Note: This is purely my personal opinion. I wrote it using my personal time and resources.
I almost titled it: Bangladesh or USA, Italy or Greece — it’s the same union-busting game.
Then I changed the title to: Find cross-labor solidarity (the UPS way). Rahm and Romney will cringe!
My third title was: Rahm, Romney and Ryan are on the same side. Which side are you on?
(In case you don’t know, UPS won its 1997 strike garnering cross-labor solidarity. Fedex and many other unions came out in support of their UPS brothers and sisters. I always talk about solidarity across the moderate working class — both from the so-called left and right. You can read about my alliance-building model by clicking on this link.)
Anyway, either title would have been just as fine. I could’ve also included IMF and 1% in the title. All of the above would have been just as fine. And just as true. And just as powerful. And just as appropriate.
But I settled on the Obama and vote title. Just because I thought it might find a wider audience if I made is a little more controversial, sensitive, sexy.
Now, my title might backfire. Chances are, if the strike drags for a few more days, big bosses would heap praises both for the striking teachers and Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel (a close Obama ally and a Democrat, for those who don’t know), throw some temporary, stop-gap solutions…until after the big elections are over. And then, as soon as the elections are over, and either Obama or Romney becomes the next president, Rahm Emmanuel will crush the teachers’ union — just the same way Scott Walker, the viciously anti-union Republican governor of Wisconsin clamped down on the state’s public employees’ union.
Now that Rahm Emmanuel has found such strong support from Romney and Ryan — Republican candidates one of whom is far right Tea Party and the other is a known union basher and private outsourcer — who’s going to block his path? Plus, Koch Brothers and Murdoch and Heritage Foundation and some other big media (and foam-in-the-mouth Rush) will pump in big money and other resources to support Rahm. Who knows, maybe, he will be the education secretary in a new Romney-Ryan cabinet!
Unbelievable to see the anti-labor-union sentiment in this country called USA where the entire middle class was built with the blood, sweat and tears of the working people and labor unions — for at least forty years. Most of these people who are calling the striking union names, blaming the teachers for all the problems of the poor and failing students, and expressing outrage that these teachers are asking for better wages and benefits either lie about or are ignorant about that glorious history from not too long ago.
It’s absolutely unbelievable to see that there is so little in-depth information and analysis on mainstream media about the key demands of the striking teachers and what forced them to finally come to this point where they have no other way but to strike. Why historic? Because they risk losing and they’re fighting to expose both big parties and their anti-union agenda — one explicit and the other hidden.
Even in the mighty, all-important New York Times, there is hardly any serious analysis of the CTU strike with drawing connection between this strike and other recent strikes across the U.S. and other places of the world. I have already mentioned the UPS strike of 1997. There is hardly any serious discussion of labor unrest and what economic and political games global powers are playing to crush organized labor. How many people know what International Monetary Fund’s Structural Adjustment Program is that works so closely with global political powers, as well as multinational corporations — GE, Wal-Mart, Disney, McDonald’s or Monsanto — that are so infamous for their long history of oppression and violence on any labor mobilization?
How many people know the deep-rooted connections between all these dots?
Yet, that discussion would be so critical at this point. New York Times and Wall Street Journal and CNN would not get into that discussion. So, as I often say, the onus is on us.
Now, today on September 11, Jobs with Justice — an activist group that emphasizes rights and justice for the working people of America — threw their support behind the CTU strikers, and huge rallies came out on the streets of Chicago. That is reassuring, even though I have doubts how long the public school teachers’ union would be able to sustain their energy and strength, especially when mighty forces such as Obama and Clinton on the Democratic side and Romney and Ryan on the Republican side would clamp down on them so heavily, with help from corporate and mentor media.
I have worked with unions closely here in America, and also in India — for many years. My father was a factory employee most of his life. I have seen good unions with honest and caring and efficient leadership. I’ve also seen unions with dishonest and inefficient bosses.
But regardless of the good or bad union bosses and their good or bad politics, I have every drop of blood in my body to support the cause of organized labor. Labor unions are the last stumbling block for the elite, powerful 1 percent and their absolute, global economic tyranny against the poor and middle class working people and families. I’ve talked about it before. Check it out here.
Now, people who are expressing their outrage at the striking teachers of Chicago, have the same-old points that anti-union power such as Scott Walker or Mitt Romney or the union-busting corporations (yes, some companies only specialize in union busting, for a hefty fee) always use. They are:
(1) Union workers (in this case, the striking public school teachers) are asking for too much salary and benefits; they already make a lot. Plus, this is the time for austerity: the country is going through a severe recession. There must be austerity now.
