Modern School's Journal - Archives
Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) officials and United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) have reached a tentative agreement that would increase the ability of LAUSD schools and their teachers to disregard collectively bargained rights and job protections. The agreement forces both LAUSD and UTLA to give up considerable authority to teachers and administrators at individual schools, according to the Los Angeles Times, including determining their own working conditions and hiring practices.
While it would be wonderful if workers really could determine their own working conditions, LA teachers will not be able to sleep late and leave early. They won’t be able to give themselves an extra prep period for each class they teach. They will not have the opportunity to cut their class sizes down to a sane 20- or even 25-to-one. They will not get to hire as many paraprofessionals and classified support staff as they need. They will still have to slash instructional minutes to make room for testing and test prep. They will still be expected to single-handedly counter the effects of poverty on their students. And they will not get to vote themselves a pay raise.
Teachers in many districts already have the right to petition their unions to allow them to take a waiver vote so they can initiate teacher-led reforms at their schools like lengthening their workdays or adding an advisory period, even when such reforms violate their contracts. Typically, teachers at a school site desiring a waiver would take a straw poll to determine if the reform has the support of the majority of staff and then they would go to the union to get their approval for a waiver vote.
Many argue that this process stymies reform and innovation and harms students by allowing the union to step in and block a waiver vote from ever happening. However, it is important to remember that not all reforms benefit students, while almost all reforms require an increased workload, often without extra pay. Many reforms, like adding extra periods to the school day, Smaller Learning Communities, decreasing class size, and adding sections of support or elective classes, require considerable resources and are impossible to implement without making cuts elsewhere, cuts that may come out of teachers’ compensation, but that can also negatively impact the safety and educational wellbeing of students. And some “teacher-led” reforms are actually initiated (or at least heavily pushed) by administrators and thus should be seen as an employer-led effort to undermine the contract.
It is also important to remember that every time one school site agrees to take on extra work, lengthen their workday, or accept the false promises of another Ivy-League- or philanthropically-derived solution to low student achievement, the door opens wider for having these shoved down the throats of everyone else. Each time teachers at one site vote to give up their collectively bargained rights, they weaken those rights for everyone else. Eventually, the contract ceases to have any teeth at all.
The new agreement between UTLA and LAUSD would make the waiver process much easier, allowing automatic waivers that would require only a super majority vote at the school site, thus bypassing a vote by the union’s legislative body. It would take away the union’s ability to defend its own contract by denying waivers that give up to much or that threaten other teachers.
As a result, administrators will point to schools that have accepted longer hours and more harried schedules and say, “Why can’t we do that here, at our school, too?” undermining the struggle by their teachers to maintain or improve their existing working conditions.
Not surprisingly, the deal has been spun as an opportunity for schools and teachers to take on more responsibility for how their students perform. Equally unsurprising is UTLA’s capitulation to the Ed Deformers’ mischaracterization of the education problem as one of bad schools and bad teachers, rather than inadequate funding and socioeconomic inequity.
The overwhelming majority of low performing LA schools are located in low income communities and populated by poor and working class children. Certainly some reforms can help some poor students, but it is absurd to think that site-based reforms will make these schools competitive with affluent schools, particularly when poverty has been increasing and state programs to assist the poor have been drying up.
“Greater responsibility for student performance” implies more work, longer hours and negative consequences for failing to meet goals. Since student performance depends far more on students’ socioeconomic backgrounds than teacher skill, all this extra work, mostly uncompensated or remunerated at less than the per diem rate, will be unlikely to make any significant impact on student achievement, test scores or graduation rates.
UTLA claims the deal will save jobs and in light of the huge cuts LAUSD has faced over the last few years, this claim might win votes for the agreement. However, this is a pretty weak bargaining position. When workers continue to trade increased workloads, longer work days and declining wages for the promise of more jobs, they only hasten their own immiseration.
