Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Today in Labor History—May 31

May 31, 1838 -- Kentish peasants clashed with armed British troops at Bosendon Wood. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 1905 – The Spanish anarchist Alexander Farras threw a bomb into a procession headed by French President Loubet and the King Alphonso XIII of Spain. The leaders were not hurt, though several people were wounded. Farras was never caught. Four other anarchists were arrested, tried and acquitted. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 1906 – Another attempt was made on King Alphonso XIII. This time, anarchist Mateo Morral hid a bomb in a bunch of flowers and threw it at the King during his royal wedding. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 1921 - The infamous trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, in which the two Italian anarchists were railroaded for a crime they did not commit, began in Dedham, Massachusetts. Judge Webster Thayer’s anti-worker and anti-immigrant opening remarks set the tone for the trial. (From Workday Minnesota)

May 31, 1921 – Over 300 were killed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the worst race riot in U.S. history. The violence was precipitated by a false report in the Tulsa Tribune, accusing a black man of attacking a white girl in an elevator. While the headline made the front page, there was an accompanying editorial on the back page calling for a lynching. White Tulsans began shooting blacks, and then looted and burned their homes and businesses, completely destroying the black community of Greenwood. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 1955 – The Supreme Court ordered school integration "with all deliberate speed." (From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 1961 – A U.S. sponsored coup in the Dominican Republic led to the killing of Dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. Dominicans then voted in Juan Bosch, who incensed the military and the ruling elite by refusing to buy military airplanes, announcing agrarian reforms, legalizing divorce, and increasing workers' wages. Within seven months there was another coup, by the same generals who led the coup against Trujillo, School of the Americas alumni: Generals Imbert and Wessin y Wessin. The U.S. immediately recognized the new government.
(From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 1968 –Student protests were spreading throughout the world, with protests on this date in Vienna, in Denmark and Buenos Aires on June 1, and the Yugoslav insurrection beginning soon after. Thousands of students went on strike in Brazil on June 6, followed by protests in Geneva and Turkey, 20. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 1986 – The Tiananmen Square demonstrations entered their 18th day, with 100,000 filling the Square. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 2000 – Protesting teachers burn pamphlets at a fence around the Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, as riot police attempted to protect the building. Teachers throughout the country had been protesting for better wages and education reform since May 15.

Monday, May 30, 2011

UTLA Sells Out Members Again, Bad Lesson for Labor

Leaders of United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) have agreed to accept four more furlough days to help LAUSD close a $408-million budget gap. Teachers have already accepted furloughs for the past two years, which amount to de facto pay cuts. According to the Los Angeles Times, the deal will “save” 3,400 jobs.

With continued attacks on wages (directly, or through furloughs), attempts to kill tenure and seniority rules, and escalating pressure on teachers to work longer and harder to improve test scores, teaching jobs are seeming less and less worth saving. Furthermore, even with the concessions, LAUSD is still expecting to cut 1,700 jobs due to declining enrollment and the loss of federal stimulus funds, according to 4 LA Kids, and even all this is contingent on the passage of regressive tax extensions that Gov. Brown has been pushing. Thus, UTLA is guaranteeing a pay cut for its members, while getting nothing concrete in return.

It could be argued that other city workers are taking furloughs and it is only fair for teachers to share the pain. However, all local, state and federal budget crises are due to a combination of the economic crisis, which was caused entirely by the greed and crimes of bankers and investors, and declining tax rates for corporations and the wealthiest Americans. None of them are being asked to bail out school districts or states. Rather, the burden is being forced onto the rest of us through lower wages, unemployment, slashed public services and possibly increased taxes.

