Posts Tagged ‘labor’
Sometimes a Great Notion – Directed by Paul Newman. Filmed 1970. It was released to widespread dismissal in 1971, stars Paul Newman and Henry Fonda and Lee Remick.
In a supremely ironic film, those two great bastions of Hollywood liberalism – Paul Newman and Henry Fonda – star as father and son scabs. Their rugged individualism, community-destroying strike defiance and overall bravado are the Alpha of America.
Paul Newman’s handsome misogyny is as disarming as Henry Fonda’s loveable curmudgeon. They chop down centuries old forests, rise before the sun, drink beer, hunt, alternately fuck or ignore their beautiful servile wives. Henry and Hank Stamper – their characters in the film – live by their family creed, “never give a inch.”
The film is based on a story by Ken Kesey, of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest fame. I was written a year after Congress passed the Equal Pay Act mandating equal pay for women. It was filmed two years after the 1968 French General strike, a student-led protest against austerity measures that swelled into a strike of over 4 million workers, and the same year US Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, mandating safety regulations for workers.
The film doesn’t convey the depth of character to the union members or women in the film – covered in more depth in the original novel’s 650 pages. It is essentially a male-heirarchy tale, and the film remains faithful critic to their hierarchy. The Stamper clan cling to their molehill as vigilantly as they uproot its trees. Cynically – because that is the essence of Our Masculine Myth of American Exceptionalism – at the end of the film, our heroes Henry and Hank win. Deperately, glorifyingly. Their indomitable man-conquers-man, man-conquers-nature, man-conquers-society spirit lifts them, and we who sympathized with them, to a state of hollow despair. You are left to feel like the centuries-old forests torn apart by Henry, Hank, and even the workers when they are not on strike: ravaged. Because their ethos is pathological.
Kesey considered it his best novel, better than his notorious earlier work, One Flew Over the Cookoos nest. But the film and book remain little known to most Paul Newman, Henry Fonda or Cokoos nest fans.
It’s live streaming online on Netflix, possibly on hulu or other free sites.
On January 17th, 2013, Tavis Smiley moderated a panel of public intellectuals on the topic of poverty in America – a topic so rarely discussed, you’d think it was a peripheral issue rather than the root cause (and consequence) of so many other hazards. It isn’t taken seriously. Just another set of statistics contorted to fit one’s political agenda. However, at a moment when the country is considering further devastating cuts to health and human services, job training, food stamps and education, this conversation is one we must have more often and with a great deal of seriousness. Click here to watch it on C-SPAN
Human poverty does exist in the US - in spades. But unlike poverty of years past, poverty is now sublimated. Federal Food Stamp and free and reduced lunch programs shroud poverty from view. The poor stand next to you in the grocery line, and next to their classmates at the school lunch line. Because the cheapest food also happens to be the unhealthiest, malnourishment is more often draped in obesity rather than emaciation. The poor live off the beaten path and in neighborhoods we’re not supposed to go to ’cause they’re “bad.” There aren’t bread lines in the streets or folks in overcrowded welfare or unemployment offices – they are online, call-in only. The poor are rarely found lobbying at the Capitols, but they are plentiful in morgues and prisons and in the military.
As writer and artist John Berger noted, “The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied, but written off as trash.”
The day after Tavis Smiley hosted that panel discussion, President Obama was inaugurated on MLK Holiday and on MLKs Bible [see Cornel West’s take on this at minute 25-30 in the program]. Though he spoke about gay rights, about the rights of girls being allowed to succeed, and on the vital issue of UNIVERSAL SUFFERAGE, Obama failed to mention Organized Labor, which along with education and Social Security, is among the most successful anti-poverty programs in the U.S. Josh Eidelson discussed this in an article for Truthout.
Obama made a point about investing in schools in order to create good “workers,” but he failed to note that we then suppress their abilities to organize so they can, in turn, bargain dignified wages and benefits for their labors. As union membership rose from the 1950s through the 1970s and then declined from the 1970s to current day, the number of Americans living in poverty mimicked the rise and fall.
Then two days after Beyoncé lip-synced the National Anthem at the ceremonial swearing-in, and the sycophantic press got over their post-ball hangovers, the Big Story of the day was that union membership in the US had dropped to a 90+ year low. Many offered their reasons for why this is so, but few if any dug into the correlations between poverty and unionization, from the Industrial era until now.