I recently posted the following statistic: 67% of Americans said they would vote for a homosexual candidate for president, but only 49% said they'd vote for an atheist. Americans like or trust homosexuals more than atheists, which is good news for gays (our society seems to be getting a little less homophobic), but terrible news for atheists, who must continue to congregate in dark alleyways and seedy bars.
Tom Rees writes that “atheists are a pretty disliked bunch of people in North America. Most atheists will be aware of polling data that puts them at the bottom of the loathing pile.” He goes on to describe an interesting experiment by Will Gervais (University of British Columbia, Canada), in which test subjects were told about “Richard,” who got into an accident, but only pretended to leave his actual address and then later found a wallet and took out the money, throwing the wallet in the garbage. Test subjects were most likely to presume he was also an Atheist, with Rapist being a close second, while few believed he was also a Christian or a Moslem.
In another version of the experiment, Richard was described as a disgusting person rather than, untrustworthy. This time test subjects did not associate Richard with atheism, suggesting that people’s negative perception of atheists stems from distrust, and not disgust.
According to Rees, Gervais found that the level of distrust is correlated with the strength of belief that supernatural monitoring helps to enforce good behavior. Therefore, the greater one’s belief in God, the more likely they are to distrust atheists. So the statistic that only 49% of Americans would vote for an atheist should not be so surprisingly, considering how religious our society is.
This Monday, on the public radio program Marketplace, host Kai Ryssdal mentioned that U.S. businesses will lose $1 billion over the next few weeks because of employees doing their holiday shopping on the internet at work instead of doing their jobs.
The OWS movement might learn something from this.
Their calls for people to stay home on Black Friday were not only ignored, but this past Friday ended up being one of the busiest retail shopping days ever.
My guess is that people have recession fatigue and desperately want to celebrate the holidays like they used to, whether or not they have jobs or economic certainty. They want this so badly that they are willing to risk their jobs by doing their shopping on the boss’ dime.
While most are not doing this deliberately to undermine the profitability of their employers, it is a consequence of their behavior. Workers do this all the time in other subtle and not so subtle ways and for various reasons including dissatisfaction with the job, boredom and revenge. They do things like taking home office supplies, extending their lunches, surfing the internet and corresponding with friends via email. People sometimes pad their time cards or prolong their time in the toilet or at the coffee machine.
All of these are forms of sabotage and it is as commonplace as work itself.
The IWW (Wobblies) promoted sabotage as a tactic to help workers win their grievances at work, by slowing down efficiency and profit-making. Their propaganda often included the image of a sabot, the Dutch shoe that workers often threw into the looms during the 19th century to slow down production. In fact, the word sabotage comes from sabot. The Wobblies used the word sabotage to include any tactic that slowed down efficiency, including deliberately slowing down production, working to rule, bungling duties.
Considering that the majority of Americans do not seem ready to join the OWS movement in the streets and encampments, nor do they seem ready to boycott holiday shopping, perhaps a better tact for the movement would be to follow the example of the IWW and call for mass acts of sabotage in the workplace.
For those who are lucky enough to have jobs and who can’t afford to lose them by playing hooky to join an OWS protest, there are plenty of things that can be done at work to gum up the machinery of capital and cut into profits with minimal risk. The options are virtually infinite with a little creativity and caution. Numerous examples can be found in Martin Sprouse’s book, “Sabotage in the American Workplace.”
Teachers, like all other workers, must sell their labor to earn a living. Like all workers, they must make considerable compromises and sacrifices in order to ensure that they get a paycheck each month. The primary difference between teachers and other workers is that the public (and many teachers themselves) believe that teachers’ rights and working conditions should be subordinate to the needs of their students.
Image from Teamster.net
Workers who cross the picket line, thus undermining their coworkers’ solidarity and their struggle to improve working conditions, are known as scabs. The term could accurately describe any worker who deliberately undermines working conditions or solidarity. An example would be teachers who relinquish their contractual rights by volunteering to work longer hours (see here, here and here). They are scabs because they weaken the standing of their coworkers who still want their hard won protections. They are scabs because they are giving away their labor to the bosses for free or at a discounted rate compared to their peers. They are scabs because they deliberately aligning themselves with the bosses and against their own interests and those of their coworkers.