(2) Students are failing because these teachers are incompetent and lazy. So instead of giving them tenure, the education department and mayor should fire them.
(3) Labor unions (in this case, the striking teachers) only care about themselves; they don’t care about the larger society, or the students or their parents. That’s why the striking teachers are against the teacher evaluation system.
(4) Union leaders are all thugs and crooks; they make big money and cut secret deals with the government.
(5) Public sector enterprises (in this case, public education system) have failed; it’s time to kill the government and government organizations. People should not finance public employees, public teachers and public health officials, etc. with their hard-earned money and taxes.
There may be more points. I am sure you can find more points to add here.
Sure! We all know where you’re coming from. You can find it all in Heritage Foundation or IMF’s manuals. Or, just read Ronald Reagan’s biography.
Let’s take these points one at a time.
1. Union workers make too much money. — Chicago striking teachers make too much money already. How much do they make? In a major city like Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston or New York, where the living expenses are way too high, a $70,000 per year salary for a family of four is not that high. In fact, if you have to pay back your high income taxes, student loans (or help your grown-up children to pay back theirs), car loans, house mortgage (or apartment rent) and car insurance (most places in America do not have public transportation: you must have a car to go to work) on top of your other monthly expenses, it’s definitely not much. In fact, with that kind of salary with no perks or bonuses, you have to be very careful not to get into additional debt.
But most importantly, why not talk about the obnoxious, outrageous, unconscionable income gap that middle class (including these teachers) has with the affluent of this country? I’m not even talking about the nauseating money Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Countrywide, Merrill Lynch, Chase or AIG executives made before or even after the 2007-2008 crash. How much Lehman Brothers CEO made when he was actually driving his company into ground? I’m not talking about how GE didn’t pay their income taxes. I’m talking about an AVERAGE worker’s salary at Goldman Sachs, which is over $600,000. Why do they make so much, and produce or manufacture or create NOTHING (except more wealth for themselves), and yet nobody talks about their outrageous earnings?
Why don’t these people talk about the fact that in the U.S., an AVERAGE CEO makes 450 TIMES more than the average working person at the same company? In other words, for an average worker to make the kind of money their CEO makes in one year, they have to work for 450 years. Nice!
What about the corporate reformers who always tell us that teachers make too much money? Here’s a recent chart.
2. Students are failing because of these incompetent teachers. — Is it really the teachers or a failed education system that funnels and shifts money and resources from public education to charter schools or other elite schools, sucking the already-malnourished public schools dry? I’ll give you two examples from my own experience. I know very well about Stuyvesant High School, located next to Ground Zero (today is a stark reminder: some of our students saw the WTC terrorist attack from their chemistry lab on 9/11). New York City pumped in maximum resources for their prestigious public schools such as Stuyvesant, Bronx Science or Brooklyn Tech — and you wouldn’t believe how affluent these schools are. Yet, so many public schools in the vicinity of Stuyvasant have practically nothing: they are in such as sad state of affairs with no money to repair their classrooms, fix their toilets, and upgrade their chemistry lab. Or, maybe, they don’t have a chemistry lab. I know they definitely don’t have an Olympic-size swimming pool that Stuyvesant has — indoor.
I also worked with an East Harlem public school when I was a journalism student at Columbia University; I wrote a feature on one of the teachers there. She showed me their biology lab; the entire high school had only one microscope for its entire body of students. She showed me how the ceilings were leaky and students sometimes had to sit outside of the classroom when it rained hard. The students told me how they worked hard, but were depressed that they would not be able to go to a good college because they were not well-prepared, or didn’t have money for college.
I published a letter in the New York Times some years ago when the education chancellor of NYC expressed surprise that the elite public school had so few Hispanic and black students. Nobody but the chancellor was surprised; do you know what it takes for these students to get into Stuyvesant and Bronx Science? Only the kids that had the best education and best family support system at elementary and middle school could do well in the extremely competitive entrance tests.
And I’m not even talking about the privileged private schools. Even within the public school system, there is so much outrageous disparity. Teachers’ fault? Really?
3. Teachers are against the evaluation system and uncaring about the students and parents. — I’ll answer the second part first. I have been a teacher all my life. I have taught in an extremely poor village in India for years before coming to America. Here in the U.S., I have taught at schools near Chicago and then I have taught in two cities in New York. I am a teacher now. Teachers care. Teachers care about the students, and teachers care about the parents. Teachers go out of their way to help their students. This is true across the board — public or private school teachers. Guess what…many of these teachers are parents themselves! They experience the process of education both various sides of the issue. In fact, these teachers know how parents feel when the student doesn’t do well; they know what needs to be done. But again, public schools everywhere have gone through major budget cuts draining their scant resources even more. In many places in the U.S., pro-privatization governments with help from corporations have funneled money from public schools to charter schools.
