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.
…but, I love a good strike.
ETA: Strike starts Sept. 10 unless a contract is negotiated in the meantime. Go read some more of the CTU blog, as well; it’s got lots of good stuff, such as advice that Teach for America teachers can strike along with their comrades.
And as the new school year approaches, it looks like Chicago’s public school teachers and other educational professionals (like school librarians, ahem) might be going out. Tomorrow they will file their 10-day strike notice. That doesn’t mean that they’ll definitely strike, but it does mean the option is definitely on the table. 90% voted to authorize a strike earlier this summer.
Wages, hours, and conditions of course. In this case a main issue is that the same number of teachers were being asked to cover an extended school day and larger class sizes. They seem to have made headway on that, but contract details have not been all straightened out yet. Also up for discussion are student services and what some might call elective or non-essential courses and activities — music, art, recess & P.E., libraries, etc. — aspects of education that are seen as essential to wealthy and high-performing schools, but somehow are always negotiable in poor schools. This, my friends, is one of the many way in which the playing field is not level, in which equal opportunity is not available, and in which inequality is perpetuated.
So, let’s see some support for our sisters and brothers in Chicago, trying to maintain fair working conditions in their public school system, so that they can best serve their hundreds of thousands of students.
So, one of the four versions of Edvard Munch’s The Scream — pastel on board, and the only one still in private hands — sold for $119.9 million at Sotheby’s (including buyer’s commission) here in New York on Wednesday, setting a record for the highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction. (Some people think there’s better things to spend that much money on, even in the art world. I’d probably buy a bunch of lesser-known Impressionists and a shit-ton of Italian Art Nouveau everything.)
I have so much to say about this!
I take a professional interest, as this is my industry. I’m an art librarian, and, as the stalkers, fanboys, and government info-mining creepers know, I work at a small art auction house. (Don’t judge, a girl’s gotta pay her student loans, and, anyway, my boss doesn’t mind if I take occasional time off to occupy shit.) As such, I like to keep tabs on the art market (current thoughts — only really cheap and really expensive stuff sell around here; the destruction of a comfy middle to upper-middle class with a good outlook on the economy has also destroyed that large middle part of the arts & antiques market). I also am really onboard with organizing labor around industries, rather than trades or workplaces. To paraphrase Utah Philips, if the pilots, baggage handlers, air traffic controllers, and flight attendants all organized together, we’d own the airline by now. An injury to one, and all that. In that light, the Sotheby’s art handlers’ problems are my problems, too, even though I’m a librarian rather than an art handler and I work at a different house.
For those who’ve missed it, the art handlers at Sotheby’s, Teamsters from Local 814, have been locked out for nine months — since last August 1. A lockout is like the opposite of a strike — it’s what owners and managers can do to workers during a labor dispute; they literally or figuratively lock workers out of their places of employment, hoping that the economic coercion will force workers to concede. In the meantime, companies will hire temporary workers [i.e. scabs] to keep the place running. It can be a crapshoot for the owners, as it costs more than business as usual; Sotheby’s will almost certainly lose money this year compared to if the Teamsters had had their contract. Historically speaking, lockouts haven’t been particularly common in recent decades, up until the last few years. If you ask me, it’s one sign that the oligarchs aren’t looking at this all from a merely fiscal perspective, but are also using whatever tools they have to fight class wars, increase income and wealth inequality, and basically be a bunch of jerks because they don’t quite recognize the rest of us as real people in the same way they are. Even if it costs them money to do so.
In 2011, Sotheby’s set records for sales and earnings. And this, at a time when those of us who work — if we can find work — for a living are having a harder and harder time making ends meet. It is unconscionable that a company doing so well should want to pay its skilled laborer less; it is the very definition of economic exploitation when someone other than those who perform labor profits from it. The Sotheby’s art handlers — and their families — lost their health insurance at the beginning of the year. They are currently receiving $400 unemployment plus $200 a week from the union. To paraphrase Utah again (I feel like I do that a lot), the issues are wages, hours, and conditions, of course. The union wants a contract — decent pay, benefits, the ability to organize — and Sotheby’s wants to replace skilled union workers with low-wage, non-union workers, with no benefits and no collective bargaining rights. Same shit as always.
Aside from picketing at Sotheby’s, the Teamsters, along with OWS folks and other allies, have been targeting their campaign on people and institutions who sell through the auction house. I went to an action at MoMA in late February. Two of the museum’s curators approached me — I had just come from work, and so I suppose I was speaking their bespectacled and elbow-patched visual language — and I got the chance to explain it to them, after telling them that I’m an art librarian and an auction house employee myself. I hope I did my part in bridging the gap between the curators and the handlers; I think I surprised the curators a little, being from their intellectual world, but standing with the Teamsters and the Occupation. It’s kind of a perverse glee, but that’s one of my great pleasures at the Occupation, sometimes looking all proper and getting approached by non-occupiers who think I’m part of their in-group, and then surprising them by laying some uncomfortable facts and well-thought-out theory on them. Unfortunately I missed the demonstration outside the sale at Sotheby’s on Wednesday evening, as I was (once again) at Manhattan central booking to retrieve some of the 95 or so comrades who’d been arrested at Tuesday’s May Day actions. The May Day arrestees included three of our librarians, who’d been grabbed off the sidewalk for nothing more than carrying the black flag and being recognizable as occupiers. Which is messed up, but less messed up than, say, Shawn’s experience.
G’morning to all you dirty commies. I only got two hours of sleep last night — between my day job, jail support at central booking for one of the librarians and other friends, and then hanging around Union Square for possible park defense (reoccupation, what then!) — so this’ll be a little punchier than usual.
Toronto is near and dear to the hearts of the People’s Library, as a couple of our librarians are currently in residence there.
For those who haven’t yet noticed, Local 4948, Toronto Library Workers Union, went out on strike late this past Sunday, and the libraries in Toronto have been closed since. 2,300 (about 3/4 are women) workers are out, and, to quote Utah Philips, “the issues [are] wages, hours, and conditions, of course.” In particular, the librarians are concerned about job security, especially for part-time employees who already have trouble making ends meet. They’ve been picketing at City Hall and some of the library branches. Patrons are asked not to return materials until things are settled, and overdue fines will not be charged for the duration.
Further, on Tuesday Toronto’s CUPE Local 79, representing 23,000 inside workers — clerks, child care workers, nurses, janitors, and the like — voted in excess of 85% for a strike mandate. Their contract had expired at the end of 2011. If they and the city don’t get things straightened out by this weekend, we could see them out as well.
I love a good strike. And, remember — friends don’t let friends cross picket lines!
Progressive Librarians Guild has the link round-up.