Last week I had the pleasure to twice watch my daughter’s school play, The Pajama Game. Set in a 1954 garment factory in Iowa City, the all female workforce is determined to get the same $0.075 per hour wage increase that other industry workers have already received. Aside from the brilliance of the performers and a father’s pride, three things stood out for me: the modesty of their demands, the tenacity with which they pursued their just claims, and the fact they had a union representing them, so, despite their work slowdown and other tactics, none could be fired – except for the plant manager’s sweetheart who deliberately sabotaged the power line and fessed up to it.
In 1954, when the play was set, 33% of private sector workers were represented by a labor union; today, less than 7% are. This is one of the greatest accomplishments of the conservative business elite in ushering in the 2nd Great Age of Inequality, following the “Gilded Age” from the 1880s to 1920s. They used rising globalization to move jobs to Southern or Western “right to work” (for less) states or beyond our borders, literally destroying millions of good paying, union jobs in the process. Neither Democrats or Republicans did anything about it, but happily raked in the outsize campaign contributions of these bloodsuckers. Then, in desperation, the victims elected to President the ultimate charlatan, who promised to bring their jobs back but has only succeeded in passing a tax cut highly favorable to rich while cutting environmental, health and safety regulations that put their health and lives at risk – bastards!
Justice is often delayed, but can’t be ultimately denied. Today, Colorado teachers joined their peers in conservative, “right to work” (for less) states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma, in demanding decent salaries and adequate resources for their classrooms. If the previous examples apply, they will win their battle and taxes will be raised enough to accomplish their modest objective. These states have teacher’s unions but they are weak, as no one can be compelled to join them. Having once spent two weeks trying to recruit new AFT members in Texas, I know what they’re up against. But sooner or later someone has to say, like Howard Beale inn the movie Network, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” What’s your breaking point?