his behavior as Wisconsin Governor? Will he tell them he’s going to defund secular education? Will Walker threaten ISIS by saying he will reduce access to the polls and voting? That he will go after women’s reproductive rights and limit access to family planning? That he will implement economic policies that result in Wisconsin being below the national average in job and wage growth? I think ISIS might actually agree with him on a lot of those policies.

Join good people of Iowa this Saturday in Dubuque at 6PM to make sure that this story does not die off as the conservative press would like it to do.

Iowa House Democrats Rank High In Gender Equity

Iowa State Capitol

Iowa State Capitol

Gender Disparity in State Houses

There is still much work to be done if women are to achieve overall gender equity in representative democracy leadership.

House Minority Leader Mark Smith put out an e-newsletter that announced a remarkable statistic. For the 2015 legislative session, 49% of the House Democratic caucus was composed of women, making it one of the most gender-balanced state bodies in the nation.

But this is a narrow statistic, and though twenty-one of the forty-three Democrats in the Iowa House are women, only six of fifty-six Republican state house representatives are women (11%).

The numbers of women in the Iowa Senate are much worse. While six of twenty-six Democratic Senators are women (23%), just one out of twenty-four Senate Republicans are women (4%). Altogether, 22.7% of Iowa legislators are women, behind the national average of 24.4%. Right now there are thirty-four women who have gaveled in for the 2015 session of the Iowa legislature, one behind the record high of thirty-five women who served in the 2009 and 2014 sessions.

Iowa Democrats seem to do a better job of selecting women to be in its caucus leadership. Democrat Pam Jochum is the Senate President, and two of the four assistant majority leaders and three committee chairs are women. The only female Republican senator, Amy St. Clair, while not selected as a leader in her caucus, is a minority chair on the Education Committee.

In the Republican controlled House, only one woman is in leadership, Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, and three Republican women are Committee Chairs. Eight Democratic women serve as ranking members of committees.

How do women fare in other states?

According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, approximately 1,785 women will serve in the 50 state legislatures in the 2015 legislative session, essentially no change from the proportion in the 2014 sessions. Iowa ranks ahead of seventeen states, but behind thirty-two states.

Nebraska has the fewest women in raw numbers with only ten women elected to its legislature. Since this is the only state with non-partisan elections, one wonders if women would have better or worse chances if associated with a party? Of the 1,785 women serving this year in state legislatures, 1073 are Democrats, 698 are Republicans, four are third party, and ten are those “non-partisan” Nebraskans.

Louisiana has the lowest percentage rate with only 12.5% of its legislators who are women, followed closely by Oklahoma with 12.8%.

Colorado has the highest rate with 42% of its legislators who are women, followed by Vermont with 41.1%. New Hampshire leads the way with one hundred twenty-two women in its extraordinarily large legislature.

Illinois is 31% female, Minnesota is 33%, Missouri is 24.4%, Wisconsin is 25%, and South Dakota is 21%.

The strangest part of all these numbers, however, is that when women run for office, they actually do quite well. According to Political Parity:

“Conventional wisdom often holds that women candidates have a more difficult path to elected office than their male counterparts. However, recent studies of the performance of women candidates demonstrate that they fare the same as, if not better than, men in similar races. The greatest issue in increasing the ranks of women to elected office is the significant lack of female candidates.”

Since voters seem to have no problem electing women, both parties, as well as non-partisans need to do a much better job of recruiting women to run for office.

Tracy Leone
Organizer
Iowa Federation of Labor

The Calm Before The Storm

willa cather quote“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”   – Willa Cather

December is the calm before the storm. I’ve delayed writing a post-election synopsis partly due to the fact that the gains Republicans made in the 2014 election are so enormous it is hard to digest what that all means into a cohesive blog entry.

But analyzing them is even more difficult to decipher since parallel to GOP electoral victories, 2014 also resulted in populist referendum victories.