Unfortunately, in education, such behavior is relatively common. This is due, in part, to the fact that many teachers are willing to try anything, regardless of how much extra work is required if they are told it will help their students. Ed Deformers exploit this weakness by bombarding teachers and the public with a plethora of ill-conceived reforms that lack credible evidence of efficacy, (but which show strong likelihood of increasing their profits) under the guise of improving student outcomes.
One way the Ed Deformers do this is through astroturf organizations that masquerade as real grassroots organizations (see here, here and here), creating the illusion that regular people are empowering themselves to create change. The New York City-based Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) is an example of this. Ostensibly a grassroots movement made up of innovative young teachers willing to challenge the orthodoxy of the stodgy old unions, E4E has been funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to the tune of $1 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.
E4E has now opened shop in Los Angeles teachers, calling for the linking of teacher evaluations to student test scores and ending seniority protections. Because the group is made up mostly of young teachers, it could be argued that their demands to end seniority have more to do with creating job security for themselves at the expense of their veteran colleagues, than serving the interests of their students.
The following is from the Scienceline blog http://scienceline.org/2011/11/to-vaccinat... / and the Science Based Medicine blog http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.... /
Human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical, anal, penile, vulvar, vaginal, mouth and throat cancer and can affect both boys and girls. Thus the CDC is now recommending that boys and young men, as well as girls, be vaccinated against HPV.
HPV is the only known cause of cervical cancer, which kills roughly 300,000 women annually, one of the highest causes of cancer death for women globally.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world, infecting half of all sexually active men and women in their lifetimes. One estimate suggests that between 75 and 80% of all Americans will be infected at some point in their lives
The majority of those infected never know it, which means they may unknowingly be transmitting it to their partners, but that it is persisting in their bodies where it could be contributing to the development of tumors
The vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, are 70% effective at preventing cervical cancer and 90% effective at stopping genital warts
Clinical trials show that the vaccine has no serious side effects. While there have been claims of vaccine-related deaths, none have been verified and no causal links between the vaccine and fatalities have been proven
The vaccines are much more effective when administered to young teens than when given to older teens and adults
It won’t make them sexually promiscuous (either they will be or they won’t be, depending in part on how their parents talk to them and support them). The only drugs that might promote promiscuity are those that lower their inhibitions, like alcohol
It won’t make them mentally retarded, contrary to Michelle Bachman’s claims. In fact, there is no credible evidence that anyone has become retarded because of the vaccine.
A recent poll by the Los Angeles Times and University of Southern California has found that a majority of California voters want teacher evaluations made public and student test scores used in their reviews.
Does the public necessarily get or even deserve what it demands? Do we make employee evaluations public for nurses, doctors, firefighters, police, receptionists, retailers, insurance sales reps?
Teachers are already one of the most scrutinized, regulated and manipulated professions out there (most regulated, according to Assailed Teacher). They get reprimanded and sometimes even fired for “transgressions” in their private lives, like having political bumper stickers on their cars or posting work-related gripes on their private Facebook pages, which is not much different than in the old days when they got fired if they got pregnant. Teachers have been reprimanded for expressing controversial comments or sharing controversial content with students despite their supposed academic freedom.
Unlike the above examples, teachers have very little control over student test scores, which are correlated far more with students’ socioeconomic background than with the quality of their teachers. Evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores is like evaluating doctors on their patients’ blood pressure and blood sugar. In both cases, lower income people are much more likely to have undesirable results and the professionals who work with them are much less likely to be able to help them.
Another relevant question is what would the public do with this information? Demand the mass firing of all teachers at low income schools because their test scores were too low?
