How many of us actually "celebrate" Labor Day?
It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade;
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid;
Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made;
But the union makes us strong.
- Solidarity Forever by Ralph Chaplin
I've been spending so much time working on my progressive clawhammer project that I almost forgot to write something about Labor Day! I would be neglecting my "folksinger's perspective" on things if I let this day slip by without mentioning it...
I may be mistaken, but I believe that few of us actually think about "labor" on the one day set aside each year to celebrate all that we, as a society, have gained from the labor movement during the last hundred years or so. As a child, I remember asking my mother what, exactly, it was that we were supposed to be celebrating; I ended up more confused than before I asked the question!
Not only have we apparently forgotten that Labor Day is all about celebrating unions, we eventually managed to kill off the parades and public events that used to be a part of this holiday. How did this happen? I'm pretty sure it was a calculated act designed to slowly erase this holiday's "union" origins, the idea of which so many find to be uncomfortable, if not down right threatening. Eliminate the parades and festivities and you effectively “pull the plug” on labor unions involvement in the national holiday created in honor of them; a pretty effective plan!
Have we forgotten just how bad things were before unions? It sometimes seems so. One good example can be found in the area of child labor. Pete Seeger, in his book Carry It On, quotes the following from Mother Jones' autobiography:
"At five-thirty in the morning, long lines of little gray children came out of the early dawn into the factories, into the maddening noise, the lint filled rooms. Outside the birds sang. At lunch half-hour, the children would fall to sleep over their lunch of cornbread and fat pork. They would lie on the bare floor and sleep. Sleep was their only recreation, their release, as play is to a free child. Often the little ones were afraid to go home alone at night. Then they would sleep on the floor."
Pete also gives an example of just how far the owners of these factories would go to justify their exploitation of children:
“They seem to be always cheerful and alert, taking pleasure in the light play of their muscles; enjoying the mobility natural to their age. The work of these lively elves seemed to resemble a sport in which habit gave them a pleasing dexterity.” - Textile employer, circa 1900
For those who think the fight for workers rights is a thing of the past, it is amazing just how quickly the gains of the last century and a half can be stripped away. Just look what happened in Wisconsin earlier this year. This is only the beginning of the war. Soon others will follow Wisconsin's lead. I know this to be true as it's already happening in my own community...
Just a few months ago members of the Ogden City School Board stripped teachers of their right to collective bargaining. Not only was the right to union representation taken away from these educators, the school board then issued an ultimatum demanding that teachers sign an non-negotiated contract or face immediate termination.
Unbelievable as it may sound, this same School Board recently appointed one of their own members (one of the architects of the draconian anti-union policy) as the new Ogden City School District Superintendent; an individual with no prior experience in education or administration. Without union representation, who is there left to protect the rights of the teachers? The voters? I'm hoping they can set aside their apathy long enough to vote out the entire School Board in the next elections.
"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." - Winston Churchill
"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public...” - Adam Smith
Two days after posting this blog entry, the Ogden School District made the front page (again) of the Ogden Standard Examiner. I appears that the American Federation Of Teachers is questioning the legality of Brad Smith’s appointment to the position of District Superintendent. The article raised a number questions regarding the legality of this appointment, but the most compelling argument seems to revolve around a requirement that job openings be publicly posted unless hiring an existing district employee. The OSD claims that Smith was already an employee of the district, but if this were the case, wouldn’t this prevent his serving on the School Board based on a conflict of interest?
To answer this question, I did a quick internet search for criteria that would make a candidate ineligible to seek a position on a School Board. I found that most (if not all) states have stringent rules stating that those seeking a seat on the School Board not be employed by either the district or the board (or be related to said employees). I can’t imagine a district teacher being allowed to serve on the board, so why should any other district employee be allowed to do so? The Ogden School District appears to be stating that Smith was eligible to serve on the School Board and, at the same time, was also an employee. You can’t have it both ways:
Kudos to the AFT! They are the only union with the backbone to stand up and fight for those who, in turn, have sacrificed so much to teach our children...
It’s amazing how quickly the “bullies” back down when their victims actually fight back! I just found out that the Ogden School Board has backed down on their “no collective bargaining” stance. Thanks to all who have helped, especially the AFT.
No thanks go out to the Ogden Standard Examiner who chose to ignore the news about the restoration of collective bargaining rights after previously editorializing in support of Smith (I had to hear the news from friends working for the school district).
In defense of the Standard, they haven’t completeIy stopped coverage of this issue. I read in today’s paper that the State School Board has granted a waiver to Brad Smith to allow him to carry on as superintendent, but added that any legal questions concerning his hiring will have to be resolved by the courts. That same issue also carried a story explaining that the State School Board has drafted plans to streamline the firing of teachers by the districts; the wording is suspect as it may lead to teachers being let go for reasons other than performance. Is the State School Board following the lead of the Ogden City School Board? If so, this is not a good sign of things to come...