Tag Archives: Unions

Celebrating the Much Despised Labor Day

5 Sep

Labor DaySince the Reagan era, we seem to have surrendered to what I would term an irrational, inexorable disdain for the laborer. Labor Day seems to have become a hollow holiday for some without a sense of history. Let us remember why it is important to celebrate and elevate the laborer. This is a time for us to reflect and look at how we value human beings; how we look at and address income disparities; how we address and look at people who are over-employed!

Yes, over-employed, those who have to work more than one job and still remain in poverty, while CEOs and those who enjoy being in the top echelon of corporations and organizations earn exponentially more than those who actually allow those organizations to sustain themselves. According to the Economic Policy Institute and Fortune, many top executives make over 300 times that of their employees, many of whom live at or below the poverty line. Yes, CEOs earn 20 times more than they did 20 years ago and 30 times more than they did 30 years ago. In fact, according to the Economic Policy Institute, “In between 1978 and 2014, inflation adjusted CEO pay increased by 1000%,” while the typical worker has only seen a possible 11% increase in that same time frame. That 11% means workers are now either earning the same as they earned in 1978 or even less, allowing executives to earn so much money that it is next to impossible to chart.

We saw the architecture of this with Ronald Reagan, who did his best to bust unions. You remember the union, the reason why we have a little something called a “weekend,” and an 8 hour workday, and protections against the exploitation of children workers. Unions: the reason  we hope to never witness another tragedy like the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

Just a little history about Labor Day. Labor Day was started in 1882 by labor unions, but it would be many more years before it would be recognized as a Federal Holiday. Oregon was the first state to recognize and honor Labor Day in 1887.  Finally in 1894, under the Cleveland administration, it became a national holiday on the first Monday in September.  Congress passed it unanimously, a very rare event indeed. Today we have an opportunity to reflect on why we need to celebrate the laborer and to look at the maldistribution of wealth in the United States. It’s particularly important to note how Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan show nothing but contempt, disdain, and even disgust for the laborer.

Many of us have been working in movements to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. This would be just a very small move forward and still does not address a living wage. Sadly, the common theme from Trump and Ryan and their ilk — remember, they aren’t as different as they’d like you to believe —  has been nothing less than hostile. They all seem to subscribe to the false notion of a meritocracy. Our current Republican controlled House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted against the equal pay act — the same people who want to throw out the Affordable Care Act and witness millions suddenly going without health care. All the while ALL of those in our congress have Cadillac insurance packages and earn a minimum of $174,000. Yes, you read that number correctly. Please watch this very short video of the maldistribution of wealth in the United States.

Labor Day isn’t just an excuse for a long weekend or a chance to grill an extra burger before autumn sets in. It’s a chance to reflect on the work that is done at all levels of our society and the value of all that labor. It’s a chance to celebrate the collaboration that makes work better and working conditions safer. In the words of the great Joe Hill (as sung by Billy Bragg)

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child

There is power in a Union.

Happy Labor Day to all who have to work today and that have no pension, no health benefits, and are at the poverty line. We must stand in solidarity!

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Labor Day 2015: Much Despised by the GOP

7 Sep

Labor Day 2015Labor Day was started in 1882 by labor unions, but it would be many more years before it would be recognized as a Federal Holiday. Oregon was the first state to recognize and honor Labor Day in 1887.  Finally in 1894, it became a national holiday on the first Monday in September under the Cleveland Administration.  Congress passed it unanimously, a very rare event indeed. Today we have an opportunity to reflect on why we need to celebrate the laborer and to look at the maldistribution of wealth in the United States. It’s particularly important to note how all of the GOP presidential candidates show nothing but contempt, disdain, and even disgust for the laborer.

Reflecting back, the United States can proudly celebrate the influence of its labor unions and how they have helped to protect the too often marginalized and voiceless.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire proved there was still a great deal of work to be accomplished by the labor movement.  Labor Unions also worked to protect children and helped to establish an eight hour work day, fair wage laws, and breaks for safety and meals — that whole notion of having a weekend.

Sadly, America seems to be losing its appreciation of Labor Unions while privileging profit over people.  President Clinton left a nasty legacy called NAFTA and perpetuated a culture of vilifying those in poverty.

Many of us have been working in movements to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. This would be just a very small movement forward and still does not address a living wage. Sadly, the common theme from all of the GOP candidates has been nothing less than hostile, as they all seem to subscribe to the false notion of a meritocracy.

