workers freedom

economics as if workers mattered

Monthly Archives: October 2014

Why I don’t give to “my” public radio station

One of our local “public” radio stations is in the midst of a pledge drive right now, and in truth I listen to them a lot. (My commute to work runs close to 90 minutes each way, and NPR is usually the best thing on the radio.) I used to be a “member,” until the SEPTA transit workers’ strike of 2005, when WHYY only once (so far as I could tell from more than 20 hours of listening, most during peak news times) allowed a worker or union official on the air. That report was part of the national NPR newscast, originating with the local classical/jazz station which has only the most skeletal of news operations, but had enough news sense to send a reporter to the picket line to ask why workers had gone out. (WHYY’s schedule is built around news and informational programming, In fairness, during the 20+ hours there was a talk show in which one of the guests expressed some sympathy for the union’s position that they had long ago traded lower pay for good benefits, and it was unfair to now demand that they surrender those benefits without getting anything in return; but he wasn’t a union member, and could not speak from the workers’ experience.) So I wrote the radio bosses canceling my membership, explaining that as a working stiff myself I could not donate my hard-earned money to pro-boss propaganda outlets.

This morning, they aired a report on last night’s School Deform Commission meeting, which was surrounded by 4,000 protesters outraged at the state-controlled board’s latest attack on the teachers, and hence on the schools. It was marred by the usual false balance, in which the arguments of the overwhelming majority were “balanced” with equal time for the “arguments” — some of them actually hired by corporate lobbyists to give a “grassroots” veneer to their attacks — of those who think teachers, students and others have no rights, and should do what we are told. As the report noted, those who showed up to support the attacks on the teachers and schools were heckled; and so immediately after the report one of the pitch-meisters exhorting us to give, and then give some more, went off on a rant about how the protestors needed to “listen.”  Of course, it is only the workers and their supporters who need to listen — the school board’s refusal to listen to or work with its teachers, instead unilaterally canceling their contract, troubles her not in the least. (When students showed up to protest at a ComCast-SRC showing of an anti-teachers union movie, a ComCast employee and SRC board member screamed at them that they were products of failing schools who should be sent to jail.) They speak, we listen — and then do as we are told. I’m not willing to pay for that sort of thing.

By the way, a prior post on the SRC’s attack on the teachers made the mistake of assuming the board was telling the truth about the financial terms it was imposing on the teachers. That was a serious mistake, and I apologize. It turns out that the SRC’s claims about what teachers would have to pay under its dictat assume the teachers would switch to a cheaper plan in order to avoid the massive premiums they would have to pay to keep comparable benefits. Teachers with family coverage would be out of pocket an additional $678 a month if they don’t agree to a cut-rate plan. That’s a very hefty pay cut indeed.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers seems content to call a few demonstrations (perhaps much larger demonstrations than they had planned) to let their members blow off steam while they trust to the courts to protest their rights. Several major local unions — including some that are scabbing right now at the Philadelphia Convention Center — suggested calling a one-day general strike in support of the teachers, but the PFT asked them not to. Instead, the unions decided to work to elect a Democrat as governor. Two of the SRC members, including the one who supports jailing students, were appointed by Philadelphia’s Democratic mayor, and the Republican governor-appointed chair is a longtime Democrat and former city councilman who has long campaigned against public education.

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Philly schools cancel teachers union contract

The state-controlled Philadelphia School Reform Commission (the name the state chose when it took over the Philadelphia schools in response to the former school board’s effort to press the state for adequate funding) canceled its contract with the teachers’ union at a sneak meeting Oct. 6. Teachers had been negotiating for a new contract for two years amidst a pay freeze, massive lay-offs, a budget that forces teachers to spend thousands of dollars a year out of their own pockets for classroom supplies, and a government that refuses to fund the schools.

Administrators say they will not cut salaries, but will stop paying into the teachers’ health care plan; teachers who want health benefits will now have to pay $55 to $200 a month. The schools will also stop covering retiree health care and slash other benefit programs. Philadelphia teachers were already among the lowest-paid in the state.

The Commission did not inform teachers of its plans, and effectively barred public comment. The 17-minute-long meeting was not announced on the SRC web site, the union was not notified of it, and state requirements for public notice were met only through a classified ad buried in the Sunday newspaper which stated the meeting was for “general purposes” and required anyone wishing to comment to sign up with the school district by 4:30 Sunday afternoon. Only one person managed to do so.  This “heartbreaking act of political cowardice,” as Daily News columnist Will Bunch termed it, takes $44 million from teachers’ pockets in its first year, and $70 million or more in future years. It also has the potential to leave teachers defenseless against administrative retaliation and favoritism, eliminates contractual limits on class sizes, and generally presents teachers with a stark choice: build a real union prepared to carry out direct action to defend the interests of teachers and students or grovel supine at the feet of the state, accepting whatever crumbs they might offer.

State law prohibits teachers from striking. Administrators have been imposing ever-tighter controls on curriculum. But with most schools operating with just a single principal and security guard on staff, what’s to stop teachers from using math classes to teach labor economics, social studies classes to teach labor history, art classes to make picket signs, reading and writing classes to study conditions in students’ communities, and the like?

CNT wins settlement at ISBAN

The National Confederation of Labor (CNT-AIT) has settled its long-running dispute with ISBAN/Santander Bank over the transfer and ultimate dismissal of a CNT delegate who was organizing against subcontracting of information technology services at the bank and pressing for regular employment status for the affected workers. Facing ongoing protest actions in 15 countries and a labor court ruling on the fellow worker’s claim for unlawful dismissal, ISBAN agreed to pay more than a year’s salary in compensation.