Labor

George McGovern: America's Critic and Champion

The former presidential candidate challenged the country he loved while firmly embracing its people.

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen, Pool, File)
AP Photo George McGovern of South Dakota pays a visit with his wife to the floor of the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, August 25, 1968, where he will attempt to capture the Democratic presidential nomination in the National Convention starting on Monday. G eorge McGovern, the former Senator from South Dakota and 1972 Democratic candidate for president who died Sunday at the age of 90, was perhaps the greatest exponent of an alternative American patriotism of the end of the 20 th century. In this respect, McGovern’s predecessors were men and women like Jane Addams, W.E.B. Dubois, and William James. Historian Jonathan Hansen has described this critical patriotism well as the “claim that critical engagement with one’s country constitutes the highest form of love.” The critical patriot rejects the conventional patriot’s belief that loyalty to the state and, especially, to its military aims should be reflexive and unconditional. Critical patriotism fears that the patriotism of flag...

Holding the Stick

The National Hockey League's low-ball contract offer could cost a lot of games, and a lot of communities their seasonal income.

(Flickr/Tim Shahan)
(Flickr/Tim Shahan) The San Jose Sharks face the Washington Capitals, October 2009. It seems like lockouts are as ubiquitous in professional sports as the thumping chords of “Seven Nation Army.” Labor disputes led to lockouts in basketball last year, football last year and this year (players and officials), and now the National Hockey League is experimenting with the strong-arm tactic. Owners locked out players on September 16, one day after the collective-bargaining agreement expired. So far, with the season canceled through October 24, 82 games are lost. The cancellation of the preseason and the regular season’s first two weeks translates into a loss of at least $240 million for the NHL. But don’t think it’s inevitable that the season will swiftly come back to life: this is the fourth NHL lockout since 1991, and the third lockout presided over by the league’s current commissioner, Gary Bettman. Half the 1994 season was lost. The entire 2004-05 season, including the playoffs, was...

Will the Munger Kids Kill California's Schools?

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) Proposition 38 supporters from left: Marco Regil, television host for MundoFox, Molly Munger, civil rights attorney and the primary advocate behind Prop 38, Melissa Revuelta, bilingual high school teacher, and actor James Olmos, during a news conference in Los Angeles on September 26, 2012. Proposition 38, a State Income Tax Increase to Support Public Education, is on the November 6, 2012 ballot in California. This is the second in a Prospect series on the 174 initiatives and referendums up for a vote this November. A merica has the Koch brothers, and now California has the Munger kids. Unlike the right-wing Kochs, Molly Munger and her brother Charles Jr. entered politics from opposite directions—she’s a liberal Democrat and a champion of inner-city schools; he’s an economic conservative, a social moderate, and a Republican activist. But thanks to the vicissitudes of California politics and the self-absorption that wealth can bring (their father is Charles...

Better Know a Ballot Measure

(Flickr/radarxlove and jamelah e.)
When Oregon voted on the nation’s first ballot initiative in 1904, the idea—as high-school civics teachers have told students ever since—was to take power away from the industries that ran the state legislature through bribes and corruption and return it to the people. In those days, corporate interests dominated and corrupted state politics all across the United States. Mining and railroad companies loomed particularly large, buying off entire legislative chambers and putting lawmakers on their payroll. The emerging progressive movement thought it had found a way to fight back: Give citizens the ability to create their own legislation and put it up for a popular vote—a process known as the initiative. There was also the referendum, a tool citizens could use to veto laws at the ballot box. These ballot measures offered a way for the grassroots to make their voices heard. As your civics teacher might have told you, several states would soon join Oregon in using the new power of “direct...

Diane Ravitch Talks School Reform, the Chicago Strike, and the "Testing Vampire"

(Credit: DianeRavitch.com)
Click here for part 2 of the Prospect 's interview with the former assistant secretary of education. Diane Ravitch is famous* for two things: championing the education-reform movement, then leading the opposition to it. The movement, which broadly supports an agenda that emphasizes student assessment (a.k.a. testing) and school choice (a.k.a. charter schools), has come to dominate American education policy. For the most part, both Democrats and Republicans now push to make school systems resemble economic markets. They want fewer teacher protections, more testing, and more charter schools for parents to choose from. President Barack Obama's Department of Education, headed by education reformer Arne Duncan, shares many policy goals with those of George W. Bush's administration. Ravitch herself was once part of the movement, promoting student assessments and helping to create voluntary academic standards. After serving as assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, she held...

