A History Lesson…

That previous post reminded me that as union members or just as citizens of this country, we need to remember what the struggle was all about in the first place.  As a student of history, I know that the history of our nation was shaped by the labor struggles that workers engaged in and that no discussion of the U.S. would be complete without including certain critical incidents which shaped public consciousness and put the labor movement into focus for us.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire was a tragedy that killed 146 people, mostly immigrant women in NY City on March 25, 1911 (the 100 year anniversary of this horrible event is coming in a few days).  Women working in the garment industry were unable to escape a fire that spread through the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the Asch Building because elevators stopped working and the fire exits had been locked by management to prevent thefts (the owner who had accomplished this deed was fined $20.00 for his transgression while receiving $60,000.00 insurance compensation for his “losses”).  There was a resultant outcry over the image of women leaping to their deaths from factory windows which enabled the garment industry workers to stand together and protect themselves by organizing and unionizing.  A union advocate at the time said, “I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.”

In the extractive industries of mining and logging there were many incidents that set up struggles between workers and owners.  In almost all cases, owners were supported by law enforcement, while workers had only the determination that they had suffered enough to want to stand up against the sure violence that was coming their way.  All over the country, labor uprisings gave voice to the people who did all the hard jobs and that voice was demanding rights.  Rights to decent wages, job safety, decent hours all were fought for and won.  Workers discovered that through their collective voice and their collective action that they could ask for and receive these conditions; they could have a say in their own employment.

For the past 50 years, there has been a backlash movement afoot; one that has been funded by corporate dollars and that has at its heart the elimination of the rights of workers that have been won over time.  We are now seeing the contemporary version of that movement.  With the vilification of public workers (BAD teachers, BAD firemen, BAD police, BAD state workers) and the controlled rhetoric (after the purchase of virtually ALL domestic media sources) that says anything public is bad, including public schools, and with the nonsense that is going on in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, New Jersey (et al), and yes, right here in our own state of Washington, we are seeing the next battle.  We had better be ready to defend our lives and our livelihoods.  Those of you who believe “it can’t happen here,” aren’t paying attention; it already IS happening here.  The question now is, what are you going to do about it?

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2 Responses to “A History Lesson…”

  1. Frustrated ESA Says:

    I agree, it is happening here. It happens every time we have an administrator in our district ignore the contract. It happens every time the district can’t recruit hard to fill positions because they refuse to allow us to be competitive. It happens every time a contracter gets hired for twice as much money and then accepts an over sized caseload. It happens every time one of us witnesses administration bend the regulations and attempt to refuse to abide by sped laws and in turn pressure building principals and special education teams to be silent.

    Reading tonight the way the underhanded sneaky low down Republicans stripped the teachers and other state workers of their rights in Wisconsin makes me sick to my stomach. It never ceases to amaze me that working folks vote to put these elitist backing money hungry greedy politicians into office.

    Although I’m not a teacher, I am a certified staff member who is on the exact same pay scale with the exact same benefits. I witness every day the lengths my colleagues go through to educate the students in our community. It sickens me to hear these wonderful people villified in the press by our politicians, our families, and our communities. It has to stop.

    • kenteducationassociation Says:

      You are so right. All these things and many more happen all the time. For my part, I spend an unreasonable amount of time dealing with the rubble and carnage created by admin people who don’t care about anything beyond their bloated paychecks and looking good for their superiors. Several years ago, I amused a supervisor who said that I couldn’t continue to go off “tilting at windmills” and fighting back at every slight, great and small, that I encountered. He told me I needed to pick my battles. That bothered me quite a bit and I had to think about it for a few days, but I eventually got it. I went back to him and told him he was right, I do need to choose my battles and I CHOOSE THEM ALL. The struggle in Wisconsin is my struggle and should be the struggle of every good union person in the world. An injustice to one is an injustice to all. “We are bound by an inescapable garment of mutuality, whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, jr. – letter from the Birmingham Jail, 1962.

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