Open letter to residents of Wisconsin
This is an email written by a Wisconsin native and former school administrator to residents of her home state about the labor protests now rocking Madison over Gov. Scott Walker's effort to take away collective bargaining rights of labor unions. The author is Jo Koebert. It was first posted by a Washington D.C. area teacher, Kenneth Bernstein, who wrote a piece on the plight of teachers and unions at CNN.
From Jo Koebert:
I am a Wisconsin resident who was born and raised in Milwaukee. I come from a working class family, and although I am lucky enough to spend some of the winter in Arizona, I am deeply connected to my Wisconsin roots. As I watch what is going on in Madison right now, I think about what unions have meant to our family.
My father had no skills other than the willingness to work hard, but he made a living wage because of the automobile union. He didn’t get rich, but he was able to provide for us, buy a simple house and own a car. My uncle worked in a unionized factory, again with no specific skills, yet he had a steady paycheck and enough sense to invest and leave his wife a comfortable inheritance. Another uncle also worked in a factory under safe conditions thanks to the union. We became middle class because of unions and, of course, our willingness to get up in the morning and go to work. Several in our family worked for a time in a Milwaukee forge plant, where men worked hard, got filthy cleaning furnaces, but took home a living wage thanks to the unions.
When I was at the central office of Milwaukee Public Schools as an administrator and the teachers were on strike, I remember complaining about the power of the union because it was making our jobs harder.
I also remember one of the decision makers candidly saying, “Jo, if they didn’t have a union do you know how we would screw them over?” The unions have been responsible for forming the middle class in this country, and our family has been the recipient of the fruits of their labor in negotiating contracts. Yes, there were times when they became too strong and the workers were as much at their mercy as they would have been from the company itself. Today, they no longer have that kind of power, but they do still give the little guy a voice. They are, in fact, the single most active political voice actually working on behalf of working and middle class Americans.
I realize that much of this has been forgotten by many people who are clamoring for the destruction of the unions. Maybe, as educators and as parents, we didn’t do our job well in helping our kids to understand the history of labor in this country. Maybe I needed to tell the stories my dad used to tell about what it was like during the fight to unionize when the National Guard was made to fire upon common men who were demanding to organize.
In Madison, the excuse for these proposed policy measures is about saving money, but it seems obvious to me that this is not true. When the unions made clear that they were willing to concede the salary and benefit reductions the governor is proposing, so long as they get to keep their collective bargaining rights—the lifeblood of union power—Governor Walker refused to negotiate. The true agenda is to get rid of the unions, which will eventually get rid of the middle class and the little power that those who are not in the corporate elite have at this time. I won’t be around to see it, but our young people have got to open their eyes to what is going on in this war against the have-nots, both in Wisconsin and on the national level.
We should not have to fight for PBS and NPR to be saved. We should not have to hear that a proposal to cut all federal funding to Planned Parenthood programs has been introduced. This is serious and the agenda is much more than budget balancing. To my own family and all the others in America who share a similar history: may you never forget your roots. I come from the working class and I am proud of the people I see in Wisconsin fighting for their rights.
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| February 25, 2011; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Guest Bloggers | Tags: collective bargaining, gov. scott walker, middle class and unions, teachers, teachers unions, wisconsin, wisconsin protests, wisconsin teachers
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