They Work Hard for the Money

(AP/Mel Evans
(AP/Mel Evans) Cargo containers are stacked on the deck of the Mediterranean Shipping Company's vessel at Port Newark in Newark, New Jersey. As work becomes increasingly a matter of machines building or moving other machines, workers either lose their jobs or—if they are fortunate enough to keep their jobs—become vastly more productive. Productivity surged in the U.S. during the early years of the current downturn when companies laid off workers by the millions and replaced them with machines. Revenues per employee at the S&P 500, the Wall Street Journal reported, rose from $378,000 in 2007 to $420,000 in 2010. And yet, the wages and benefits of employed Americans experienced no corresponding increase as workers’ productivity rose. Indeed, over the past quarter-century, as economists Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon have reported, all productivity gains have gone to the wealthiest ten percent of Americans. In the quarter-century following World War II, by contrast, productivity...

The Amalgamated Pole Vaulters

(Flickr/TexasEagle)
A common refrain among union critics is that Americans no longer need unions—that unions were well and good for the exploited sweatshop workers of a century ago, but today’s empowered Americans need no such crutch. With workers’ incomes falling, and with the United States leading all industrial nations in the percentage of its workers in low-wage jobs, it’s increasingly clear that today’s we need unions for many of the same reasons that the workers of 1912 did: They’re exploited and underpaid. But if it’s only the nation’s most exploited workers who need to band together, why have America’s most talented employees formed unions of their own? Actors, writers, directors, and cinematographers all have unions. Baseball, football, and basketball players have unions. And now, ESPN.com reports , America’s track and field athletes want a union of their own as well. The immediate grievance that has spurred the athletes to action is Rule 40 of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which...

A Touchdown for Labor

In the NFL referees lockout, the union is coming out ahead.

(AP Photo/David Stluka)
One of the most significant national labor battles is playing out in an unusually public arena: under the bright lights of America’s professional football stadiums. The National Football League lockout of 119 officials has been in force since June, and as the regular season rolls toward its fourth week, the NFL remains without its team in stripes—tasked not only with enforcing the rules of the game but with ensuring player safety. Fan impatience with the union-busting replacement refs, put in their place like so many substitute teachers, is giving the union millions of new, seething supporters with every game broadcast. The NFL Referees Association never voted to strike. Contract negotiation broke down three months ago—the sticking points were salaries and benefits—and the NFL locked out its officials. In a league worth $9 billion the average salary for referees in 2011 was $149,000. Management offered a deal that would raise this average to $189,000, but the union believed it...

Advanced Placement

The Chicago Teachers Union is poised to lead in the next school-reform fights.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Chicago Public School teachers and students were back in classrooms Wednesday morning after union delegates voted Tuesday to end their seven-day strike. The union won a number of significant victories —including a provision that student test scores will count for no more than 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation and another that will give teachers more pay for longer school days and years. The proposed contract should be finalized and approved in the coming weeks. By almost all accounts , though, in its fight with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the union is emerging as the clear winner. One of the sticking points in negotiations was over teacher evaluations and the role students’ test scores play in them. Emanuel is one of a number of national reformers who see unions as a roadblock to improving student performance and who subscribe to the philosophy that what poor, underperforming school districts need most are better teachers. Chicago teachers have emphasized throughout this fight that they...

Why the Chicago Teachers Won

(AP Photo/Chicago Sun-Times, Brian Jackson)
(AP Photo/Chicago Sun-Times, Brian Jackson) Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis speaks at a rally at Daley Plaza in Chicago. Consider the battle of Chicago’s teachers as a lesson for what’s ahead as the same struggle winds its way away around the nation. For the nation’s beleaguered labor movement, the six-day strike by the Chicago Teachers Union that ended on Tuesday is proof that a strike is not suicide, as has been the fate lately for most unions. Indeed, as the end neared and they were heady with an apparent win, the teachers’ talk catapulted from standing up for teachers to standing up for organized labor and ultimately to speaking for bullied, and exploited workers. In the build up to the dispute, it didn’t seem likely that the union would be able to walk away. Not after the Illinois legislature required the union to win a strike vote by 75 percent of its members, and not after Mayor Rahm Emanuel fearlessly carried out a number of steps that only riled up the union. But...

