Friday, June 24, 2011

This Group Met on the Lawn at City Hall

"These are the values inspiring those brave workers in Poland … They remind us that where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." -- Ronald Reagan (Labor Day address, 1980)

This is quite an exciting quote from that great friend of labor, Ronald Reagan. An hour after reading the words, I realized a few things. Labor Day is the first Monday in September.Back in 1980, that was September 1, a full two months before the landslide election that made him President.

I do not believe it is healthy to prejudice myself against politicians. I know easy it is to say things to ingratiate myself before others. I will not debase myself by suggesting all politicians are liars. What is possible, likely I believe, is many politicians are horribly forgetful. Luckily for them, many reporters have great resources, and more reliable memories.

In his ninth month on the job, President Ronald Reagan was faced with a crisis when the air traffic controllers union, PATCO, went on strike. It could be argued that such an act is like terrorism, using their weight of 13,000 workers to bring all air traffic to a stop. It does seem almost wicked to realize their jobs are so important, so powerful, that they could demand whatever they want if we want our planes moving safely through the air .

This union action was brought directly to the President, who- without much negotiation, without his care for the "free unions and collective bargaining" of PATCO, took action to squash it like a bug. PATCO was dissolved, and all striking workers were fired.

Now, state and local governments throughout the United States are voting to rob unions' bargaining rights for all levels of public service. Democrats and Republicans are marching, arms akimbo to squash the labor unions of all civil servants; this includes the mayor and city council of my own home, San Jose. It is a heartless endeavor, and it is a radical solution for the many city councils and state legislatures that have decided we can blame our social workers and teachers for our unbalanced budgets.

To the degree we can trace President Reagan's failing commitment to free unions even thirty years later, I think it is immensely sad that we have forgotten what caused our economy to crash a short four years ago. It was not our public employees. It was not our welfare recipients. Nor was it caused by people failing to read their mortgage papers properly. I wonder why no one remembers AIG, or Goldman Sachs and the multi trillion dollar con game they perpetuated to destroy our stability.

I am not a reporter, but I do see that as many local and state governments scramble to pass budgets, many are speaking out trying to get us to believe our problems reside in bad teachers, apathetic civil servants, and cell phone allowances. I believe civil servants are our allies. I believe that once we rob them of their bargaining rights, the numbers of good candidates for those jobs will diminish. All this and more can be ours as we watch television shows chronicling the failures of American education. Crippling our unions may seem reasonable, but it could be irreversible. I think this should be long considered before we move ahead with something so dreadfully extreme.

Our public workers are not much richer than anyone else. Most of them work very hard to provide services to our communities. I will not look at them as my enemy, just because doing so might make it easier for some other bureaucrat to balance a budget.

Thank you for reading.


Anonymous said...

YOu are so right, Keith! Collective bargaining IS democracy, its about people talking to each other and discussing their mutual needs, concerns, and trying to resolve problems, together. It requires participation in the process. Undermining collective bargaining is the same as an autocracy stamping out the right of people to participate. It is the elimination of the middle class. It is the removal of the safety net in our communities. This is not an overstatement. We are already seeing it. Homeless people on every corner, people begging for money at nearly every major intersection of San Jose... was it like that when we were growing up? No. And it will get worse. Thanks for speaking up about it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Keith, it's interesting to note that my university is perhaps one of those with three unions representing three different units. It can only be said of the fact that the environment itself (Davao, and Mindanao, for that matter) provides a good leverage where opportunities to craft and discuss collective bargaining agreements can become a journey of locating where the university situates itself in defining its relationship with the university community. The road has sometimes been fraught with tensions, compounded by school politics which are present even as we profess to be a Jesuit institutions (will all our presumptions about tolerance, freedom, 'cura personalis,' magis and justice, believe me, this is part of the natural dynamics in any human organization, corporate or otherwise). Incidentally, I also teach a course on the Catholic Social Teaching which is saying a lot about the functions of unions and how it operates in a democratic system like ours. At any rate, thank God for a whole minefield of ideas where members of the human community can really engage in fruitful discussions, such as this... I love the statement that you made, Keith. It got me thinking...


Keith said...

@Kathleen, you know it is your attentions to these matters that I know as much as I know now. I thank you for your sharing prior to this post, as well as your kind response.

@Bel, I thank you for coming by. We have a fine Jesuit university juist north of here in Santa Clara. If you came to lecture, no doubt I would attend. Thank you for reading my post

Santa Cruz Nick said...

Amen, Brother Keith, the autocrats, corporatists, and greedy bastards are pushing us all to the brink as they try to take away our collective bargaining rights. That San Jose is even pondering these anti-worker methods is distressing, and I even sent an angry email to the city government expressing my views.

Keith said...

@Nick, when i was watching governor after governor working to eliminate bargaining rights, I really figured this discussion would never involve California, San Jose City, Santa Clara County. So, keep your eyes open. I hope none of these talks are happening in Santa Cruz

ev said...

Nice entry Keith!very learning. Thanks a lot for sharing.

Labor day in my country falls every 1st of May.

God bless us all:)

Keith said...

Evv, your visits to my page are always welcome. I love having two readers in the same week from durian city. God bless you, my friend