The current legislative session in Iowa now must decide what to do with the billion dollar surplus earned from years of spending cuts to essential programs like court services, unemployment offices, jobs training programs and many others. Instead of using this opportunity to help Iowa’s poor (an all-time high number of Iowans currently receive food stamps), Governor Branstad has proposed sweeping commercial and industrial property tax reform. But the problem with his vision of reform is the poor do not own commercial and industrial property. There are no tax credits for living in a car, a shelter, a family or friend’s sofa, or in a pay-by-the-week motel.
The Iowa legislature should be recognized for its attempts last year to address poverty by passing legislation to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit which targets poor workers, and by supplementing Iowa food banks with $500,000 in state assistance. Unfortunately those attempts were in vain as Governor Branstad vetoed both (he actually vetoed EITC twice last year).
Partisans of all sides could possibly agree that it’s not that the poor shouldn’t “get” government subsidies/assistance; it’s that they shouldn’t “need” it. But the realities of our economic model that repress workers’ rights to organize result in enormous human need. But an economy is man-made. Policies are set forth through our public and private institutions where poor people are being told they have to work harder, and they are going to have to do with less.
The Iowa legislature’s number one priority in dealing with the budget surplus should be to address poverty and health and human services. Women and children make up the largest segment falling into poverty. One in four children under the age of five is food insecure. Poverty’s impact on children is immeasurable – how do you calculate immorality? Quantify psychological destruction? Measure the violence of broken families? You can only describe it, and in doing so your heart should break if indeed there is a soul still in you that hasn’t been erased by bean counting economic theories.
To find out more about Tavis Smiley’s poverty summit, go to Afuturewithoutpoverty.com or look up: #povertymustend on Twitter. At the website, you can sign a letter to the White House that demands the President give a major public policy address on eradication of poverty in America and convene a White House conference on the eradication of poverty.
The gang of Republicans in the state house kicked off last week asking for a constitutional amendment to include their political position on Iowa’s status as a right to work state in the Iowa Constitution. Didn’t they hear about the divided government and the need to compromise? Whether the measure will be voted out of committee is uncertain. If it is, and the resolution is debated, passed and messaged to the senate, the result is foregone―it isn’t going anywhere during the 85th Iowa General Assembly.
House Joint Resolution 1 (HJR 1), calls for an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to incorporate existing right to work law into the document. A new Article XIII would be added, titled “Labor Union Membership,” explained in the bill as follows:
“This joint resolution proposes an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Iowa relating to labor union membership. The joint resolution proposes incorporating current Code sections 731.1 through 731.5 into the constitution. The resolution provides that a person shall not be deprived of the right to work for any employer because of membership in, or refusal to join, a labor union. The resolution also prohibits requiring the payment of union dues or the deduction of union dues from a person’s pay as a prerequisite for employment.”
HJR 1 is expected to be dead on arrival in the Iowa Senate. It represents the business as usual political posturing endemic to 21st Century Iowa politics. Iowa is, and has been, a “right to work” or “open shop” state for a long time. Whether we will continue to be so is not a question among most people I know—Iowa will be a right to work state for the foreseeable future. So what is the bill about?
Some believe strengthening Iowa’s right to work laws would attract businesses to Iowa. Of this there is no guarantee. While I have heard executives who were seeking a place to locate their business talk about right to work, it was a lesser consideration. It sounded more like executive chatter, preliminary pleasantries before discussion of more important issues: tax incentives, real estate deals, utility concessions and other financial considerations. As the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) pointed out, implementing right to work laws can go the other way, as they did in Oklahoma. EPI reported, “since the (right-to-work) law passed (in Oklahoma) in 2001, manufacturing employment and re-locations into the state reversed their climb and began to fall, precisely the opposite of what right-to-work advocates promised.” What happened in Oklahoma may not happen in Iowa, but there is a different reason some would like to see this bill gain traction.
HJR 1 continues the rigorous acrimony between Iowa Democrats and Republicans regarding union membership, public unions in particular. Republicans view labor unions as Democratic supporters, and Democrats find the financial and campaign support of labor unions useful in politics. HJR 1 is the Republican way of flipping the bird at Democratic politicians, especially since they must realize HJR 1 is going nowhere in the 85th Iowa General Assembly.
That’s a fine howdy-do to get the session started.