We hear Republicans bleat about jobs and the economy but do nothing, while at the state level we see a nefarious and dangerous Scott Walker are dismantling unions and isolating workers from the political process.  We have seen Walker, Christie, Kasich, and Jindal bash and target teachers and unions, rather than looking at how do we redistribute wealth in an equitable way that helps to lift people out of poverty. Please take a look at this short video on the distribution of wealth; this is what we should desperately focus on and how every GOP candidate is on the wrong side of history here.

Labor Day isn’t just an excuse for a long weekend or a chance to grill an extra hot dog before autumn sets in. It’s a chance to reflect on the work that is done at all levels of our society and the value of all that labor. It’s a chance to celebrate the collaboration that makes work better and working conditions safer. In the words of the great Joe Hill (as sung by Billy Bragg, thanks to my husband for the choice of Bragg):

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child

There is power in a Union.

Happy Labor Day to all of our brothers and sisters that have to work today and that have no pension, no health benefits, and are at the poverty line.

What Tuesday’s Elections Really Mean

6 Nov

confused-elephant425Yesterday was election day for many parts of the country. Because it isn’t a Congressional election year, a handful of high-profile races dominated the airwaves and will be over-analyzed into the next big electorate meme. Even with one major — and expected — Republican victory, progressives have a lot to celebrate. Let’s start with a quick look at the results.

  • In New York City, Democrat, progressive, and all-around good guy Bill de Blasio crushed conservative Joe Lhota 73 – 24.
  • Sadly, across the river in New Jersey, Republican Governor Chris Christie handily won re-election by 23 points.
  • Most eyes were on Virginia, one of the few remaining true swing states, where the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General offices were all up for grabs. The news is mostly good for progressives. Terry McAuliffe beat the odious Ken Cuccinelli, 48 – 45 to become the next Governor and the unhinged E.W. Jackson lost his bid for Lt. Governor to Ralph Northam by ten points. The AG race is too close to call, with either candidate leading by less than 1,000 depending on whose results you see.

It’s still early, but the emerging theme is that the GOP must moderate its views and steer clear of their tight ties to the Tea Party to win, with hypothetical moderate Christie being compared to clear conservative Cuccinelli. While common sense and demographic trends might support the basic argument, the comparison is deeply flawed.

Christie is an outlier. He’s a skilled politician who has been elected twice as a Republican Governor in a very Democratic state. Somehow he manages to appeal on an “independent thinker” model that splits the ticket. Two thoughts about the Christie myth. First, he’s no moderate. He vetoed marriage equality and worked hard to limit the power of unions. His moderate actions were either clear compromises with a very Democratic legislature (labor, education) or calculated political theatre (banning conversion therapy for teens). His stands must be viewed through the lens of a crafty politician who has been angling for the 2016 GOP Presidential nod for years. Which brings up the second point: even in NJ Christie would lose a hypothetical presidential matchup to Hillary Clinton by at least six points. The real lesson here? Chris Christie is a talented politician in a unique situation that manages to still sell hate in a pretty package with a bow on top.

Virginia tells us more. The big lesson is for Democrats: Terry McAuliffe is hardly well-loved, but he ran a strong, progressive campaign including support for marriage equality and gun restrictions. He won in a very purple state. Tacking to the center would have made the contest more confusing and might have cost him — Democrats need to remember this. On the other hand, he won by less than 3% when polls had him up by an average of 7%. That indicates that Cuccinelli’s very conservative positions appealed to more people than were willing to admit it to pollsters. That counters the Christie logic pretty strongly. Virginia is also a borderline southern state, closer to the heart of the GOP power and more indicative of what will happen as the stage is set for 2016.

In short, there is happy news and mixed news. Progressives values can win — de Blasio and McAuliffe modelled that nicely. The GOP, however, is still experiencing confusion and internal tension. The Tea Party base is still churning up very conservative candidates in primaries. While the results so far — with Cuccinelli joining the ranks of Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin — are good for Democrats, the times that one of these candidates wins the big race are dire indeed. Democrats can’t count on a GOP implosion, because complacency could easily see President Cruz in 2017. Oy! Perish the thought!

Hero of the Week Award, September 20: Russell Brand

20 Sep

Russell BrandI am the first to admit that I am not one that has been able to appreciate the work of Russell Brand. I’ll further admit that the only thing I have seen him in was the re-make of  Arthur, which should never have been remade.  When you have a cast like Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, the late Sir John Gielgud, and the late Geraldine Fitzgerald what are the hopes of doing better than that, even with my beloved Helen Mirren?  As it turns out, Russell Brand is a rather impressive young man with a keen awareness of homophobia, class, distribution of wealth, and history.  Bravo, Mr. Brand!

