Saturday, March 31, 2012

Today in Labor History—March 31

March 31, 1927: Birth of Cesar Chavez.

March 31, 1941: Wisconsin state troopers attack striking auto workers in Milwaukee. The strikers succeed in holding off scabs.

March 31, 1949 – Last great strike of the Canadian Seaman's Union.

March 31, 1966: Two day boycott of Seattle schools protesting de facto segregation.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Boston Teachers Reject Uncompensated Longer School Day

The Boston Teachers Union (BTU) and the Boston school district have reached an impasse after 21 months of bargaining, the Boston Herald reported this week. The next step is mediation. Should that fail to bring the two sides to an agreement over the teachers’ contract, the union could call for a strike.

Superintendent Carol Johnson blamed the impasse on the failure of the two sides to find a “middle” ground. However, Johnson hadn’t even bothered to show up for the majority of bargaining sessions, which is the reason BTU President Richard Stutman said the union filed the impasse.

Furthermore, her claim that the two sides have failed to find a middle ground is based on the fantasy that both sides had reasonable and realistic demands in the first place. In reality, the district wants teachers to accept a longer working day without extra compensation, a ridiculous and unreasonable demand. Teachers were asking for a 10.3% pay increase even without the lengthened work day, which quite reasonable considering their pay has been stagnant over the past few years. Their demand for additional compensation for a longer work day ought to be seen as a very generous compromise since it accepts the unreasonable demand that they work longer hours.

However, the district claims it does not have the money to support this. Thus, the only reasonable “middle ground” would be to drop their demand for a longer work day until they have the resources to “fairly” compensate teachers or simply drop the demand.

Longer School Days are Bad for Teachers AND Students
I use the term “fairly” in quotes because there is no fair way to overwork someone. Even extra pay cannot justify compelling a person to work longer and harder than is safe or effective. It is important to consider that teachers are already expected to do far more in the workday than is realistically possible. A typical secondary school teacher, for example, is expected to work 7 ½ to 8 ½ hours per day. In that workday, 5-6 hours are spent in the classroom teaching. In the remaining time they are expected to design and write curriculum; set up and break down lab, art and other projects and activities; contact parents; meet with colleagues and collaborate; write and grade exams and quizzes; grade essays, term papers and lab reports; keep up with administrative paperwork; address discipline issues; as well as a host of other teaching and bureaucratic responsibilities.

While lengthening the work day could provide more time for these responsibilities, in reality the longer school day movement is about increasing the instructional minutes for students, not easing the work burden on teachers. Thus, teachers are expected to use that additional time to teach an extra class, take on additional collaborative or school reform responsibilities, or provide additional remediation and support for students, rather than fulfilling existing responsibilities.

Additionally, the act of teaching itself is tremendously tiring and stressful. In no other profession is an individual expected to deal with 150-180 different personalities in 45-90 minute spurts, understand each student’s individual needs, tailor services to support these diverse needs, and provide support and empathy for those coming to school hungry, depressed, anxious, frightened, bullied, sick and angry.

In order to maintain sanity, patience and effectiveness, teachers need down time in between classes and at the end of the day. Lengthening the school day without hiring more teachers will increase the likelihood of teacher burnout and reduce teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom. Overworked, burned out workers are more likely to make mistakes. It is harder to notice when a student is struggling, sick or anxious. One reason that bullying often goes unnoticed by teachers is that large class sizes and overwhelming workloads prevent them from being aware of every student interaction that occurs in and near the classroom. Increasing the length of the school day will only worsen this.

Weed Workers Unite!

Weed Workers Woof! (Image by Chris Yarzab, from Flickr)
Marijuana workers at 14 dispensaries in Los Angeles have formed the “medical cannabis and hemp division” of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 770, the Insurance Journal wrote this week. UFCW also represents grocery clerks, pharmacists and health care workers.

Local 770 President, Rick Icaza, said the union would use its political weight to pressure officials to find an alternative to a total ban on dispensaries. Los Angeles currently has a cap on the total number of dispensaries and, despite a state law legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, the dispensaries are still considered illegal under federal law. Roughly 140 dispensaries in more than 20 Southern California cities have been threatened by federal authorities since October, 2011.

Considering their fragile quasi-legal status, it is encouraging to see cannabis workers unionize and fight for the wellbeing of their clients and for the preservation of their jobs. However, if they limit themselves to using “political clout” and fighting for their existence, they are nothing more than a professional association.

Despite their public image as dens of debauchery, dispensaries are still businesses. Most marijuana workers are still employees and wage slaves, with compensation and working and living conditions issues similar to other workers. They still have an inferior social and economic status to the capitalist class. Many cannot afford to own their own homes. And many don’t even have health or pension benefits, things that Icaza hopes the union will be able to win for members.

