Saturday, December 31, 2011

Today in Labor History—December 31

December 31, 1890 - Ellis Island opened on this date in New York City, where millions of immigrants to the United States first set foot in the land of the free. (From Workday Minnesota)

December 31, 1931 – 60,000 unemployed workers rallied at Pitt Stadium in Pittsburgh, near Father Cox's Shantytown. The shantytown lasted from 1929 to 1932 and was the staging base for the Reverend James Cox's unemployed army. (From the Daily Bleed)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Five Dysfunctions of a Professional Learning Community

By Steven Weber, (originally posted on the Whole Child Education blog)

I thought this article was particularly interesting since I have experienced many of the dysfunctions Weber describes. While PLCs are one of the multitudinous education reforms du jour, they are often considered to be teacher-driven and grass roots, in contrast to charter schools, merit pay, evaluation “reform,” and others opposed by unions.

A couple of points I would add to Weber’s 5 dysfunctions are that “trust” and “buy-in” are impossible when PLCs are imposed by administrators, as they often are. If teachers are not given actual decision-making authority, or the scope and goals of the PLC are not limited to what the teachers can actually control, PLCs become just another way for administrators to impose their agendas on teachers.

What Is a Professional Learning Community (PLC)?
“The very essence of a learning community is a focus on and a commitment to the learning of each student. When a school or district functions as a PLC, educators within the organization embrace high levels of learning for all students as both the reason the organization exists and the fundamental responsibility of those who work within it.” —Rick DuFour, Bob Eaker, and Becky DuFour (2007)

From Isolation to Collaboration
As I have watched teachers and administrators make the shift from teaching in isolation to operating as a collaborative team, I have witnessed several commonalities across schools. This article addresses five dysfunctions of a PLC. The purpose of this article is to describe how dysfunctional behavior can interfere with the school’s commitment to the learning of each student.

All Teams Are Potentially Dysfunctional
Lencioni (2007) wrote, “Like it or not, all teams are potentially dysfunctional. This is inevitable because they are made up of fallible, imperfect human beings.” This is nice to know because educators frequently struggle with teamwork, sharing resources, and working with a coworker who views teaching and learning from a different lens.

Click here to read the rest of the article, learn about the 5 dysfunctions, and see some videos on the subject.

Today in Labor History—December 30

December 30, 1883 - John Swinton's Paper described the abuse of immigrants conned by job sharks lured to the U.S. with tales of high wages and dream jobs, only to get stuck in terrible jobs with rotten wages. (From Workday Minnesota)
Bonnot Gang-First Use of Get Away Car
Victor Serge
 December 30, 1890 – Victor Serge was born on this date in Brussels. Serge was a novelist, poet, historian, & militant activist, most well-known as a member of the Bonnot Gang (see here, here, here and here) and for his novel The Birth of Our Power. (From the Daily Bleed)


December 30, 1905 – Governor Frank Steunenberg of Idaho was assassinated by a bomb during period of bitter labor disputes in the state. Steunenberg, had become governor of Idaho on a Populist Party "defend the working man" ticket, but then called on federal troops to crush the 1899 miners’ strike. Members of the radical WFM were implicated by the actual assassin, Harry Orchard, a union member and paid informant for the Cripple Creek Mine Owners’ Association (From the Daily Bleed and Wikipedia)

December 30, 1936 - Auto workers began their historic sit-down strike at the GM Fisher plant in Flint, Michigan. (From Workday Minnesota)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Today in Labor History—December 29

Sitting Bull
December 29, 1890 - U.S. Army troops slaughtered 150 Sioux men, women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Days earlier, they had killed Sitting Bull. (From Workday Minnesota)

December 29, 1970 – Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act. (From the TWU)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Knights of Labor

(From the Knights of Labor website)
The Knights of Labor (KOL), officially known as the "Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor," was founded on December 28, 1869, when both American capitalism and the labor movement were young and relatively disorganized. It began as a secret society, but quickly grew into the largest and most significant labor organization in the U.S. by the 1880s. The Knights are considered by many to be a predecessor to the more well-known Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Like its more radical cousin, the IWW, the KOL called for the abolition of the wage system and fought to organize all workers into one big union, including women and immigrants. And, like the IWW, one of the KOL’s slogans was, “An Injury to One is the Concern of All.”
Terence Powderly
 The KOL was founded by seven members of the Philadelphia tailors' union, led by Uriah Smith Stephens and James L. Wright. However, the Knights’ most rapid growth occurred under the leadership of Terence Powderly, who replaced Stephens as Grand Master, and convinced the organization to give up its secrecy. The Knights originally denounced strikes, socialism, anarchism and radicalism. Yet the organization became a hotbed of radicalism, with members that included Daniel De Leon, who would go on to later cofound the IWW and lead the Socialist Labor Party, as well as Albert Parsons and other future Haymarket martyrs. Furthermore, as the organization grew, it began to launch and win its own strikes (due primarily to the overwhelming demand of its membership, which was far more radical than its leadership), including the Union Pacific Railroad strike in 1884 and the Wabash Railroad strike in 1885. The success of these strikes inspired hundreds of thousands of workers to join the organization in just one year,  mushrooming from 100,000 in 1885 to nearly 700,000 members in 1886.