Brand was just recently the recipient of a British GQ Oracle award, which is sponsored by Hugo Boss.  Upon receiving his award, Brand took the opportunity to remind the audience of the deep ties Hugo Boss had to the Nazi Party during WWII.  Hugo Boss not only supported the Third Reich, but made an enormous amount of money making the uniforms for the Nazi soldiers. The uniforms were often made by prisoners of war — a truly horrific irony. Despite Boss’ prohibition from operating the business after the war, he transferred power to a relative and the business continued on its ill-gotten gains. During the push for reparations in the 1990s, the company paid lip service to the effort but refused to publicize any findings regarding their activities and contributed what adjudicators called “a bare minimum” to the reparation fund. What an awful example of soulless corporate greed.

In Brand’s most impressive speech, he also deftly addresses the persecution of gays during WWII — sadly we have a redux in Russia now.  And with great aplomb, Brandon also gives a much needed smack down of classism and the inequitable distribution of wealth.   I have to love Brand’s understanding of power dynamics and how corporations and governments are implicated. Note this portion of his speech as transcribed in the Guardian:

Now I’m aware that this was really no big deal; I’m not saying I’m an estuary [sic] Che Guevara. It was a daft joke by a daft comic at a daft event. It makes me wonder, though, how the relationships and power dynamics I witnessed on this relatively inconsequential context are replicated on a more significant scale.

For example, if you can’t criticise Hugo Boss at the GQ awards because they own the event, do you think it is significant that energy companies donate to the Tory party? Will that affect government policy? Will the relationships that “politician of the year” Boris Johnson has with City bankers – he took many more meetings with them than public servants in his first term as mayor – influence the way he runs our capital?

Sadly, GQ editor Dylan Jones reprimanded Brand on Twitter, stating, “What you did was very offensive to Hugo Boss.” Brand responded aptly, sticking to his important thesis: “What Hugo Boss did was very offensive to the Jews.”

I hope you will be equally as impressed with Russell Brand, as I let him speak for himself here.  I also have to add how much I love Danny Glover for initiating a boycott of Hugo Boss back in 2010, when the company tried to stomp out any signs of unionization.

Women’s History Month 2013: Valerie Harper

15 Mar

Valerie_HarperToday I would like to honor another remarkable woman who has been a big part of my life for the past 40 years. As regular TSM readers know, I have always loved the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Part of me wanted to be Mary, but I’ve always had a lot of Rhoda in me. I actually put this in my essay when I applied to the school of social work. Her bold, outspoken nature and very human insecurities made her a wonderful character, and no-one could have brought her to life other than the incomparable Valerie Harper.

She was born in Suffern, NJ in 1939; her family moved frequently for her father’s work (including a couple of years here in Ashland, Oregon). When they left NJ, she moved to New York to pursue her dream of dancing. She obtained her degree and began chorus work, rising to lead roles and eventually moving into television after a bit part in the film version of a Broadway show she had appeared in. The casting agent for MTM saw her and knew that she had found her Rhoda. Nine years later, Harper had four Emmy awards, one Golden Globe, and seven nominations for her groundbreaking role.

More significantly, she had shown another kind of independent woman. Unlike Mary’s clear career path, Rhoda was always more of a free spirit. She had her own life and lived it proudly. She also went through one of the first prime time divorces, showing the difficulties of relationships in an honest way while retaining her quirky charm and joy. Harper also notes proudly that she was one of the first actors to use the word “gay” on prime time network television, on one of my favorite episodes of MTM, My Brother’s Keeper–a must see episode!

While acting on stage and television, she was also a strong advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and women’s rights. She was as outspoken as her famous television persona and helped put a familiar face on these important issues. She also co-founded L.I.F.E. with Dennis Weaver, an LA organization that provided meals for the underserved and marginalized. In recognition for her work, the Women’s Film Institute awarded her their Humanitarian award in 1987.

Sadly, Valerie Harper is back in the news for tragic reasons. A lung cancer survivor, she recently discovered that the cancer has returned in a rare and nearly untreatable form of brain cancer. Rather than retreat, she is using her personal struggle to encourage others. In print and television interviews, she stresses how lucky she has been and encourages everyone to live their lives to the fullest while they can.

Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral!

She also notes how lucky she is to have great health care through her union. Never shy, she reminds everyone that universal health care should be a right and expectation and that unions work hard to create a level playing field for all workers. Yes, it is obvious I love our  Valerie Harper.  I am confident that she will prevail.  I  thank you for your great work and thank you for allowing me to celebrate you during Women’s History Month!