In Illinois, though voters chose billionaire Republican Bruce Rauner by 50.8 percent over incumbent Governor Pat Quinn 45.9 percent, those same voters also approved progressive advisory referenda by wide margins. 67% of Illinoisans voted to raise the minimum wage, and 63.5% of them also voted to levy a millionaire tax.

They also voted to amend the Illinois constitution to protect voting rights with this language:

“No person shall be denied the right to register to vote or to cast a ballot in an election based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or income.”

This far-reaching language now enshrined in the constitution isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a populace that selected for Governor a man whose private equity firm CTGR is named in over 150 lawsuits for negligence and wrongful deaths at nursing homes managed by the firm.

Other states had similar results. Voters chose Republicans overwhelmingly for state legislatures, and they now have majorities in a majority of states. Voters also elected more Republicans and the GOP now controls the US Senate.

However, like in Illinois, voters themselves when given direct authority on actual policy, showed remarkably progressive positions.

Other states that approved minimum wage increases through ballot measures in 2014 include Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Not exactly bastions of liberalism there.

Anchorage voters repealing an ordinance which had removed city employees’ right to strike, limited annual pay increases, outlawed performance bonuses or incentives in future contracts, and set up a system for outsourcing some work done by city employees. Has Sarah Palin land suddenly surged to the left?

Also, Phoenix voters defeated Proposition 487, which would have changed the city’s retirement system from a defined benefit system to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. Certainly there are a lot of retirees in Arizona, but they typically are anti-union conservatives, so what gives?

And it’s not just economic or voting issues that demonstrate that the electorate is far more liberal that the conservatives they elected. Marijuana expanded its legitimacy with legalization approved by voters or legislators in Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia.

So, come January, we will have a collection of conservative legislators at the state and national levels who will insist they were given a mandate to push through conservative positions even though just 36.4% of voters bothered to turn out.

We will have a Senate led by Mitch McConnell who will push the TPP, Keystone Pipeline (1st vote of the session!), and a repeal of Obamacare.

Wisconsin Republicans will introduce Right to Work legislation to weaken the private sector unions. In other states, where RTW hasn’t been able to pass the statehouse, Republican County Supervisors and City Council members will introduce it at the municipal level.

A bill in Missouri will be sponsored that requires a woman to get her husband’s permission to terminate her pregnancy.

Iowa’s Republican Governor promises to further drain the state’s revenues with income tax cuts, a move that will likely be supported by weak-kneed Democrats fearful for electoral retribution in 2016.

And beyond the walls of the legislative halls, the barons of Wall Street will have free reign to profit off toxic assets that are underwritten by you and me thanks to the bi-partisan budget bill just passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.

We will have to contend with a conservative dominated Supreme Court that just issued a decision that legalizes wage theft.

But we will also have a progressive dominated National Labor Relations Board and lower court appointments just approved by the Senate.

So what shall we do to prepare for the new year? Get a good pair of marching boots and hone your listening and speaking skills so we do not approach policy like a bunch of shrill reactionaries.

And do as we always say in the Labor Movement: organize, organize, organize!

Because Women’s Lives Matter

Pro Katha Pollitt“Pro, Reclaiming Abortion Rights,” a just-published book by Katha Pollitt, could just as easily have been called “Because Women’s Lives Matter,” adopting the phrase used in the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting. Framing reproductive rights as a Civil Right must be asserted if we are to successfully combat the increasing prohibitions against not only abortion but even birth control.

“Pro” is also a book about civil rights for women who choose to have children. This task – so crucial to the survival of humanity – is horribly maligned by our economic and political policies that make parenting extremely difficult if not impossible for many poor women and/or women who want to also fulfill their lives with careers outside the home.

Pollitt spends many pages in the book describing women’s rights to raise children in a society that truly values motherhood with equal pay laws, child care subsidies, access to health care and education, family planning guidance, and respect for the work women do in and out of the home.

