Sunday, September 4, 2011

Labor Day Thoughts - Organized Workers Besieged

AFL-CIO Convention 2010 - Vince Beltrami, Shannyn Moore, Richard Trumka - PA
As a member of the UAA Adjunct Faculty Union, United Academic Adjuncts, I always get Labor Day off.  And the following Tuesday.  This Labor Day, though, I'll be preparing for one of the classes I teach.  All day.  Tuesday too, except in the evening. (more on that tomorrow)

All over the country, tens of thousands of other teachers who are union members, will also use the extra day off to do something for the kids they teach.  Our students are our work, and why most of us teach.  Without unions, teachers would have a harder work environment than they now have.  Though unions often protect inadequate teachers, outside of huge, mostly urban school districts, that isn't a major problem nationwide.

Union workers have been besieged by Republicans for generations.  On all levels.  Since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and the 2010 state and national elections, the siege on public employee unions has ramped up considerably.  What we're seeing in 2011 is the biggest, best financed assault on public employees in a long time.  And it is just getting into gear.

Along these lines, Shannyn Moore's Sunday op-ed in the Anchorage Daily News, We benefit because unions fought for workers' rights, notes:
All across the country, unions have been under a coordinated and unprecedented assault. People have forgotten U.S. labor history along with the significance of the red bandanas as they have forgotten why unions are so important and necessary. Unions have pushed for safer working standards and living wages. Anti-union folks want to race to the bottom -- Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is campaigning on lowering the minimum wage.
You needn't look any further than the 2010 West Virginia mining disaster to understand why unions are needed more than ever. Massey Energy, under the 30-year leadership of union buster Don Blankenship, cut corners and killed 29 miners. It's a non-union shop. Under investigation, Massey Energy fought subpoenas, then pled the Fifth.
The conservative sycophantic chant calls for dismantling unions. Have they no sense of history? Why do they hate the part of our history that built the platform they stand on?
Moore's article is centered around two violent mining episodes in the early 20th century, in Colorado and West Virginia.  She tells the stories well:
[I]n 1920, detectives from Baldwin-Felts (think Blackwater) arrived via the morning train in Matewan, W.Va., to evict families living at the Stone Mountain Coal Camp. After forcing several families from their homes, the detectives ate dinner and then walked back to the train station. Matewan Police Chief Sid Hatfield, an ardent supporter of the miners' struggle to organize, intervened on their behalf. Chief Hatfield attempted to arrest the evictors from Baldwin-Felts. Detective Albert Felts countered with an arrest warrant for Hatfield. Matewan Mayor Cabell Testerman cried foul. All the while, struggling armed miners quietly surrounded the detectives. The ensuing clash, which killed 10, including the Felts brothers and Mayor Testerman, became known as the Matewan Massacre and was a turning point for miners' rights. Unfortunately today, the Matewan Massacre is but a footnote in history.
Those people gave so much to gain their foothold in the American dream.  In the battles this past year, especially in the midwest states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio,  we've gotten an introduction to what the people funding the GOP and Tea Party moves against organized labor will be ramping up for this coming political winter, especially on the state level nationwide.

Shannyn told these powerful stories her way.  Here's troubadour David Rovics, telling one of them (hat tip to Kelly) his way, singing The Battle of Balir Mountain:

1 comment:

phoenixwoman said...

Without unions, there would be no middle class in this country. There would also be no weekends off. That's just for starters.