February 4th, 2012

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#512 – Dick Bernard and Jack Burgess: “…There ain’t no power like the power of the people, say WHAT?….”

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Is there change in the air?

Sometimes you just have to take the time to look…and then you need to double down, and go back to work, hard, hard work. Yes, I said “go to work”. Human nature seems to minimize accomplishments, and denies how much work is necessary to make changes, and to sustain changes once made.

But it is interesting to watch what is happening.

At the end of this post is a column written by a retired teacher leader in Ohio LAST YEAR. It is instructive for today.

More currently:

1) The Komen Foundation badly miscalculated the little people who make it a success, and even with ‘spin’ will have trouble recovering. It has tarnished its ‘brand’. There are tens of thousands of words out about it. Suffice to say, Komen blew it.

2) Employment numbers are up, and they’re distressing to the critics of Obama who wish to exploit hard times. No, they’re not up enough, but they are up. Yes, there are plenty of additional problem, like wages, and attacks on organized employees, but the numbers are up. Personally, I think they reflect some recognition by the business sector that people need money to buy the stuff that generates business profits, and the biggest market is right here in the USA. Cynically, I might say that much as they would have liked to, they couldn’t hold the recovery hostage until Obama was thrown out in November….

3) Over a million people in Wisconsin signed a recall petition against Gov. Scott Walker, and these were actual paper petitions, collected by real people – not clicking a box on an internet link. Recalls are tough, tough, tough sells, and there’s a lot of work ahead. But the volley across the bow was damned strong.

4) And in Ohio, what the year ago column talks about, a year made quite a difference, and the Republican Governor and legislators found out that they couldn’t run roughshod over the people affected.

There are other many other ‘snips’ I could write about, like the few billionaires organizing their zillions of $$$’s to rule us all, permanently, and I could write a whole lot more about what those “power of the people” folks – people like me – have to do, but that can wait. Watch this space for more on Minnesota Precinct Caucus day Tuesday, February 7.

And attend and participate in your caucus.

And “Here’s a piece that appeared in the Chillicothe [OH] Gazette, back when we were demonstrating at the Statehouse against SB 5, which would have taken away much of what Bob, I, and thousands of others worked so hard for, way back when.”
Jack

Labor Peace or Labor “War”?
A column by Jack Burgess
3/8/11

Overlooked in the furor over Governor Kasich’s efforts to take away rights and benefits from Ohio’s public employees is the question of what life would really be like if he is successful. Apparently, he and his supporters hope that teachers and other public employees will just “get over it,” and learn to live with less salary and benefits, as well as less input into educational policy. Reality check time. Government offices and schools across the state will be staffed with unhappy people with no official channels for their complaints or suggestions. The probability is that Ohio will endure what used to be called, in the days before collective bargaining was legalized, “labor unrest.”

Pardon this old history teacher for pointing out that, as William Faulkner said, “The past is not dead. It isn’t even past.” While we need history books to remind us of the robber baron era when workers were shot for going on strike, there are plenty of folks around today who can remember what it was like before public employees had rights. They can recall when married women weren’t allowed to teach. Later, women teachers, married or not, had to resign if they became “with child.” As recently as 1967—before a moderate Republican Ohio government changed it—elementary teachers, who were almost all women, were paid less than secondary teachers, who were more often men. Almost all administrators were men. Women were allowed to be elementary principals, but rarely high school leaders or superintendents. Teachers’ unions have successfully advocated for the rights of women and girls in education. If bargaining were abolished, would national civil rights laws keep the reactionary Republicans who now run Ohio government from discriminating again?

Of course, men who taught before collective bargaining and the right to file a grievance, can remember when a male teacher could be told his sideburns were too long, and sent home in embarrassment to shave. How would administrators, pressured to get test scores up, and equipped with power that couldn’t be challenged by unions, treat their staffs? In one school in the “good old days” before unions, teachers, who were regularly berated over the P.A., system hung a sign on the teachers’ lunch room that said, “Incapable Fools Club.” At a faculty meeting, when a teacher disagreed, she might be told, “Shut up and sit down!” These attitudes, so common when school boards and school administrators had unlimited power over teachers, not only kept a lot of self respecting people out of teaching, they sometimes led to abuses of children. Maybe most important, they deprived schools, and the children for which they exist, of teacher input into educational decision making.

After all, teachers are the real educational experts. It’s the teacher who works with the children, day in and day out, while many administrators get further removed every day from the realities of the classroom. It was the teachers’ union, in Columbus for instance, that negotiated the creation of the alternative schools, as well as the requirement for libraries in every school, and lower class sizes at the lowest grade levels, so that children could get enough teacher time to get off to a good start with reading, math, and the other basic subjects. Unions in Columbus and elsewhere also fought racial segregation, and while Columbus may have been a bit unique, teachers everywhere always push—through their unions—for what children need.

And here’s a point that has yet to be discussed in the media. What will happen to the unions if they can’t officially represent their members? They’ll probably do what they did in the past—continue to represent their members as best they can, unofficially. OEA, AFSCME, SEIU, and the other unions will still have their staffs, their offices, and most of their members, now sad and angry. They will not just fold up and go away. Thankfully, the Governor can’t nullify the U.S. Constitution, which will still give public employees the rights of free speech, public assembly, and the right to petition the government for “redress of grievances.” If teachers can’t file official grievances over any of the thousand problems they face, they’ll probably find other channels. What if all the teachers in a school district—several hundred or several thousand—go to the school board meetings to present their views? Or present them around the buildings, on the public sidewalks? They can’t be fired or fined if they’re on their own time, on public property. And if dozens call in “sick,” how would management know who was and who wasn’t? How could they all be fired and replaced? There’s a shortage of science teachers and some of other subjects, now. Firing good teachers would, thus, punish the kids and the community.

Before legal collective bargaining, when teachers and other public employees demonstrated for things they and their students needed, school boards found the demonstrations—and the logic of the unions–most uncomfortable. Ultimately, school boards around Ohio, and in much of the nation, found it made good sense to negotiate or bargain with their teachers, so informal bargaining was born. But the process was messy, not regulated, and subject to mistakes and abuse by all parties. That’s why the collective bargaining bill was passed in 1983. And it worked, reducing the number of strikes and other problems.

Now, if Governor Kasich and his supporters win this fight over public employee bargaining, it looks like we’ll go back to those days when creative union leaders and courageous public employees risked fines and jail time to be heard. But they won’t go away. The choice is not between unions and no unions, but between labor peace, as we’ve mostly had since 1983, and labor unrest. We’ve seen what that unrest looks like around Ohio’s Statehouse in recent weeks.

And this is aside from the blow that will hit Ohio’s economy when 350,000 lower and middle income people have less money to spend in their communities.

Jack Burgess is a retired Chillicothe teacher and former Executive Director of the Columbus Education Assn., as well as Chief of Arbitration Services in Ohio’s Office of Collective Bargaining.