The only way to rectify this situation is for teachers and all other workers to refuse to accept any further austerity measures and demand improvements to their working conditions and living standards. For UTLA, this would mean not only refusing to accept the furlough days, but also refusing to accept the alternative of mass layoffs. Of course this would require a work stoppage or other job action, something that union leaders have assumed would never fly in this time of heightened public hostility toward teachers and public sector workers. However, continuing to allow teachers to get beaten up, or publicly declaring teachers’ desire to get beaten up, as the unions have repeatedly done, only increases the public’s disdain for teachers, while strengthening the stereotype that teachers will do anything for their students, even sacrifice their own living standards (See Teachers: Madonna and Whore).

It is probably true that if UTLA or any teachers union went on strike right now, the Right would try to spin it as selfish and insensitive to the needs of children (but they would anyway, regardless of the unemployment rate or fiscal crises). Californians, who are still struggling with high unemployment, might even be unsympathetic, especially with all the misinformation about teachers having jobs for life. However, the problems of the rest of California are the problems of teachers. Low student achievement and graduation rates result primarily from the poverty prevalent in so many communities in the state. From a purely professional stand point, if we want to improve student achievement, we must fight to improve living standards for the 90% of families that have seen their incomes and wealth decline over the past few decades. Furthermore, public sentiment currently supports the idea of making the rich bail out the state. Therefore, while teachers acting alone or making selfish demands are unlikely to meet much success, teachers acting in concert with all workers across the state could be very successful, but only if they are willing to take some risks and make some short-term sacrifices, such as work stoppages or a general strike.

Cruel and Unusual: California’s Educational/Justice System

Overcrowded California Prison
California already has an adult illiteracy rate of 23%, a figure that is likely to grow as adult-education classes are slashed in the desperate scramble to close California’s remaining $15.4 billion budget gap. This will exacerbate a trend that began in 2009, when the state relaxed restrictions on how school boards spend state money. According to the Bay Citizen, 75% of California’s school districts have already made cuts to adult education since the spending restrictions were lifted.

California’s high illiteracy rate reflects, in part, its high incarceration rate. It is estimated that more than 60% of adult prisoners, and over 80% of juvenile convicts, are functionally illiterate. Considering that those who receive reading support classes have a 16% recidivism rate, compared with 70% for those who do not receive any reading support (see the Educational Cyber Playground website), it would make fiscal sense to redirect funding from incarceration to education, particularly adult education. Boosting funding for k-12 literacy programs might also help reduce the number of first-time offenders.

Theoretically, this could happen as a result of the recent Supreme Court ruling requiring the state to reduce its prison population by 33,000 inmates. At a cost of nearly $20,000 per prisoner per year (see Legislative Analyst’s Office report), simply releasing or paroling 33,000 prisoners could save the state as much as $660 million per year, plenty to bolster the adult education program and maybe even provide a little extra for K-12 education.

Of course this is pie in the sky. While the right wing has fanned the flames of hysteria with paranoid fantasies of murderers and rapists being dumped into family-friendly communities, all early-release prisoners must be signed-off by the governor, who is not dumb enough to release any convicted rapists, molesters or murderers, as it would likely come back and bite him in the ass. Indeed, few prisoners are likely to be released at all. The state has at least two years to reduce its current population of 143,435 inmates down to 109,805 (still far above its 80,000 inmate capacity), and the possibility of petitioning for further extensions. Most of the reductions will occur through transfers to county jails, thus deferring costs to the counties, or to out of state for-profit facilities. More reductions will likely occur by transferring juveniles in adult lockup to the California Youth Authority, or to county youth facilities, pushing many nonviolent youth offenders back into the public school system and increasing its financial needs.

In spite of logic or common sense, Samuel Alito, in his dissenting opinion, said the decision was “gambling with the safety of Californians,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported, while Republican assembly leader Connie Conway (Tulare), said Californians “could be at serious risk of violent crime.” Antonin Scalia, in his dissenting opinion, said “terrible things are sure to happen” (San Francisco Bay Citizen).