This would conflict with another recent public demand—supported by an ACLU lawsuit and court mandate in Los Angeles—that teachers at low income schools be exempt from layoffs.
If we did fire all teachers at low income schools or anywhere that test scores did not make the required arbitrary improvements, would the public then demand higher wages and an influx of funding for teacher training programs in order to recruit and retain “good” teachers, or would they accept the inevitable mushrooming of class sizes to 40 or 50 students?
Of course rather than demanding that “bad” teachers be fired, parents could use the data to pull their kids from schools with too many “bad” teachers, just as they might use similar data to avoid “bad” doctors. However, they can already pull their kids from “bad” schools and they already know which schools these are: the low income ones that tend to have the lowest test scores. Linking teacher evaluations to these test scores and publishing teacher evaluations does nothing to make this any easier or more effective.
The hysteria over “bad” teachers has the same source as the hysteria over “bad” schools: fear mongering promulgated by the test publishers, educational management organizations, tutoring industry and other businesses that hope to capitalize on testing, accountability and the resulting punishments. The teacher witch hunt is further exploited by politicians and the wealthy who hope to distract the public from the major cause of the achievement gap—poverty and the growing wealth gap—problems the OWS movement is now shoving in their faces more effectively than the teachers unions ever did.
It is worth considering that simply dumping what you don’t like (e.g., “bad” teachers or traditional public schools) does not necessarily get you what you really want and can result in something much worse. Consider the Egyptians who dumped their dictator and got a military junta that has been slaughtering them in the streets for the past week. What are we getting when we dump the “bad” teachers and schools: elitist charter schools that loot school districts of scare resources while squeezing out minority, special education and low income students, and a growing achievement gap.
It is important to have an accurate understanding of what the problem actually is and a valid critique of its causes before an effective solution can be proposed. Since the data overwhelmingly shows that poverty is the biggest influence on the achievement gap, low test scores and low graduation rates, simply firing teachers and giving away the public schools to private educational management organizations cannot end the achievement gap, get all students to graduate on time or attain the status of Finnish and South Korean schools.
Tying teacher evaluations to student test scores will result in declining numbers of teachers, exacerbating the problems of overcrowding and student access to quality teachers. Many good teachers will lose their jobs simply because they were working with low income students. Others will refuse to work in low income schools because it could jeopardize their careers.
Making teacher evaluations available to the public serves no public good and could result in great harm, not only to teachers, but students, as well. Too many bad evaluations at one school could result in a mass exodus of those families with the time, resources and knowledge of the system to get their kids into other schools. This would result in some schools becoming even more segregated, even more concentrated with poor, immigrant and low-achieving students.
On a more sinister note, if the public is not satisfied with schools’ response to bad evaluations, witch hunts and vigilantism against teachers could result.
25 years ago Reagan declared that ketchup was a vegetable in an attempt to red wash the greasy, salty, processed foods served in school cafeterias. Today, in spite of Michelle Obama’s duplicitous attempt to nip the obesity epidemic in the bud (see here and here), we are seeing the same game replayed, with Congress approving agriculture appropriations language allowing the tomato paste on pizza to be considered a serving of vegetables under the USDA’s new school lunch guidelines.
If we really cared about our children’s health, we would do away completely with processed foods manufactured thousands of miles away and trucked across the country in a plume of carbon dioxide and particulate air pollution. We would retrain and promote the low wage factotums who presently reheat and serve these prefabricated meals into actual cooks who prepare fresh, organic, locally grown meats, cheese and produce. We would teach children to enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables and flavors that are not dependent on high levels of salt, fat and sugar. We would bring physical education back as a daily class for kids of all ages and invest in more after school athletics and dance programs. We would ensure that all families have sufficient food to eat at home, every day of the year, and that they all have access to free or affordable health care.