Bigot of the Week Award: December 14, Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Legislature

14 Dec
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

Well fetch my smelling salts. Petulant Republicans in Michigan rammed through anti-union legislation in their lame duck session. Even though they will maintain their slim majority in January, supporters of the bill were defeated in November, giving it no chance to pass in the new session. Desperate to gut union power, the soon-to-be-gone legislators colluded with Gov. Rick Snyder to pass the so-called “Right to Work” bill, marking another huge blow to workers.

The bill is modeled on a plan put forth by the Koch brothers, which tells us all we really need to know. Speaking in support of Michigan unions, President Obama wisely called it a “right to work for less” bill. Before the election, Gov. Snyder had maintained that the draft legislation went too far, saying he would not support it. He suddenly changed his tune, championing the odious measure and signing it in record time.

Legislators maintained that the bill was necessary to keep unions from abusing their power in the public sector. Their hypocrisy is revealed in every step of their actions, however. It includes restrictions on private sector unions. It exempts two large public sector unions, fire fighters and police. Is it a coincidence that both of these groups are more likely than other union members to support Republicans? These actions were clearly nothing more than an aggressive political move.

Dishonorable mention this week goes to a regular recipient of the BWA, Justice Antonin Scalia (Thank you to LGBT ally Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this).  As the Supreme Court gets ready to hear two marriage equality cases, Scalia reiterated his odious opposition to equality. Asked by a law student about his regular comparisons of homosexuality to bestiality, Scalia repeated and emphasized them. Curiously, the media — who often seem to enjoy his theatrical antics from the bench — are now pondering his viciousness, noting his nasty, behind the times irrelevance.

REMINDER: TSM is still accepting Bigot of the Year nominations. We’ll spend the last week of 2012 recognizing the most horrific and hypocritical behavior of the year. Please submit your suggestions by December 23 for full consideration and stay tuned for the winners!

Hero of the Week Award: November 2, First Responders

2 Nov

Hero of the Week

Amidst the horrific devastation that Hurricane Sandy wrought in the Northeastern U.S., thousands of men and women are quiet heroes. “Just doing their jobs,” these first responders and supporting personnel help to make sense of the chaos. They work hard to minimize the impact of the storm on the lives of millions. Fire fighters, EMTs, police, and others band together, efficiently doing the work they have trained to do.

Natural disasters bring untold consequences. The wind damage and flooding that are obvious blend with fires, power outages, injuries, separated families, and a host of other problems. First responders rush into the bedlam, often risking their own health and safety, to make things better for everyone. They deserve our thanks and praise.

In light of the coming election, it is worth noting two things that should be evident but are often overlooked. Almost without exception, these are government jobs. They are paid for by our taxes and are a perfect example of why individual investment in systems that serve everyone are so important. Local governments alone cannot cope on this scale, so having well-funded, organized state and federal systems in place is also critical. Michael Brown, infamous failed FEMA director under George W. can whine all he wants about the “too speedy” response of the Obama administration. It was, in fact, a perfect example of how governments at all levels should work together to make the best of a bad situation.

It is also worth noting that most of these first responders have union organized workplaces. The fact that they are well trained, well equipped, provided with guidelines for work hours and safety, and paid something remotely close to the value of their work arises from that simple fact. The Scott Walkers of the world can complain all they want about the evils of public unions. All those served by these brave people should strenuously object, wondering what their fates might have been in an underfunded response model. Elections have consequences, and what Sandy could have done is a good illustration of where  some politicians want to take this country.

Thanks again to the heroes who serve quietly and powerfully. Your dedication, commitment, and service are shining examples of our nation at its finest.

Honorable mention this week goes to Bob Crowder, a long-time Florida Republican. Crowder, sick of the loony Tea-stained fringe that has taken over his party, mounted a primary challenge to Rep. Allen West, one of the worst of the bunch. (Now THAT takes some doing!) Crowder lost his bid to unseat West in the primaries. This week, he did something remarkable and powerful: he endorsed the Democrat, Patrick Murphy. Murphy would be a great Congressman, and taking down West would be icing on the cake. Crowder, who is the sheriff of Martin County, sums up his view nicely.

As a Republican for over 30 years, I’m embarrassed by the radical fringe that has taken over the party. Sadly, Allen West is their poster child, and the hateful, divisive comments he’s made throughout this campaign make it clear to me he’s the wrong choice for our district.

Thank you, Sheriff Crowder, for standing up for the best candidate and putting the needs of your fellow Floridians ahead of mere partisanship.

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