Today is Labor Day in Australia, where it is also known as 8 Hour Day. How many Americans think of Labor Day as anything other than a day off (if they even have the day off). Australia’s version underscores what was gained in limiting the number of hours worked in a day. Sadly, for many Americans the 8 hour day has become a memory of their parents’ world. We need to take a lesson from the good people of Australia. Let’s celebrate and fight for the 8 hour day.
March 13, 2013
July 30, 2012
In today’s Chicago Sun-Times, Mary Mitchell introduces us to the people who are on strike against Caterpillar, a company that had a 67% increase in profits for the second quarter. Mitchell takes us beyond the cliché of spoiled union workers and introduces us to real people and the struggles they are facing. Take a few minutes to read this column. It gives voice to people who too often are ignored by the corporate media* and too often reviled by their fellow workers.
* Yes, the Sun-Times is a corporation. Unlike the city’s other paper, it can sometimes look at issues that affect working people and the poor. The paper investigates issues that matter to Chicago, and it has great columnists in Eric Zorn, Mary Mitchell, Roger Ebert, and Rick Telander. Do I like all of its writers and editorial policies? No. But it hits more than it misses.
May 4, 2012
April 24, 2012
April 23, 2012
Common Dreams has reposted an article in which Diane Ravitch examines Michelle Rhee’s impact on education “reform.” I use quotation marks because anyone who has read Ravitch’s great book The Death and Life of the Great American School System understands how most reforms seem to have one goal: Destroy the public school system.
Ravitch takes Rhee to task for her alliances with politicians who are transferring funds and resources from public schools to charter and private schools. Rhee’s primary argument centers on blaming teachers for poor performance. Ravitch answers that the former Chancellor of Washington D.C. schools is basing her argument on “urban myths,” claims that do not stand the kind of research Ravitch has done throughout her career. It’s easy to blame teachers. Ravitch will not take that easy path, which is why I trust her.
March 27, 2012
Writing in Common Dreams, David Macaray argues that labor needs to follow some of the down and dirty tactics of its opponents to defend itself against right wing attacks. He identifies three areas – sponsorship, patriotism, and safety net – as areas where labor needs to find some good slogans to counter terms that belittle union members.
I agree with Macaray, but I’d add another category: history. Americans don’t have the best memories. They need to be remind not just that unions brought the 40 hour work week (which few enjoy anymore) and workplace rights. They need to hear about the great strikes and labor martyrs, the people who went to jail and died because they wanted regular, “middle class” working people to get a fair shake and just a little justice. We need to remember those stories because we’re sliding back to the days when workers have no rights and corporations rule.
December 27, 2011
Democracy Now has produced a powerful tribute to the lyricist Yip Harburg. Harburg honestly captured the spirit of the Great Depression in “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime.” He went on to write lyrics for stage shows/films that included “The Wizard of Oz” and “Finian’s Rainbow.” After WWII, Harburg was an early victim of Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt. Blacklisted, he could not work on a film project until the 1960s.
Harburg believed in telling the truth, especially about the struggles of working people. What I like most about this film tribute to Harburg was its display of his courage and strength, his faith in a better world – somewhere over the rainbow.
One of my favorite jazz singers Kurt Elling recorded Harburg’s “April in Paris.” Check out this video to see how Harburg’s words sing on.
August 3, 2011
In These Times reports that American, Canadian, and Mexican steelworkers are joining to protect the rights of mine workers in Mexico. This is not pure altruism. Lower wages in Mexico lead to lower wages north of the border. American and Canadian workers are supporting their own cause while they support their Mexican brothers and sisters. A few years ago, the miners backed steelworkers who were on strike.
The wage difference in manufacturing is shocking: An American worker averages over $20 an hour while his Mexican counterpart makes less than $4. How can this problem be addressed? The unions are talking about a cross border merger, which would mean an organization with more than one million members.
It is easy to despair given the news coming out ofWashington. Stories like this one aren’t covered by the main stream corporate media. It’s good news for workers, and we need more of that.
July 25, 2011
Daily Kos has launched a website that will be devoted to issues facing workers. Some people will immediately dismiss this as “left wing” propaganda. My retort would be to look at the charts. If this data is true, American workers have been screwed for decades. It’s time to wake up and stop believing in tooth fairy myths about “job creators.”
June 29, 2011
Common Dreams carries a story about Greek workers who have shut down the country with a general strike. The country’s two biggest unions led the effort, and workers flooded Athens. Many protestors complained that the government is selling off government assets at below market rates. A former IMF member said that the real problem was not government debt. It’s joblessness. Cutting budget deficit will never create jobs. What we’re seeing is a modern Greek tragedy.