In actuality, children’s health, like everything else in our society, is irrelevant except as much as it can be used to make a profit. What really matters is that processed food giants like ConAgra, Schwan Food, Nestle and Unilever continue to get access to the billions of federal tax dollars that are funneled each year into school lunch programs. Not only does this put cash directly into their pockets, but it helps shape children’s eating habits and preferences so that they will continue to purchase large quantities of their salty, sugary, fatty products as adults.
The legislation came in response to lobbying by ConAgra and Schwan Food, one of the world’s largest producers of frozen pizzas, according to the OB Rag. It also came in the wake of a Senate amendment that blocked the USDA from limiting the quantity of potatoes served in school lunches, a rule pushed by senators in the potato states of Maine and Colorado.
Pizza and potatoes are probably the two most popular foods at school. However, there is no reason why they cannot continued to be served, but why not using fresh produce and prepared from scratch, on site, with less salt, sugar and fat? Pizzas do not have to be doughy Frisbees overflowing with commodity ground beef, sausage, pepperoni and American cheese. Likewise, there are countless delicious and healthy alternatives to tater tots, like potatoes boiled and served with butter and herbs, baked, roasted, mashed, or served sliced in salad.
None of this is happening any time soon, so if kids want healthy food at school, they will have to bring it from home. If their parents cannot afford it, they can always apply for one of the low wage scab custodian jobs that will open up after Newt Gingrich gets elected.
According to the Harper's Index, only 52% of Americans approve of God's job performance.
The question I have is how 48% of Americans suddenly got the chutzpah to judge God in the first place. Has the OWS movement helped them to finally see that he is a member of the 1%? Have they given up their belief that he is omnipotent and infallible? Are they ready to occupy Heaven until he does a better job?
Naomi Wolf’s expose on the federal role in the crackdown on the Occupy Wall Street movement, “The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy,” http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/ci... has been making the rounds in the liberal blogosphere, getting replayed here and here, for example. In her piece, Wolf calls the violent crackdown on OWS protesters a “civil war” by the U.S. government against its own constituents. She believes that Congress is colluding with Obama to suppress the people they are “supposed to represent” and they are doing it because they have “started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth.”
In other words, Wolf sees a conspiracy by an upstart class of 1%-er wannabes to keep secret the fact that they are enriching themselves on the backs of the 99% so that the 99% will continue to vote for them and so they can continue their nefarious plot to become members of the ruling elite.
Of course there are numerous sinister and disturbing aspects to the crackdown, not the least of which has been its level of violence and the use of military hardware. But the violence is not unprecedented, as Wolf and others decry, nor even deadly.
So far, no one has been killed by the police at OWS protests, though hundreds of workers and activists were killed by the police in other protests and strikes over the past 130 years. In the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, for example, 10 workers were shot dead by militias just in Maryland and 20 more in Pittsburgh. Many others were killed and injured by militias, police and federal troops in other cities, too. There were numerous other labor struggles in which labor activists were shot and killed by police, militias, private security or vigilantes, on behalf of the bosses (e.g., Homestead, Everett, Columbine, Ludlow, the Battle of Virden, the Colorado Labor Wars of 1903-4, the Battle of Blair Mountain). There were also the massacres of the 60s and early-70s, like Kent State, Jackson State, Southern University and Orangeberg, and the political assassinations (e.g., Fred Hampton, Bobby Hutton, members of MOVE).
Wolf also complains about how the movement has been infiltrated by local and federal law enforcement and vigilantes, while local police responses have been coordinated by the feds. However, none of this is new either, while the “organized and coordinated by the feds” angle isn’t even necessarily true. COINTELPRO, HUAC, McCarthyism and the Palmer raids were all federally-coordinated police responses to domestic activism and infiltration of movements is so routine that one would have to be very naïve to think their political meetings and protests were free of infiltrators and provocateurs.
In order to get to the bottom of this “unprecedented federal coordination” of attacks on the OWS movement, Wolf asked OWS what their message was. Within 15 minutes she received 100 responses. The number one demand was “get the money out of politics.”