Into Week Two, a Slightly Subdued Strike

(AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong) T oday, the Chicago Teachers Union’s (CTU) principal decision-making body, the 700-member House of Delegates, will vote on ending the strike that erupted last week over teacher evaluations, re-hiring of laid-off teachers, and pay negotiations over the teachers’ contract that expired July 1. If the delegates vote to end the strike, Chicago schoolchildren will return to class on Wednesday, and an approval of the contract should be within sight. If it does not, Chicago teachers will stay on the picket line, and will likely face a new round of attacks from the mayor’s office. The strike’s segue into a second week surprised many Chicagoans, who thought public school students would return to class on Monday. But after a Sunday vote, union leaders announced they needed more time to go through the specifics of the proposed contract. “We haven’t heard enough,” says Jill Bates, who has taught Head Start at Yates Elementary on the near Northwest Side for 32 years...

The Chicago Teachers’ Balancing Act

The paradox of unions is that they are at once armies and democracies—an oxymoronic construct that means they can seldom be as efficient as a top-down organization, or as expansively deliberative as, say, an idealized New England town meeting. There no ideal equipoise for a union—some, in which member participation has atrophied, can be essentially autocrat; some are more democratic (although democracy can impede growth if members insist on making the union devote resources to servicing their needs at the expense of organizing new members). The better unions try to balance their dual roles, and that looks like what the Chicago Teachers Union did Sunday night. No one can question the union’s capacity as a unified force. A change in state law required the union to get a 75 percent vote of the members to authorize a strike; the union got 90 percent. The week-long strike has not been shaken by any member dissent (at least, none has been reported). But on Sunday afternoon, the union also...

Chicago, Yes; Wisconsin, Huh?

As Chicago teachers union officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office were assuring Chicagoans that they had reached an agreement Friday afternoon on their contractual dispute, a judge a hundred miles north in Madison, WIsconsin struck down as unconstitutional that state’s hugely controversial law banning collective-bargaining rights for public employees. As I write, the text of the judge’s decision is not yet available, but since a ban on public-employee collective bargaining exists in many states, either the judge found new grounds to declare the law unconstitutional, or he declared it so for reasons not related to the constitutionality of such prohibitions. Nor is it yet clear whether his decision immediately reinstates the old law, or whether the effect of his decision is on hold until a higher court rules on what is sure to be the state’s appeal. ​Things are clearer down in Chi-town. There, the union has apparently agreed to a teacher-evaluation system in which student test...

Chicago Chooses Sides

Read the commentariat, or just subject yourself to the deafening consensus of enlightened opinion, and you have to believe that the beleaguered parents of Chicago’s schoolchildren are fuming at their city’s teachers' union, on strike now for a full week, and backing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to shape up the school district. Read the polls, or just the press accounts of parental support for the teachers, however, and you come away with an altogether different impression. A poll commissioned and released Thursday by Capitol Fax , an Illinois political report, of 1,344 registered Chicago voters found that fully 66 percent of parents with children in the public schools, and 55.5 percent of Chicagoans overall “approve the Chicago Teachers Union decision to go on strike.” Among African Americans, strike support stood at 63 percent; among Latinos, 65 percent. (Roughly 80 percent of Chicago’s schoolchildren are minority.) So, who disapproved of the strike? A majority (52 percent) of...

Why We Strike

The Prospect talks to one of the thousands of teachers at the picket line in Chicago.

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Frank Menzies started working in Chicago public schools in 2000 and is now the director of instrumental music at Jones College Prep, where he oversees the orchestra, concert band, and jazz group. He’s also the school’s head bowling coach. Menzies is a member of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and one of the roughly 29,000 Chicago public school teachers that have been on strike since Monday. Why did you vote to go on strike? Many of the members in the CTU didn’t really want to do it, but we have understood that this is one of the mechanisms that is in place for union membership to try to bargain for a better deal. We are definitely in favor and desirous of a fair contract. The bottom line is the teachers did not really want to do it, but that [a strike] seemed to be one of the only avenues left to us to be able to try to get what’s necessary for us to have a fair contract. That’s the bottom line. The strike was brought about simply because teachers that love their students had no...

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