Today in Labor History—March 30

March 30, 1930: 30,000 unemployed marched in New York City. At the time, there was virtually no formal or institutional aid available for the unemployed or poor. Even the AFL did not support unemployment insurance, as it saw itself as the representative of skilled workers only, and could care less about the unskilled and factory workers. Another reason for the lack of government support for the unemployed was that working conditions were so terrible the ruling elite feared that workers would choose the dole over work if given the choice. In New York, police attacked the marchers.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Sky is Falling: LAUSD Has Only $700 Million in Surplus

Last week, LAUSD presented an Interim Financial Report stating that it will end the 2011-2012 school year with reserves of over $700 Million, roughly 12% of its $6 Billion budget.

Despite this sizeable nest egg, the district still voted 6-1 to approve a worst-case scenario budget closing all the adult schools and it issued pink slips to all teachers, administrators and staff in Adult Education. This is after laying off thousands of regular education employees earlier in the month.

So why all the gloom and doom when the districts is sitting on so much cash?

Districts around the state have been using the financial crisis to argue that financial uncertainty necessitates austerity measures such as continued downsizing, furloughs, and wage and benefits cuts. Yet at the same time they have been implementing all sort of expensive “reforms” like Common Core Standards and reconfigured evaluation procedures.

A perpetual state of crisis makes it much easier to convince the public and sometimes the teachers, too, that austerity is inevitable. It also makes it easier to justify the selling off of district resources. According to the 4LA Kids blog, there are already reports of charter schools operators prowling around the facilities used by adult schools in hopes of getting a cut rate deal on the buildings.

Democracy in Action: No Hoodies in Congress

Up Against the Wall Motherfu=*#er (Image from Flickr, by keatssycamore)
A legislator was forcefully removed from Congress  this week for wearing a hoody as he spoke out against racial profiling and the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida by a racist vigilante. Speaker of the House, John Boehner, had Congressman Bobby Rush (D-Ill) removed by the sergeant at arms because hats and other head coverings are prohibited by the rules of decorum.

What Does Modern School Have Against Democracy?
First, Modern School reserves the right to criticize everything. Nothing is sacred. By criticizing Democracy, I am not condoning any other form of government, or lack thereof. However, I would ask people to consider what they so cherish about Democracy?

Of course the notion that Democracy is the best possible form of government has been inculcated into us from an early age, so it is no surprise that people embrace it uncritically. However, I suspect that what Americans cherish even more than the actual form and practice of Democracy in this country is the notion that we live in a nation governed by “the people,” which is to say that we, the people, the 99%, the masses, have actual power in the decisions that affect our lives, income, personal freedom and living standards, which simply is not true and which should be abundantly clear from the evidence.

The OWS movement and liberals, in general, argue that Democracy is simply broken and needs fixing, and that if it were fixed, we would have power. However, Democracy functions exactly as it was intended and designed: to facilitate the monopolization of power and wealth by those who already have wealth and power.

The rules of decorum in Congress, for example, exist in part to stifle free expression and to limit the boundaries of discourse. By demanding that Rep. Rush remove his hoody and then removing him from Congress, Boehner effectively cut off Rush’s argument that one’s clothing and skin color should not mark him for assassination and that racial profiling is still a significant problem in this country.

Of course the fact that the rich generally do not wear hoodies and are seldom, if ever, profiled by the police or by vigilantes was never even considered a topic worthy of discussion in Congress.

Today in Labor History—March 29

March 29, 1973Description: anarchist, laborA wildcat strike and occupation of Fiat plants at Mirafiori began on this date. (From the Daily Bleed)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

30 Detroit Labor Unions Sell Souls for Illusion of Security

A coalition of 30 labor unions representing Detroit workers ratified new sell-out contracts this week in hopes of averting the imposition of an emergency financial manager by Gov. Rick Snyder. Under Michigan’s Emergency Manager law (see here, here and here), the governor can dissolve union contracts, abolish collective bargaining and fire elected officials when a city or municipality is deemed a financial failure.

The unions agreed to accept 10% pay cuts, layoffs and changes to city pensions, according to MSNBC. As has become the norm for unions lately, Detroit’s city unions have completely forgotten their reason for being: to improve the working and living conditions of their members. Union officials said they were willing to help save their city from financial meltdown, but apparently forgot that their members were not the cause of the city’s financial woes, which are the result of lost revenue due to the financial crisis, mismanagement, a declining population and tax base, and politicians’ unwillingness to tax themselves and their wealthy friends at a rate that could keep the city in the black.

The unions’ concessions not only contribute to the immiseration of their members, but they won’t even necessarily save their jobs or their union contracts. Under the agreement, Detroit would save about $54 million per year from the concessions, which is less than half of what Mayor Dave Bing had hoped for.  Thus, a financial manager could still be imposed, union contracts abolished, and pay and benefits reduced even further.

Indeed, Terry Stanton, a spokesman for Gov. Snyder, said "The state's concern is that the agreement does not generate the savings needed to address (Detroit's) long- and short-term crisis."

When Detroit Mayor Bing called the labor agreements historic he was not far from the truth. Unions have been giving away more and more over the years, but in this case they gave it away without getting anything tangible in return. Furthermore, it significantly improves Bing’s chances of being appointed the new financial manager, which would give him greater flexibility to bust the unions and privatize public works.