One of the things that made the KOL so successful and so significant is that, unlike the majority of trade unions of the time (and today), they reached out to all working people, not just those in a single trade. Their assemblies included workers from all industries, skilled and unskilled, women as well as men, and blacks as well as whites. They fought for equal pay for equal work, the 8-hour day, and the abolition of child and convict labor.
6th Regiment Fighting Workers in the Streets of Baltimore During the Great Upheaval
 The Knights of Labor were closely identified with the Great Upheaval and rail strikes of 1877. Though the workers were ultimately defeated in this mass working class uprising, the KOL was still seen by many as their best bet against capital, in part for their victories early in the revolt, and membership in the organization gradually began to rise during this era. Chicago’s branch of the KOL was inaugurated in the wake of the Great Upheaval and included many of the city’s leading radicals. The Chicago KOL initially supported socialist and “pro-labor” candidates and won some early favors from Mayor Carter Harrison.

Over time, however, Chicago capitalists pressured Harrison to take a harder line on labor, leading to increasing violence by the police against striking workers. At the same time, the capitalists were replacing skilled laborers with machines whenever possible. These trends contributed to the growing radicalization of the labor movement. Many began to see trade unionism as a dead end, as it isolated workers by trade and focused on untrustworthy politicians. More and more looked to the Knights, not only for the class solidarity the organization provided, but because of its recent victory against Robber Baron Jay Gould’s Wabash Railroad. By mid-1886, workers were joining the KOL at the rate of 1,000 per week.

The Knights of Labor were full of contradictions. While they espoused class solidarity and the abolition of the wage system, their leadership criticized the militant tactics of the anarchists and even called for summary punishment for those “responsible” for the Haymarket bombing, despite the fact that there wasn’t a shred of evidence linking any of the 8 Haymarket suspects to the bombing. Ultimately, when it became clear that it was a legal lynching by a kangaroo court, the rank-and-file of the KOL pushed for a new leadership that defended the Haymarket anarchists as victims of a labor witch hunt.
Chinese Massacre at Rock Springs, WY
 The Knights also had a mixed history in terms of race and immigrant laborers. They accepted women and black workers as early as 1878, yet they tolerated segregation in the South (including in their own assemblies) and Asians were often excluded. The Knights organized black sugar cane workers in Thibodaux, Louisiana. However, their 1887 sugarcane strike turned into a race riot, in which white vigilantes slaughtered between 50 and 300 unarmed black sugarcane workers. The event is known as the Thibodaux massacre. While some might blame this tragedy on naiveté and poor organizing by a union that otherwise was a supporter of black workers, their attitude toward Chinese immigrants was notoriously hostile. In Tacoma, Washington, the KOL worked to expel the city’s Chinese population and white members of the Knights participated in the Rock Springs massacre in Wyoming, which led to the deaths of 28 Chinese Americans. They also strongly supported the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Contract Labor Law.

Powderly’s rabid hatred of radicals nearly killed the KOL, but his collaborationist wimpiness, authoritarian leadership and general mismanagement ultimately did the organization in. In 1886, for example, he intervened in a packinghouse workers strike, ordering workers back on the job when a compromise with the bosses appeared imminent. He feared that a strike at this point would have led to a wave of strikes that could have crippled the organization. This may have been true, but only because his disdain for strikes prevented the necessary organizing and preparation. Yet his weakness and unwillingness to fight led the defeat of the packers and contributed to the mass exodus of workers from the organization that effectively killed the Knights anyway.
Haymarket Bombing
 He also withdrew KOL support for the May 1, 1886 General Strike that had been called in Chicago to fight for the 8-hour day. This certainly weakened the Knights, as the fight for the 8-hour day had grown into a national movement, supported by working people of all persuasions including many mainstream trade unions, as well as socialists and anarchists. Yet the ruling elite were blaming outsiders, foreign radicals, bomb-throwing anarchists, in hopes of diffusing support for the movement, and Powderly, who was still viciously anti-radical, hoped to rescue the image of his organization by distancing it from the movement, even though the Knights had been early supporters of the 8-hour day.

There were also numerous disputes between skilled trade unionists in the KOL, who wanted an organization that represented primarily their relatively privileged status, and industrial unionists, who wanted an organization that built solidarity between all workers in a given industry. The latter, of course, has greater potential to win strikes, as it makes it harder to pit workers against each other, but it requires organizing the so-called “unskilled” and “semi-skilled” workers, who many believed couldn’t be organized. The IWW, which was an industrial union, later proved that it was possible and very effective to organize these workers.