This is hardly radical or revolutionary and cannot be the reason for the suppression of the movement. In fact, the demand to reform the political system indicates that they accept and embrace the existing political order. It presumes that the system is inherently good and did, or would, serve the interests of the 99% if only it weren’t so corrupt. Indeed, the goal of reducing the influence of money in politics is such a mainstream idea that it has been sought by mainstream politicians and 1%-ers like John McCain and Russ Feingold.
Their number two demand, according to Wolf, is that the banking system be reformed, by implementing new rules to prevent fraud, for example, and restoring the Glass-Steagall act. Again, this is hardly radical or revolutionary and indicates that they embrace the existing economic order, including the 1%’s right to be much richer than the rest of us. Banks can still exist and make money by exploiting labor; they just need to follow the law.
While none of this is revolutionary, radical or even a remote threat to the hegemony and wealth of the ruling elite, the rich do not want to give up any of their wealth or power. When the rabble rises up, even with modest demands, it is like an uppity housekeeper or an insubordinate employee. The proper response is to aggressively discipline them or else they might get bigger ideas and their contagion might spread. What if OWS decides that banking and political reforms aren’t enough? What if they decide to elect a bunch of greens or demand higher wages or free healthcare for all? What if they manage to organize a real General Strike?
The Shocking Truth is that biggest threat may not be what the OWS protesters are currently demanding, but the sympathy they have garnered among the rest of Americans. According to Michael Moore, 72% of Americans want to increase taxes on the rich. While Moore is not the most trustworthy source, the point is that average Americans are pissed off about their declining wealth, material security and chances of being able to retire in comfort (or at all), and the OWS movement feels to them like the best expression of this angst. They do want the wealthy to pay more in taxes and they want that extra revenue to rejuvenate their schools, parks, libraries and other services.
However, they seem to also want another New Deal, or something like it, and this would really set the rich back. Under Roosevelt, the marginal tax rate increased to 94%.http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/di... The corporate tax rate increased from 12% in 1931, to 40% in 1942.http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/Co... New rules regulating banking, including Glass-Steagall, were passed, that nominally restrained their ability to make profits. The Wagner Act (NRLA) was passed, which nominally restrained employers’ ability to interfere in unions and labor organizing.
It also resulted in a massive increase in government spending on public works, which put people back to work and income into their pockets. This, too, the wealthy cannot stand, as it would require a realignment of government priorities away from subsidizing the wealthy and their businesses and toward subsidizing the 99%.
However, it is just plain absurd to say that this is all about Congress trying to keep the public from learning their dirty little secret and helping them to become members of the 1%. Most members of Congress were already members of the ruling elite well before becoming members of Congress. They came from jobs as CEOs, bankers and large-firm attorneys. And the public has always known that they were enriching themselves further while in Congress. This is probably why their approval of Congress has been so low for so long. With the exception of a blip in 2002, the Congressional approval rating has consistently been less than 40% for the past 36 years.http://www.gallup.com/poll/145238/congress...
Here are just a few articles about Anthony Krinsky, who writes at Anthony Krinsky's Education Blog (http://edobserver.blogspot.com /) with the objective of exposing "the manipulation of education policy and public opinion by the industrial teacher union army. The teacher unions have gutted our work-force and eroded the ambition to excel that made America great. Their injustices must be put to an end!"
The Minnesota Readiness Study in St. Paul has released new data showing an achievement gap exists even before students begin elementary school, particularly among children of color and those living in poverty.
The study found that 60% of all students had the prerequisite skills for kindergarten. However, only 44% of Hispanic children were ready. The study also found that only 52% of children living below the poverty line were ready for kindergarten, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
According to the report, kindergartners who had not attained pre-K proficiency were more than twice as likely require special education services or be retained by 3rd grade.
According to the Harper's Index, corporations paid only 10% of their profits in taxes last year, compared with 40.6% in 1961.