The only terrible thing that is going to happen is that California is going to continue to lock up its residents at one of the highest rates in the U.S. (458 per 100,000), which has the highest incarceration rate in the world (502 per 100,000), at an enormous financial and human cost to taxpayers, families and communities. Considering that most inmates are in for nonviolent offenses, particularly drug offenses that can more cheaply and humanely be addressed through drug rehab programs and education, and considering the desperate fiscal state of the state, there is really no justification continuing to lock up so many people.

One also might consider who is the bigger threat to Californians: 33,000 nonviolent offenders allowed back on the streets or 600,000 millionaires and numerous corporations that refuse to pay their share of the taxes? Alito and Scalia could be lumped into the latter group, not only for their wealth, but for their utter disregard for the safety of the prisoners themselves. Indeed, the main reason for the Supreme Court ruling was that conditions for inmates are so horrific that incarceration in California is considered cruel and unusual punishment. Suicidal prisoners are held in phone booth-size holding pens without toilets, while mentally ill prisoners sometimes must wait up to a year for treatment. A single prison doctor may have a caseload of 700 inmates. Medical care is so deplorable that it, alone, is responsible for a death per week (Los Angeles Times).

Today in Labor History—May 30

May 30, 1741 – 13 black men were burned at the stake, and 17 black men, two white men, and two white women were hanged, for their roles in a New York City slave revolt in. (From the Daily Bleed)
Mikhail Bakunin
 May 30, 1814 –Anarchist Mikhail Bakunin was born, Russia. (From the Daily Bleed)
Maxim Gorkey, 1906 (Library of Congress)
May 30, 1901 – Maxim Gorky, imprisoned for printing revolutionary literature, was released after Leo Tolstoy interceded on his behalf. Gorky later served a similar role, interceding on behalf of writers imprisoned by Stalin. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 30, 1912 – U.S. Marines invaded Nicaragua. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 30, 1937 - “Memorial Day massacre:” Police attacked striking steelworkers, shooting many in the back, killing 10 and wounding 100, at the Republic Steel plant in South Chicago. (From Workday Minnesota)

May 30, 1968 – May Days continued in France, which was now in the midst of a giant general strike. Trains stopped running. Airports were shut down. Millions of workers barricaded themselves in their factories. Even soccer players occupied their stadiums. Politicians warned that they were on the verge of civil war or revolution. (From the Daily Bleed)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Today in Labor History—May 29

Louise Michel
May 29, 1830 – Anarchist Louise Michel, was born in Vroncourt, France. Michel, also known as The Red Virgin, was a leader of the Paris Commune. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 29, 1839 – Revolution against the Mexican government broke out in Yucatan. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 29, 1854 – Civil rights activist, Lydia Flood Jackson, opened the first school for black children in Sacramento, California. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 29, 1881 –Chinese anarchist Li Shizeng was born. He led the anarchist Jinde Hui group (Society for Progress and Virtue), with Wu Zhihui, & Zhang Ji. He also tried unsuccessfully to turn the Guomindang into an anarchist organization. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 29, 1922 – The Portuguese army and police opened fire on 10,000 protesters outside the police station in Macau. The protesters wanted the release of three Chinese barbers who had beaten up soldiers for sexually harassing a Chinese woman. Seventy people were shot dead, while over 100 beaten, leading ultimately to a general strike is declared. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 29, 1943 – The British RAF dropped 1,500 tons of bombs on Wuppertal, Germany killing 2,450 civilians and destroying nearly 4,000 houses. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 29, 1946 - The United Mine Workers (UMWA) and the U.S. government signed a pact establishing one of America’s first union medical and pension plan. The UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund permanently changed health care delivery in U.S. coal fields. The Fund was used to build eight hospitals in Appalachia. It also established many clinics and recruited doctors to practice in rural coal field areas. (From Workday Minnesota)

May 29, 1950 –The United Auto Workers (UAW) at General Motors won hospitalization plan. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 29, 1967 – The Poor Peoples' Campaign was launched in Washington D.C. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 29, 1969 – Government violence triggered General Strikes in Cordoba and La Plata Argentina. (From the Daily Bleed)