In case of the striking Chicago teachers, they have never said no to a fair evaluation system. But Rahm Emmanuel’s administration has imposed more and more rigorous and threatening evaluations on the teachers: they’ve recently increased the share of student performance in the evaluation process from 25% to 40%. Teachers failed to negotiate with the arrogant mayor; in fact, Rahm refused to see the teachers at the bargaining table for months. Many say that had he not been so arrogant to sit down with the teachers, this strike would not have taken place.
4. Union leaders are all thugs and crooks; they make big money and cut secret deals with the government. — This is a ploy anti-union politicians and media use all the time — all over the world. But U.S. media have taken it one step further. You never hear a pro-union story on radio, watch on TV or read in the big newspapers. You never get to see the working, struggling side of labor. You never get to see the Labor Day parade. You never know the contribution of the labor movement in building a strong middle class. Organized labor, through many years of anti-labor propaganda on the media, has lost its popularity and reputation it had. Most people here in America believe that labor union is a bad thing and has no relevance in a modern society. Nobody knows that Dr. Martin Luther King was a labor leader too; in fact, the last speech he gave the day before his assassination in Memphis was to a group of poor, striking sanitation workers. Nobody knows what collective bargaining really means. Nobody knows what some of the rights and benefits we enjoy today — and ALL workers blue-collar or white-collar enjoy them — ONLY because labor unions fought so hard for them, for generations. Anti-union propaganda has really reached a new low in this country. I know from personal experience that India is the other country where similar propaganda has tarnished the image of labor unions.
5. Finally, pro-privatization forces are now extremely powerful. USA and India are two places I know where the public sector has suffered enormously. Public schools, public hospitals and health care facilities, public employment, public transportation and all such government programs especially for the poor and middle class have declined miserably. Conservative think tanks and corporate media have blasted anything connected with the government; in the U.S., the schools of Ayn Rand, Milton Freedman and Alan Greenspan with their powerful libertarian followers in the seat of power have maligned the concept of the government altogether. Now, both the Tea Party far right in the Republican camp and Blue Dog Democrats have given away the economy of this country to private corporations. That was the primary cause of the current financial disaster.
With help from IMF, World Bank and such global organizations, and with special help for corporate media, a so-called economic reform has neocolonized the entire world: the two largest democracies such as the U.S. and India perhaps have suffered the most. In my classes and workshops, I simply this process for the students and show them the four most important policy doctrines that have expedited this global economic aggression. They are:
(A) Deregulation of every aspect of the economy, which has caused havoc to the U.S. economy.
(B) Tax cuts for rich individuals and corporations, which has created even more debt to an already-depleted U.S. treasury. Federal Reserve, which is anything but federal, has been given historic, unprecedented powers by the government to print money and loan it to the government itself, at a high interest rate. Major wars have contribute to the debt.
(C) Drastic cuts in public assistance and welfare for the needy and underprivileged. Ronald Reagan started the process, and Clinton continued it through cutting the U.S. welfare system, virtually ending the New Deal economy that was the cornerstone of American democracy for forty years.
(D) Clamping down on labor unions. There won’t be any collective bargaining anymore. Do away with all the pro-labor laws that working men and women fought for over centuries.
I began this article with a few other tentative titles for it. I mentioned Bangladesh to show how in the less-law-enforced Third World, labor leaders who are mobilizing against this global tyranny are being repressed and killed. Just a few days ago, Aminul Islam — noted textile workers’ leader in Bangladesh — was killed. In the eighties, many say, CIA broke down a massive textile workers’ strike in Bombay, India and planted its own man Bal Thackeray — who has turned out to be as much a bigot and fascist as there can be: perhaps only KKK would come close. In more law-enforced countries such as U.K., Italy, Greece or USA, the people in power and their media have clamped down on the labor movement differently. The newest barrage of hate on the right-wing media and more subtle, moderate-looking opinion pieces in so-called neutral, liberal media are doing just the same.
Who could have saved labor unions, and at this particular moment, the striking Chicago teachers, from such draconian repression?
I would think it’s someone like Barack Obama.
Think about it, Mr. President. I don’t have much power. But I SHALL decide on my vote — based on your actions.
I’ll wait to hear from you.
Brooklyn, New York