“Pro” is an unapologetic and well-researched book about the right of a woman to make reproductive choices based on her unique needs, which is precisely the compromise made when the Supreme Court issued its decision in Roe v Wade. This basic right for the sex of our species that gets impregnated from the widely practiced sex act underlies all other rights that women have. If she can’t control her body, how can she ever control her wages, her career, her family, or any other aspect of her life?

However, this fundamental right of women to lead their own lives is exactly what so offends the patriarchy that still largely governs public and private life on this planet.

See, the anti-choice movement is not about protecting life; it is about controlling women’s lives. More specifically, disallowing her to have reproductive freedom keeps her in a position of lesser power in society and in the home. As one woman stated in a Playboy interview published in 1970 before Roe v Wade, “I feel like I don’t have to be declared nutty to make up for the fact that my diaphragm didn’t work. I refuse to go through this humiliating process.”

At that time, before the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide, some women in some circumstances in some states could still have a legal abortion. She had to prove she was mentally unstable to a court. Or she had to have enough money to get an illegal abortion at a provider willing to skirt the law at the right price. Or have access to any of the women’s support network that existed to enable a woman to not have to give birth because she conceived.

Legalization of abortion has little effect on the number of abortions women have. In fact one million American women had abortions each year before Roe. The same number of women have abortions today, but under the safety of legality. Furthermore it is safer for a woman to abort than to carry the fetus to full term. Only .6 in 100,000 women die as a result of abortions- compared to 8.8 women per 100,000 who die of child birth. This liability is the reason why most health insurance plans covered abortion before it became an issue with the Affordable Care Act. According to the National Institutes of Health “Legal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth.”

The decision to bear a child is among the most significant decisions women make. And since women, who by nature and evolution, are the sex that are equipped to do this, it must be women who are enabled to make a decision as a personal choice. As Pollitt puts in her crucial book, let women decide. Women’s right to decide for themselves when and if having a child is good for her and her family is, according to Pollitt, “a positive social good.”

Tracy Leone
Organizer
Iowa Federation of Labor

Symposium On Wealth Disparity In America

David Cay Johnston

David Cay Johnston

Yours truly will speak on the role of unions in decreasing inequality at this forum: November 22nd, 9:00 AM – 1:30 PM at Augustana College: If you are in the Quad Cities Saturday, join us for this event:

“Symposium on the Impact of Wealth Disparity on America.”  Moderated by Morning News Anchor Emily Scarlett (TV4) and featuring Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston, Keynote Speaker. Break-out sessions with Augustana College Dean Dr. Pareena Lawrence, Rev. Dwight Ford, Dr. Christopher Whitt, Mayor Bill Gluba, Dr. Keri Manning with other thought-leaders from the greater QCA community.

11:00 AM: Concurrent Break-out sessions

Topics include:

– Political and Governmental Elements of Wealth Disparity: Government has long been seen as playing an integral role in alleviating poverty. Political efforts have had different effects on government over time.

– Poverty on the Community Level: What is the “big picture” in the QCA

– Poverty Issues in K – 12 Education: How do our schools deal with poverty? What are they seeing?

– Long Term Inter-Generational Poverty: What is it’s grip on our society? What do we need to do to break that grip?

– The Economy: What is the impact of wealth disparity on business? On the Gross Domestic Product? On the overall direction of the economy?

– Poverty Consciousness: What is the psychology and sociology of wealth disparity? What is the relationship with the legal system?

12:30 – 1:30 PM: Roundtable/Closing Discussion

#

Who is David Cay Johnston?