Book Review by Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News, Bloomington, Illinois
Economics, the study of how we earn and spend our hard-earned pay, can be dry stuff, often lost in obscure charts and mathematical models. So it is refreshing when an economist looks at more than numbers. In The Price of Inequality, How Today’s Divided Society Endangers our Future, Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz examines our economy, with our growing separation between the 99 percent of us and the wealthy 1 percent, and lays out forcibly what is wrong with our system that proverbially leaves the rich getting richer and the poor poorer.
Stiglitz exposes what in our tax policy, banking system, trade treaties and government policy favors the wealthy, whether through tax loopholes or subsidies. To give just one example, which was included in the most recent fiscal cliff legislation, are lower capital gains tax rates for private equity firm managers, which Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was criticized for profiting from this past fall. Stiglitz would note a tax break like this favors speculation over economic investment.
What is most refreshing about this Nobel Prize winning economist’s treatise are some basic human insights. We all swim or sink together. So as we design our economy, is it based upon lowering workers’ wages, cutting support for the poor, the elderly or the sick? Or do we design an economic model that still allows the wealthy to get rich, but also lifts up the average person?
One cannot do justice to the economic data that is condensed and analyzed in The Price of Inequality. But if you want a very measured, thorough analysis of how our tax, corporate and governmental policies are impacting average families, this is the book to read. If the USA is going to have value to its people and the world, we have to reward hard work, support affordable education and allow creative opportunities. Stiglitz would argue that many of our policies go in the opposite direction. He notes labor unions as a necessary and vital counter-balance to rampant, self-serving corporate greed.
It is dense reading, but full of insight. An economically divided society is not the inevitable result of a capitalistic “invisible hand of the market.” Markets are shaped by human choices, whether made by politicians, voters, bankers, industrialists or speculators. Besides controlling markets and financial rules, the wealthy control much of our political dialogue through their campaign donations and media centralization. Our democracy means not only electing politicians, but also using our voting power and voices to insure an economic that is open to all.
The Price of Inequality is worth reading; rarely does one get so much data, delivered with thorough analysis and insight, in one volume. And rarely does one hear from an economist who realizes we are all economic contributors and deserve a fair shake in our system.
It is also the day that union members and their community allies will be holding demonstrations and making calls to Congress to block cuts to Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid as part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations.
The AFL-CIO has sponsored call-in efforts to Congress in the last few weeks, lobbying them on the issue. Monday is a National Day of Action that will target nation-wide calls to members of Congress as they wind down their lame duck session negotiations.
When Social Security was passed in the 1930s, half of American seniors lived in poverty. Research shows that even now, long after the end of the Great Depression and despite the advent of other anti-poverty programs like housing vouchers, food stamps and Medicare and Medicaid, if Social Security didn’t exist, half of seniors would again be thrust into poverty. It is unconscionable that anyone in Congress would consider making cuts to these programs when there are still unnecessary and enormous corporate subsidies to Big Oil, Coal, McDonalds, Walmart, John Deere and countless other head-over-heals profitable industries at every level of government.
But the conventional wisdom you hear repeated everywhere in our culture is that of a meritocracy: you work hard you prosper – you be lazy, you deserve no handouts. This simple-minded ethic is flat-out wrong on so many levels (we are constantly subsidizing profitable enterprises, and our nation’s largest demographic are the working poor), but it’s insulating on a deeper level. Taking care of our most vulnerable people – especially at the time when they are no longer in their role as “productive” workers in society – is what defines us as civilized and not barbaric.
So please join one of the actions taking place in Iowa on Monday.
And if you can’t be there in person, please call in, directions below.
1.Dial – in Toll Free: 888-659-9401
2.Listen to message instructions
3.Press 1 to be directed to Congressperson or 2 to be directed to Senator
4.Enter your Zip Code
5.You will be re-directed to their office
If you reach a real person, please share with them how you personally are affected by Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. Be sure to give them your home address and urge them to preserve and protect these important programs.
Burlington: CONTACT: Midge Slater, 515-250-4873, email@example.com
CAMPAIGN AGAINST CUTS
WORKERS WILL THANK CONGRESSMEN LOEBSACK FOR HIS SUPPORT IN NOT MAKING CUTS IN SOCIAL SECURITY, MEDICARE, OR MEDICAID AND NO TAX BREAKS FOR THE RICHEST 2%. On Monday, December 10 Iowans will hold a Candlelight vigil and press conference at the Burlington Public Library, 210 Court Street, Burlington, IA. They will be releasing a report that shows the impact of these programs on Iowans and asking their Congress people protect programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
5:00: Candlelight vigil in front of the library
5:15: People move inside to Meeting Room B for press conference
Speakers: Midge Slater, Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans/Ryan Drew, Treasurer, Des Moines, Henry County Labor Council/Jared Hershberger, Staff, Congressman Dave Loebsack
Where: Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Davenport office is located at 201 West 2nd Street.