The ruling elite have been able to slash business taxes over the last 25 years. Simultaneously they've increased their profits by working their employees harder, longer and faster, while paying them less. According to Harper's, 3/4 of their increased profit margin is due to depressed wages.
What hasn't changed?
The ruling elite then, like today, had a monopoly on political power and the machinery of production, compelling the rest of us to sell them our labor under whatever conditions they dictated. There was still homelessness, unemployment, poverty, hunger, want and privation. They were befouling the air and water, poisoning low income communities, pillaging poor countries in the global south, and slaughtering civilians whereever U.S. hegemony was being challenged.
According to Harper's Index, 67% of Americans said they would vote for a homosexual candidate for president, while only 49% said they'd vote for an atheist.
So what does this say about Americans?
Considering all the sturm and drang about gay marriage, I find it surprising that so many Americans would support a gay presidential candidate. Then again, the statistic implies that nearly one-third of Americans would NOT vote for a candidate because of his or her sexual orientation, which is still a very high degree of bigotry.
On the other hand, what Americans really love is rich and powerful people. The evidence is that these are the only kinds of people they vote for and who win elections. So who really cares what their race, gender or sexual orientation is, when Americans overwhelmingly and repeatedly support their own subjugation?
This data also reminds us that we live in one of the most religious societies in the world, where belief in god is a far more important qualification than experience, intelligence or compassion.
Liberal politicians and union leaders seem to think that if they could just create more jobs, the economy would suddenly recover and everyone would be happy. Of course those who are unemployed, particularly the long-term unemployed, are desperate for some financial security and relief, and jobs seem like the simplest way to appease them.
While the absence of work is a terrible burden on families, the presence of work is not necessarily their salvation, and shouldn’t be their primary goal. Workers need material security, safer and better working conditions, better living standards, more leisure time and sufficient wealth to enjoy it.
Most jobs do not provide these things. In fact, many jobs do not even provide material security.
According to a recent report in Labor Notes, 28% of cooks live in food-insecure homes. In other words, more than a quarter of the people who prepare our food in restaurants, fast food chains and cafeterias do not earn enough to feed themselves and their families. Campus food workers, for example, had a median wage of only $17,176 in 2010, while many farmworkers are earning the exact same wages they made ten years ago.
There have been organizing drives among food workers at numerous college campuses over the past decade, most notably among employees of Sodexo (See here and here). These efforts still have a long way to go. At Pomona College, for example, 90% of kitchen staffers signed a petition for union recognition in 2010, but the college ignored it. Employees there were being fired for taking sick days and many are still earning less than $12 per hour, even after working there for 20 years.
What is most compelling about the statistic that 28% of all cooks go hungry on a regular basis is that it clearly reveals that food is not a human right, but a commodity that is produced by members of the 99% for the profit of the 1%.
In a sane society, a cook would not only be able to eat on the job and take food home from work for his or her family, but would be paid well enough to eat healthy, organic, locally produced food every day, go out to nice restaurants occasionally, and take time off to relax with family and friends. But they cannot do this because the food belongs to the bosses. The equipment to prepare the food belongs to the bosses. The buildings were the food is produced belong to the bosses. The right to hire and fire and set wages and working hours all belong to the bosses. And if they challenge any of this they will be unemployed quicker than they can say Sodexo.
This is not to say that workers should roll over and accept these conditions. A strong trade union can help to improve wages and decrease food insecurity for workers. However, trade unions cannot end workers’ dependency and subservience to their bosses, nor do they wish to. Their entire existence is predicated on the subservient relationship between workers and bosses. They act as the intermediary or advocate for the workers in an attempt to mitigate this relationship and make it as painless as possible for their members. They accept the premise that the boss is entitled to own and control every aspect of the workplace and become wealthy by paying their members less than the value of the goods and services they produce.