He’s a prolific Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist and author writing for Newsweek, Al Jazeera America, The Nation, Common Dreams, Democracy Now, The National Memo and several tax journals. He wrote for the New York Times for over 13 years along with the Detroit Free Press, Philadelphia Inquirer, and the LA Times. He’s a regular contributor on many of MSNBC’s programs. Among his books are:

 – Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality (2014)
The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” to Rob You Blind (2012)
Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With The Bill (2007)
Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super-Rich–and Cheat Everybody Else (2003)
Temples of Chance: How America Inc. Bought Out Murder Inc. to Win Control of the Casino Business (1992)

 

Don’t Be Fooled By Joni Ernst

joni ernst the perfect Koch investment
To watch the onslaught of television advertising for Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst is to be taken for an idiot.

Her handlers have packaged her simultaneously as the conservative mom next door, or as the courageous veteran, or as the flannel wearing farmer who doesn’t reel at the smell of pig shit, depending on which thirty-second commercial you get treated to as you watch your TV shows.  The artifice is so superficially applied that, as one union voter expressed, “I’m tired of Joni Ernst’s Hallmark card moments.”

Unfortunately, the general public does not get the kind of political education the average union member gets which helps union members navigate through the constant stream of televised propaganda. According to a Rasmussen poll in September, “Over one-third of likely U.S. voters remain unaware which political party controls the House of Representatives and which has a majority in the Senate.”

If one-third of likely voters do not know enough about politics to understand the balance of power, what of the 58% of registered voters who are unlikely to vote in the midterm election next week? I’m speaking of the millions of US citizens who will wake up next Tuesday, go to work, or school, or remain unemployed, or serve in the military, or do whatever people do as they fail to engage in the political process that they, in other contexts, laud over and beat their chests to defend (“USA! USA! …blah blah blah…).

The mainstream television media is only incrementally better than the thirty second ad in helping the public understand the issues so they can become actual practitioners of Democracy. What CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, Fox, et all should be doing with their hour long programs is delving into the issues with the point of creating a deeper analysis of how the candidate’s policies affect your life. Instead they are vehicles for careerist “journalists” to drive up ratings and the value of their own contracts with the networks.  They treat the election as simply a high-stakes competition, a surrogate to Monday Night Football (Tuesday Night Vote Olympics!). It’s all about being a winner! The concern is macho on a macro level.

The talk show hosts and their guests cite polls, they use the word “policy” without actually discussing the policy. They talk about change, status quo, and the play-by-play completion for control. It’s all dehumanized analytics.

The Ernst campaign is carefully maintaining control to not let the thin veneer crack over this perception of Joni as the Iowa Everywoman. Her debate performances have proven her as someone who sticks tight to her talking points. Ernst answered substantive questions with repeated incantations of generic platitudes: “Let’s make life better for hardworking Americans!”

Last week Joni Ernst surprised no one when she declined interviews with The Des Moines Register, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and other newspapers around the state. Why on earth would she expose herself to the last vestige of professional journalists who still exist at local newspapers (compared to those who smile with dead eyes reading a teleprompter to a camera)?

However, there is an agenda, and one even more conservative than Iowa’s senior Republican U.S. Senator, Chuck Grassley’s. Though Grassley supports the other ridiculous presumption that corporations are people, he has never proposed something akin to Joni’s personhood amendment.  The personhood amendment may sound innocuous (Joni plays it down by saying it’s simply an affirmation of life, “I’m always going to promote life – except, of course, when she is soldiering ).  But the personhood amendment is a Taliban-esque concept. One that would reduce women to nothing more than child-bearers. For anyone who has read Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, you understand the slippery slope such an Amendment would unleash on women’s rights.

Ernst has also proposed the nonsensical concept that states need not recognize federal laws.   In Joni-land, Iowa might as well be Somalia, not having to answer to any outside entity.

Ernst’s proposals to privatize Social Security is another classic example of playing a shell game with voters. She claims she won’t privatize or raise the retirement age for current seniors (read “likely voters”), only for those future seniors, those young people out there who are currently facing unemployment, underemployment and reduction in opportunities not seen since the parents of this current generation of seniors.  [You can read the text of her statement made in the Republican primary debate at Politifact or see for yourself in the debate video aired by KCCI].

