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Posts Tagged ‘union’

Some days I walk in Boston and snap the sights down side streets. The first photo was taken near the harbor. The others were taken near Downtown Crossing.

I like the Adrienne Rich line painted on a bookstore wall: “You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it.”

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The president recently handed out the Medal of Freedom awards. Maybe in the excitement around around Bob Dylan, Toni Morrison, and John Glenn, you missed that Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union, also was honored.

Fox News-Latino wrote, “The White House will present the lifelong unionist and immigrant rights advocate with the Medal of Freedom. …

“Huerta’s sense of justice developed from an early age. Raised in Stockton, Calif., Huerta watched her father work for little pay in the fields, while her mother managed a hotel that often let poor migrants stay for free, according to the Daily Beast.

“Along with César Chávez, Huerta founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962, which later evolved into the United Farm Workers of America. …

“Using strikes, marches, boycotts and hunger strikes, the UFW has defended the interests of farm workers. … Huerta has been arrested 22 times and been beaten for her activism.

Notwithstanding her run-ins with the law, Huerta has been influential in passing far-reaching legislation. Her accomplishments as a labor rights activist include helping pass California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 and helping secure disability insurance for California farmworkers. …

Huerta launched the Dolores Huerta Foundation in 2002, with the mission of supporting community organizers and budding political leaders.Read more.

Getty Images

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Back before “labor” became a dirty word in the minds of some politicians, “workingmen” were more appreciated.

A corporation might even honor workers in the architecture of a headquarters. (Note the photo taken in Boston’s financial district.)

These days, looking around the subway at the tired bodies heading home at night, I’ve begun to think of almost everyone as the workingman. All but a few folks who are very well off. There is hardly anyone in the middle anymore.

The people slogging back and forth, doing whatever they have to do, are unconscious of a kind of heroic aura that envelops them collectively. You can see it if you look.

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Philip Levine, 83, is a poet laureate for our times. He expresses, as the NY Times puts it, the “gritty voice of the workingman.”

“Half an hour to dress, wide rubber hip boots,
gauntlets to the elbow, a plastic helmet
like a knight’s but with a little glass window
that kept steaming over, and a respirator
to save my smoke-stained lungs. I would descend
step by slow step into the dim world
of the pickling tank and there prepare
the new solutions from the great carboys
of acids lowered to me on ropes — all from a recipe
I shared with nobody and learned from Frank O’Mera
before he went off to the bars on Vernor Highway
to drink himself to death. A gallon of hydrochloric …”

Read the Times article.

Levine’s appointment as poet laureate feels timely to me for several reasons.

While income inequality in the country has become increasingly pronounced over the last few decades, public attitudes toward the labor unions that worked to level the playing field have become markedly negative. Are unions really no longer needed? Certainly, there have been abuses of their power: for example, the way some teachers unions have protected bad teachers. And weak government officials in Central Falls (RI), having routinely succumbed to the demands of public safety workers, now find there is no money to pay the promised benefits. This summer Central Falls filed for bankruptcy.

But intensely hostile antilabor actions in Wisconsin, Ohio, and even Maine are like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

A balance between workers and other stakeholders seems to make more sense. Workers are still sometimes abused, after all. That’s why I was happy to see unions helping out foreign “cultural exchange” students to protest conditions at a Hersey’s plant in Pennsylvania last week. (I blogged about that here.)

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Last night we finally watched the DVD of “Waiting for Superman.” We had to wait until we were up for it. We knew it would be good, but painful to watch. It’s a documentary about the broken public education system in this country.

I see now why people come away from this movie saying, “It’s the unions.” But although we clearly need to find a way to dismiss bad teachers and reward good teachers, to just say, “It’s the unions,” seems too simple to me. Even if it is true, when you consider the context of poverty, unemployment, the highest rates of incarceration in the developed world, the War on Drugs, three other wars, confused approaches to immigration, Wall Street greed at the expense of the poor and middle class, antigovernment bias, and many skewed political priorities, to lay the problems of inequality in public education at any one door seems too simplistic.

Still, as the movie makes clear, we need to get rid of bad teachers immediately and make sure children get high-quality teachers before they give up hope. Lotteries to get into better schools are too cruel to too many. Activists can check out this site.

By the way, the film is very well done. We loved the creative graphics making the data real and the clips of Superman movies and past political speeches and TV shows.

Reader Asakiyune writes: “I very much agree with what you said about unions and teaching and the documentary–it bothers me when a problem as complex as that is reduced to one soundbite.”

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