For further information, please call 309-788-1303
Members from organized labor unions, Alliance for Retired Americans, Progressive Action for the Common Good, MoveOn, and numerous faith-based organizations in the Quad Cities will be rallying outside Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) office in Davenport, Iowa at 4:00pm to make clear the following: “NO to tax breaks for the Richest 2% and NO to cuts in Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits.”
In one of the most prosperous countries in the world, everyone should be able to retire with health and dignity. Working families across the country have made it clear that we need to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits. Millions of working people, jobless people and retirees shouldn’t have to sacrifice their health care and retirement security so that the richest 2% can continue getting more tax breaks. It’s time for our elected leaders to focus on creating an economy that invests in jobs, healthcare and education for all.
DES MOINES: 300 East Locust, Des Moines: 4 PM to 5 PM
AMES: 1421 South Bell Avenue, Ames : 4 PM to 5 PM
CONTACT: Lance Coles, 515-669-8046. firstname.lastname@example.org (Des Moines Event)
Charlie Wishman, 515-262-9571, email@example.com (Ames Event )
WORKERS WILL GATHER OUTSIDE LOCAL CONGRESSIONAL OFFICES TO THANK CONGRESSMEN BOSWELL AND LOEBSACK FOR THEIR SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE LATHAM TO MAKE NO CUTS IN SOCIAL SECURITY, MEDICARE, OR MEDICAID AND NO TAX BREAKS FOR THE RICHEST 2%.
On Monday, December 10 Iowans from around the state will gather in front of the Iowa offices of Congressmen Boswell and Latham, asking them to protect programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
These Iowans will also be asking these Congressmen to stop the tax breaks for the richest 2% as well.
In a post-election “lame-duck” session, Congress is taking on high-stakes decisions with major consequences for working people and the economy.
Polling after the election clearly supports that the majority of American is saying no to the tax cuts for the top 2% and no to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. “We want to thank Congressman Boswell for standing with working Iowans,” said Charlie Wishman, Secretary/Treasurer of the Iowa Federation of Labor. ” The voters made it clear they want the rich to pay more in taxes, without making cuts in programs like Social Security.”
“We will continue to demand that members of Congress and the President stand up for fairness and economic security and refuse to increase already raging inequality during the lame-duck session in Congress”
Tuesday President Obama met with labor and progressive leaders including reps from MoveOn.org, Center for American Progress, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, National Education Association and Service Employees International Union. Here’s what Leo Gerard of the United Steeleworkers had to say on the Ed Schultz show:
“I’m wearing my shirt tonight and I’m telling our members and the whole world, the steelworkers are ready to go… we’re not going to make the same mistake that we made last time. The last time, we should have been out on the street with the president on the stimulus bill, we should have been out the street with the president on the Affordable Care Act, and we let him down, I think. We sat on our hands. Well, we’re not going to do that this time.
We expect to have the president’s back on the agenda that the voters just declared support for,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which spent $75 million in backing Mr. Obama and various Democrats this year. “The president has always said he needs a movement behind his mandate.
Mr. Obama has talked of going beyond the Beltway to stir up support for his plans, including increasing taxes on households with incomes of more than $250,000. Union leaders have made clear that they are happy to turn out the troops to — in a tactic from the Franklin D. Roosevelt era — “make him do it.” Union members held rallies in 100 communities last Thursday as a first step in promoting the president’s budget plan.
Bill Samuel, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s legislative director, said, “We agree with the president that tax rates for the wealthiest 2 percent need to go up to provide revenues to invest in jobs, education, infrastructure and training.”
“It’s unfortunate that this lockout by Crystal Sugar has come to an official boycott”, said Ken Sagar, President of Iowa Federation of a Labor. “We have Iowans that work for American Crystal Sugar (United Sugar) in Mason City that have been locked too long. This lock out and now boycott impacts the community and state. A boycott will also have an adverse impact on farmers and others associated with the making of sugar.”