Oh, it’s clever, all right. Worth every dime the Koch brothers have invested in it. But for Iowa voters, it is indeed one of the biggest heists the state has ever seen.

Tracy Leone
Organizer
Iowa Federation of Labor

Iowans Say “Run Bernie Run!”

Standing room only crowd at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaking event in Davenport, Iowa Sunday. Crowd welcomes him by yelling, “Run, Bernie, run.”

 

bernie sanders in davenport

What Did You Learn At Work Today?

What Did You Learn at Work TodayWhat did you learn at work today?
By Helena Worthen
Reviewed by Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News

We all learn something new. We learn from school, family and friends, and much of what we learn is on the job. That can not only mean job skills, but also learning human personalities, workplace issues and basic job justice.

Though few in number, some universities, like the University of Illinois, have labor education programs. The professors and scholars there work for and with workers, sometimes on direct job issues, sometimes on union training.

Helena Worthen, in What did you learn at work today?” takes her years of labor education and slimmed them down, seeking to understand how we learn on the job and in the union hall.

Unless you are a teacher, most Americans don’t think about learning styles or philosophies. Worthen covers four different analyses of how we learn and applies them to everyday situations.

She then does case studies of workers she’s been involved with: striking AFSCME care workers in Effingham, Illinois, inner-city pre-apprenticeship trainees, garment workers, trade apprentices, power plant technicians and teachers. Through each case, she documents on how workers’ empowerment and involvement changed not only their work lives, but them personally.

Perhaps the most fascinating chapter is how children view their working parents. Worthen served as a scholarship judge for AFSCME and read hundreds of essays on “What does AFSCME do for my family?” We often forget how observant children are of family dynamics, how job security or insecurity impacts the family and how much pride they take in their parents and their work. The Labor Movement is missing a great opportunity by not including union families and their children in activities, as these essay writers are often very insightful on how the union maintains their family unit.

Ultimately, a union is about workers developing power to better their conditions. Knowledge is power. How we gain and maintain worker knowledge is the great lesson of this book.

‘Sixteen Tons’ Captures Coal Field Life

corley book coverSixteen Tons
by Kevin Corley
Hardball Press

Reviewed by Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News, Bloomington, Illinois
Posted with permission

Coal miners were once referred to as the “shock troops of labor,” hardened union members who were often shot at and not afraid to shoot back.

Coal was the fuel of 19th and early 20th century economic expansion. The work was dangerous and poorly paid. Coal miners, often in isolated rural communities, fought hard to build a strong union.  There are battle grounds and disasters that still echo today– Virden, Cherry, Ludlow, Matewan, Herrin and numerous others.

Central and southern Illinois was a critical building block to the United Mine Workers’ success.  Drawing all these stories together yet still making them vivid and real is a challenge for any writers.  Retired Christian County high school teacher Kevin Corley has successfully done that in his new novel, Sixteen Tons.

Historical figures like Mother Jones and Matewan’s Sheriff Sid Hatfield appear, but Corley has woven together a diverse cast of characters– Italian immigrants, West Virginia miners, African-Americans and native born.

Together they do what families do– mature, get married and raise families.

Coal field hard realities continually interrupt their lives. There are mine disasters and grieving widows. There is World War I and the mass flu epidemic that followed. There are miners from central Illinois volunteering to help other miners, bringing them to Colorado, Kentucky and West Virginia to aid strikers.

Finally, the Illinois coal fields erupts in a war– not between the miners and the coal companies, but miner against miner, as union members dissatisfied with their national organization start their own union.

High stakes battles could easily overshadow character in a novel this far-ranging. Corley effectively creates individuals who are not cardboard cut-outs, but real workers with varied viewpoints. The women are just as vivid, showing families debating their risks and next move.

As a teacher, Corley soaked up stories of the Illinois coal fields, translating them into a readable novel of a recent past that should not be forgotten.