While the pain can be mitigated, workers will never truly be free, nor will they ever earn the true value of their labor, as long as the workplace remains in the control of bosses. Workers will continue to be forced to accept compromises, including declining wages and increasing work, just so they have any income at all. They will always face the dilemma of accepting abuses and degradations or risk being fired. Even when they earn enough to eat every day, they can rarely (if ever) eat as well as the 1%.
Thus, it is insufficient to demand jobs or even better jobs. We must also fight for a world without bosses and wage slavery, in which everyone has material security and access to the good things in life, leisure time, and the opportunity to contribute to society under their own volition and not under the boot of the 1%.
Capitalists build their wealth primarily through the exploitation of workers. They do this by paying them as little as possible while squeezing as much work out of them as they can. In effect, they pay their workers less than the value of the goods and services they produce. The greater the difference between workers’ salaries and the value of these goods and services the greater the profits. This simple fact helps explain why, even though worker productivity has been steadily increasing over the past 50 years, the purchasing power of their income and their leisure time have been stagnant or declining.
This principle is fairly obvious in the private sector, where goods and services are sold on the open market. It becomes a little hazier in the public sector, where workers are paid by the government out of tax revenues. Yet even here, the work that is done is done to help maintain the property and profits of ruling elite (i.e., the 1%). The workers are still providing services to consumers. Teachers, for example, have the responsibility of helping to ensure that some children grow up with the skills required to become the future managers, administrators and bosses, while the vast majority gain just enough skills to become their employees. Nurses help keep people healthy enough to stay on the job or return to work after an illness or injury. If too many people are home sick for too long, productivity starts to decline, as do profits.
The question is, how do we calculate the value of these services?
The value of a good or service can be estimated based on what people are willing to pay for it. With education, for example, people typically pay between $10,000 and $20,000 per year to send their children to modest private schools, and considerably more for the elite ones. For a teacher working in small privates school classes of 20 students, this comes to $200,000-$400,000 per year. For those of us working in one of California’s bloated classrooms of 35-38 students, this comes to $350,000-$700,000 per year.
One might argue that tuition (or public school funding) must cover numerous other costs in addition to teacher salaries, like rent, supplies, maintenance, administrative costs and salaries of nonteaching staff. The same argument is often made with regards the private sector (e.g., the costs of raw materials, rent, investment costs and the value of the owners’ willingness to risk his money). However, in both cases, nothing gets done and no profits are possible without the workers who produce the goods and services in question. These other costs are often nominal compared with salaries. But most importantly, it is the bosses’ ability to pay workers less than their labor is worth that allows them to grow their capital and earn their profits. A business owner can invest in property or machinery, but without employees, the shelves remain empty. Likewise, in a school devoid of teachers, learning is limited.
Technically, a school could be run entirely by the teachers and support staff, without any administrators at all. It could be run collectively, with workers’ councils making operating, as well as pedagogical decisions. However, it is not just site administrators that could be downsized. Most districts are quite top-heavy at their district headquarters, with superintendents and numerous assistant and associate superintendents, all garnering six-figure salaries. Schools that are run by the workers have no need for all this management. Even a small district of only five or six schools may have 2-3 administrators at each school site, plus another 3-5 working downtown, at a cost of $2-5 million.
Another significant but unnecessary cost to public schools that has little to do with children’s education and wellbeing is accountability. Schools spend millions on standardized tests, curricular support for the tests, and software to analyze the tests. Not only is this a huge waste of money, it is money that could go to teacher remuneration. Instead, it is used to manipulate and control teachers, forcing them to work longer and harder in hopes of raising test scores, taking time and energy away from teaching as well as organizing and advocating for better working conditions.
Educational bureaucracies, in general, divert large sums of money away from education, as well as educators’ salaries. But they do open the doors for numerous private sector entrepreneurs to grab a little piece of the action, like multibillion dollar text book and processed food giants. Thus, instead of well-paid teachers and well-fed students, we get overworked, burned out teachers and malnourished students who get their daily dose of vegetables from the tomato paste on their pizzas.
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