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Labor Notes: Which Side Are You On?

Good morning!  To update my last post, the Chicago Teachers Union — some 26,000 teachers and support staff — has gone out on strike today.  They are striking for themselves — for previously promised raises and decent health coverage, against being overworked by longer hours and larger class sizes — and also for their students — for “elective” courses such as art and gym and music, and for educational support such as librarians and social workers.  You’d bet that mayor Rahm Emanuel’s children and the children of the Chicago School Board members attend schools that have all that and more.  All of Chicago’s public school students certainly deserve the same.   (Rahm, by the way, should be ashamed of himself.  His mother, a union organizer, is probably rolling in her grave.)

If you are in Chicago, join a picket!  Some handy person has mapped them all out, but I hear you can’t swing a cat in Chicago this morning without hitting some striking teachers.  If you don’t have the time, but maybe have some financial resources, donate to the strike fund.  Or stop by a picket with coffee and snacks.  I’m sure the teachers will appreciate it.  Also, as my fellow people’s librarian from Chicago, Rachel Allshiny, herself an unemployed teacher, notes on Twitter (follow her: @allshiny), “My parents raised me to never cross a picket line. But for some of these kids it’s the only way they’ll get breakfast.”  And lunch, for that matter.  Emptier schools will make for a more effective strike, so if you have folks in your neighborhood who need childcare, or kids who take free or reduced price meals at school, step up and help out.  If supporters could take in children for weeks and months during the Lawrence textile mill strike a hundred years ago, you can surely make a couple sandwiches.

Here in NYC, we’ll be gathering at Union Square at 5pm this evening for a show of solidarity.  (And inspiration?  A girl can dream.)

Along with the start of the school year, it’s also the start of football season.  I love football!  If you google hard enough, you might be able to find pictures of yours truly at age 12 in pads and jersey and with a ponytail hanging out the back of a helmet. (As a side note, I especially love the Green Bay Packers, which is the only community-owned pro sports team in the US.   And the only one to release all its financial information every year.  And it’s against NFL rules for other teams to organize like this.)  But if you’ve been watching pre-season games or this weekend’s season openers, you may have noticed that the calls were less than stellar.  The NFL’s regular referees are locked out, a tactic I’ve previously written about that is being used by owners against workers with more and more frequency.  In their place, the league has hired scabs up from Div II & III college ball, high schools, and sundry other leagues.  (It just kills me that Shannon Eastin, the first woman to ref in the NFL, is a scab.)

There’s a lot to be said about this — how meeting all the refs’ demands would cost the league very little money, how the replacements’ collective lack of experience may endanger the players of a sport that has been paying increasing attention to long-term dangers of concussions and other impact injuries.  Other people have spilled a lot of ink over all that.  I’ll just say that I won’t be watching any games, and neither should you, until the refs’ demands are met and the lockout is over.  If any NFL players happen to be reading, especially any Packers, or from teams in other old union towns — I’m looking at you, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, and Pittsburgh Steelers — I suggest you get on the right side of history and start vociferously supporting your referees.

Here in New York we had an important victory just last week.  On the Upper East Side, Hot and Crusty fired and locked out a couple dozen workers after they unionized and won improvements in wages and working conditions.  Rather than not being a jerk, the owner closed up shop.  Workers and allies occupied the place until the cops showed up and arrested a few people.  Then they started picketing, running a cafe on the sidewalk, and holding a tough line against half-assed offers.  As of now, workers’ demands have all been met, and Hot and Crusty is scheduled to reopen; let’s all keep an eye on this — the picket will continue until the owner follows through.

Last, but not least, some of New York City’s car wash employees are getting organized.  Like the Hot and Crusty employees, many car wash workers are immigrants, often undocumented, which makes it easier for owners to exploit them, through fear of la migra.  Let’s be ready to step up and lend some solidarity as these workers, too, start demanding their rights and dignity.

ETA: In international news, more and more miners, now more than 40,000, are striking in South Africa.

ETA: As of Wednesday, 9/12, teachers in Lake Forest, Ill., a suburb to the north of Chicago, and not part of the Chicago school system, have also gone out on strike.  It sounds like they’re having a rough time of it, so any support from folks out that way would be appreciated, I’m sure.  Lake Forest has a very different demographic profile from Chicago, being very white and very wealthy.  With a median household income about three times that of the national average, residents should probably STFU about teachers wanting to be well-compensated for the valuable work they do.

 

ETA: It’s still Wednesday, and I’ve got more labor news!  Workers at a warehouse in Mira Loma, California, that subcontracts with Walmart — and we all know how shitty Walmart’s labor record is — have walked off, after Walmart wouldn’t even come to the table to discuss wages, working conditions, and retaliation for previous organization attempts.  In coming days they will be walking the 50 miles to Los Angeles to take up the issue with Walmart’s executives.

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Filed under Education, Jaime, Solidarity