Chamber of Commerce." Whatever. You owe your advantages to unions. Unions created livable wages, vacation time, sick time, lunch breaks, minimum wages, working hour rules... yes, unions created the American middle class.
Why does this matter? Because the ability of citizens to organize themselves is essential to democracy. It is essential to human rights. The United States even said so when it ratified the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. And that right is under attack in America today.
No, no state legislators are trying to break up Chambers of Commerce. None are insisting that Ace Hardware stores stop collective purchasing and advertising. And surely, I have yet to see the Republican governor push a bill to stop capitalists from joining together in an organization designed solely to limit their liabilities for debts and wrongdoing to customers and investors (we call this "a corporation"). But for people like you and me? The goal is no labor rights.
I have written a lot on the value of teachers, the need for tenure, the importance of unions, and, yes, even how I would change teacher training. But, there's a story I will add for EduSolidarity Tuesday 2011.
In exchange for that she was paid a little better than $3.00 an hour for time in school, around $4,500 a year, about 2/3 of the median full-time head-of-household worker pay at the time, just below average, and about 45% of what lawyers averaged. She was on duty outside the school before and after the school day, and most days had "lunch duty" and "playground duty" as well. There were no planning hours or professional development days. She would be up late into the night creating plans for the next day, or, three times a year, writing out report cards in her magnificent "third grade teacher" handwriting. I haven't thought about the combination of her fountain pen and the carbon paper she used for that task until just now... could you press hard enough with a fountain pen?
Of course, she found jobs every summer to get the family through those unpaid months. A lot like all the non-union teachers today (from Christian schools and for-profit charters in my area) who I see working in stores in the evening and on weekends to make ends meet. Yet every August she'd spend a fortune on materials for her classroom which the school did not supply.
|Americans fight for union rights, Walter Reuther attacked at the|
Battle of the Overpass.
You already know the union did not bring miracles. If you are a teacher today your job only looks a little different, but in the hyper-inflation of the 1960s and 1970s, the union kept teachers near that "average" wage. It created real tenure and job rights. It allowed lunch time and planning time. It created professional development days. It broke up the fourteen hour days which came when parent conferences occurred. It gave teachers a voice in curriculum development, in district policy. In her district it led directly to highly successful educational innovations - open classroom elementary schools, aggressive desegregation policies, inventive high school solutions. More than anything, the union protected the cutting edge teachers - the ones who challenged the system on behalf of their students. I witnessed numerous situations in my secondary school experience where the best teachers in a building would have been fired as "troublemakers" were it not for the New Rochelle Federation of Teachers.
|The power of unions. Polish workers begin the destruction of the Soviet Empire, August 1980.|
Those politicians today, from Scott Walker to Rick Snyder, to Andrew Cuomo, to Chris Christie, to Rush Limbaugh, and John Boehner? Their goal is to rollback all of that progress. To a time when teachers were fired because they riled their superintendents. To when cops had to take "tips" to earn enough to live. To when jobs in government were given out in return for campaign contributions.
Today on EduSolidarity Tuesday we must stand as one. We must understand that globally, for the past 150 years, unions have been the guarantor of human rights, of labor rights, of professional rights - from Homestead, Pennsylvania to Gdansk, Poland. From Memphis, Tennessee to today in Wisconsin, Idaho, Ohio, and New Jersey.
Do not let a bunch of villains straight out of Dickens destroy America. Join and fight.
- Ira Socol