The AFL-CIO endorsed a nationwide consumer boycott of American Crystal Sugar products to begin Monday, October 15, in response to Crystal’s Sugar 14-month lockout of its workers. The AFL-CIO noted that the boycott will be called off if the management of Crystal Sugar, which has denied its workers the opportunity to do their jobs, returns to the bargaining table in good faith and concludes a contract.
This consumer boycott is part of the broader labor movement’s continued support for the locked-out workers of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM). American Crystal Sugar management has blocked 1,300 workers from their jobs for over a year, denying them incomes and healthcare benefits. The national labor movement endorses boycotts cautiously and only in instances of grave injustice.
“The twelve million union families of the AFL-CIO are proud to stand with the courageous locked-out workers who are responsible for American Crystal Sugar’s profitability and previously strong reputation,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said. “As we saw with the lock out of the NFL referees, locking out skilled workers who do important, unglamorous work hurts not only the workers, but the product and he bottom line. We hope that this boycott will encourage Crystal Sugar to finally respect its workers, who worked so hard every day to make Crystal Sugar a highly profitable industry leader.”
Trumka continued that “Crystal Sugar workers have been locked out since August 1st of last year because Crystal Sugar’s CEO, after rewarding himself with a 50% pay increase for his union workers’ increased productivity, decided to try to break the workers’ union. Berg’s actions have endangered the generation of labor peace that made Crystal Sugar an industry leader. We hope that American Crystal Sugar will return to the bargaining table to conclude a contract and end the corporation’s sliding reputation and bottom line. With good faith by Crystal Sugar’s management, the corporation can return to its previous course of harmonious labor relations and profitability.”
UPCOMING CENTRAL LABOR COUNCIL PROGRAMS
Barbara Ehrenreich, Fall 2012 Univ. of Iowa Lecture Committee series
Monday, Sept. 24, 7:30 p.m.
Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City
Ehrenreich, best known for her 2001 book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, currently heads the Economic Hardship Reporting Project . An endeavor inspired in part by the Federal Writers Project of the 1930s, the initiative aims “to force this country’s crisis of poverty and economic insecurity to the center of the national conversation.”
ObamaCare Upheld! What Does It Mean?
Thursday, Sept. 27, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Hawkeye Labor Council, 1211 Wiley Blvd, SW, Cedar Rapids
Free and open to union members, their families, and friends. Sponsored by the Hawkeye Labor Council with support from the Iowa Federation of Labor.
LABOR CENTER CONTRIBUTES TO NEW REPORT ON WAGE THEFT
Too many Iowans are not paid wages they are legally owed, and woefully limited state enforcement efforts are failing to protect workers, honest employers and Iowa taxpayers from a growing epidemic of wage theft. Click here to read more about this issue in a new Iowa Policy Project report released yesterday and co-authored by Labor Center staff, or follow these links for early press coverage of the report:
Des Moines Register, “Wage ‘theft’ tab in Iowa: $600 million”
Cedar Rapids Gazette, “Report claims wage theft affecting workers, businesses, state”
Ottumwa Courier, “Report: Wage theft costs Iowans $600 million annually”
American workers face hard times. While the Great Recession reduced incomes and increased unemployment across all socioeconomic groups, the poor got hit harder than anyone else.
Over the past forty years, moreover, many workers have experienced stagnant wages and miserly salaries, vanishing pensions, diminishing benefits, and increasing workloads. The traditional expectation that as worker productivity increased wages would also rise has not happened. Worker productivity grew 80 percent from 1973 to 2011, but the average worker wage, adjusted for inflation, fell 7 percent
Only 56 percent of those laid off from January 2009 through December 2011 found jobs by the start of this year. Over half of them took jobs with lower pay. Poverty rates continue to climb, reaching levels unseen in almost fifty years.
Although the recession supposedly ended in 2009, we remain in a job crisis even as corporate profits have returned to high levels and the rich control even more of our wealth. A weak economy and fraying safety net create deep distress among average working people.
Making matters worse is wage theft, rapidly becoming a widespread and often unacknowledged crime. People put in more than 40 hours a week without overtime pay by being forced to work off the clock or having their jobs misclassified as exempt from overtime requirements. Others complain employers confiscate tips, pay less than minimum wage, and make unauthorized or illegal deductions.
Workers seeking to organize against employer domination and abuse face great obstacles. Workers seeking union protection are routinely subjected to intimidation, threats, captive meetings, interminable administratively delays, coercive one-on-one hectoring by supervisors, demotions, forced transfers, and other forms of retaliation including dismissal. The miniscule fines for these infractions of labor rights have little deterrent effect. In their new book, Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right, Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit propose an amendment to the Civil Rights Act to bar discrimination on the basis of exercising the right to unionize, just as employers are currently prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, gender, religion, marital status, physical ability, and—in some jurisdictions—sexual orientation.
The problem with the U.S. economy right now is that not enough people have money to spend. The ongoing downward pressure on wages from the cumulative effects of long-term unemployment and union busting left many Americans with too little money even if they do have jobs. This weak consumer spending accounts for most of our slow recovery rather than taxes or labor costs.
Assisting low wage earners by increasing the minimum wage would be a big, immediate, and popular stimulus. One part of Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin’s Rebuild America Act would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.80 per hour and index it to inflation. This would give 28 million workers a raise and generate about 100,000 jobs over three years. Upping the compensation of low wage workers increases the immediate demand for basic needs and services, reduces turnover, and generates more tax revenue. And it does not reduce employment.
Now is the time for public investment when savings on materials are plentiful and interest rates are low. We can create new jobs by rebuilding and upgrading our infrastructure such as roads and bridges, modernizing our schools, and installing energy efficient systems. Direct federal spending on safety net programs such as food stamps and unemployment insurance also spurs a cycle of increased economic activity.
Our big challenge today remains generating robust job growth and making sure unemployment drops steadily and rapidly. The best deficit reduction measure is putting people to work. We need jobs, not austerity.
Ralph Scharnau teaches U. S. history at Northeast Iowa Community College, Peosta. He holds a Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University. His publications include articles on labor history in Iowa and Dubuque. Scharnau, a peace and justice activist, writes monthly op-ed columns for the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.
For several years now, heavy-handed centralized management of the Chicago Public School system – by a CEO nonetheless, not even a superintendent – have alienated parents, community organizations, students, teachers and support staff.
The days of Harold Washington’s democratic reforms establishing neighborhood control through local school councils are long gone, and onerous federal mandates from No Child Left Behind have tied funding to standardized tests and teachers to filling out endless paperwork rather than practice the art of teaching. The Board of Education, still a democratically elected organization in Iowa, is now appointed by the Mayor himself and not directly beholden to the voters of Chicago.
This management style, where performance measures distract anyone from understanding Thoreau’s writing or pondering on the unfolding mystery of DNA, has produced dozens of local school closures. It’s diverted more funds into charter schools that have proven no better at educating children, but better at shifting funding from school workers salaries and into creating profits for charter school managers.
It’s sent children on busses and trains to schools outside their community without producing measurable improvements. The CPS remains quite exceptional, however, at producing high school dropouts at a consistent rate of 50%. A mere 6% of them get a bachelor’s degree. Oh, it has also succeeded in opening five new military academies.
So it’s not surprising – even in a post Walker-Wisconsin World – that more than 90% of teachers voted to authorize a strike last week in the Chicago Public School District.
Mind you, the threshold for authorizing a strike was recently raised by the Mayor’s Democratic friends in Springfield to be more than 75%, not the simple majority still required at all other school districts in the state. This difficult threshold not only counts those who voted, but the entire organized workforce. Imagine if corporate boards or the legislators in Springfield had to operate based on these hefty measures.
But the teachers, led by a grassroots activist coalition CORE that was elected just two years ago reaches across the district, use the old-fashioned organization model to build support. They effectively communicated with other teachers, parents and communities the majority of whom are also upset at the closure of local schools and libraries.
To counter this strategy, the Chicago School District CEO for the first time ever is using robocalls to reach out to parents– traditionally a stalwart of electoral politics not public sector negotiating. Democrats for Education Reform is paying for the costs of the calls rather than the district itself. Don’t be fooled by this Astroturf school reform group. Despite the positive liberal sounding name, Democrats for Education Reform is actually a for-profit charter school advocacy group run by hedge fund managers and other people in the financial industry.
Stay tuned as this drama unfolds. Chicago teachers haven’t actually gone on strike since 1987. But with Chicago’s rich history of progressive education reforms (John Dewey & Jane Adams) let’s hope that this community-based activism results in truly democratic reforms instead of the corporate model that has failed two decades of Chicago school children.