Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Archive for the ‘Anarcho-syndicalism’ Category

Chicago Teachers: Progressive Unionism and Advocates for Education

On Saturday, November 17, representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union, Michael Brunson, Debby Pope, and Rolando Vasquez, spoke to an enthusiastic crowd  in Philadelphia about their strike in September 2012.

According to the mission statement of the union, which represents nearly 30,000 teachers and support staff, they by extension also represent students and families they serve. This is truly the goal of unionism: to consider the big picture in advocating for better working conditions and pay, progressive reforms in society and democracy the work place.

The union has addressed issues on charters, privatization and standardized tests. The union has also confronted the demonization of teachers and organized labor. In the past corporate-model school reformers dominated the discussion around issues of  accountability and standardized testing; Chicago teachers have focused on funding, poverty  and inequality.

Chicago teachers were successful because militant grassroots leadership from the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), guided the union membership in 2010 to build unprecedented community and parent support for educational reform.

Philadelphia schools have suffered drastic cuts under Gov. Tom Corbett and the confrontation continues over a radical restructuring and privatization plan advanced by the state-controlled School Reform Commission and backed by the powerful William Penn Foundation. In response, this past September hundreds gathered to found the Philadelphia Coalition for Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), a broad union-community coalition set to counter the Boston Consulting Group-drafted restructuring plan.  PCAPS asks for your advice by completing a public education survey to aid in developing a plan in which the citizens can contribute their ideas.

Video below features selected comments from the panel.

Social justice unionism, democracy in the workplace, shared leadership and responsibility are ideals shared by the Industrial Workers of the World. As the labor movement embraces these principles, mobilization will continue to grow and resist monied interests that obstruct educational reform.

Event Sponsors:  Labor Working Group (created during Occupy Philly) and the progressive Teacher Action Group (TAG).

Drawing Inspiration from the I.W.W. and the Free Speech Fights 1908-1917

The working conditions at the turn of the century placed workers under incredible hardships as they faced both health and safety risks on the job. At that time, half of all worker deaths occurred in two industries—coal mining and railroading. Around 1900 between 25-35,000 deaths and one million injuries per year occurred on industrial jobs. In the Pacific states a lumberyard or camp worker earned on the average 14 cents an hour with working hours averaging 61 per week. Employees had to sign a contract to waive all rights to damages in case of injury or death. Migratory workers depended on hopping on freight cars to follow employment opportunities across. Railroads estimated that 500,000 hoboes at any given time were attempting to board the trains. Migrant workers made up a large percentage of the 24,000 trespassers who were killed and 25,00 injured on the railway lines just from 1901 to 1904.

Understanding that the root of this misery rested in the capitalist system, workers established a new kind of labor union.  The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) believed in organizing all workers. Ahead of their time, the Wobblies refused to accept the society’s racial, ethnic and class prejudices and welcomed the most dispossessed into their ranks. They possessed a revolutionary spirit which provided the catalyst to create greater democracy through worker participation.

The I.W.W. organized the free speech initiatives to prove that direct action was the mechanism to stand up to the Establishment on labor rights. The system threw every weapon at the I.W.W., and the courts, police, newspapers, even encouraging mob rule. The politicians and industrialists formed alliances to protect their business interests and profits.

The public sometimes becomes confused with the rhetoric and propaganda of I.W.W. opponents who claimed that the organization despised the Constitution and rejected traditional American values and ideals. To understand this criticism it is important to differentiate between economic and political systems. Capitalism is an economic system, and the U.S. Constitution provides no support for any economic system. The I.W.W. rejected the elitist business interests of the capitalistic class in favor of workers. Elites labeled the I.W.W. unpatriotic because the membership refused to fight against their fellow workers in other countries. Translated: the I.W.W. is a bastion of democratic principles and follows an ethical philosophy of the highest calling: to join in solidarity with all workers and put an end to war.



Holiday Giving: Charity for US Children?

It’s Down to Having a Pencil and Pad of Paper

Yesterday the mail brought the usual Christmas catalogues, including one from World Vision Gift Catalog. The catalog reads that “85% of every gift goes to program helping children and families overcome poverty in nearly 100 countries.” Throughout the pages, smiling and sometimes sad faces of third-world children tug at prospective donor heartstrings. This organization specialized in donations of chickens, ducks, rabbits and other animals in addition mosquito netting and medicines.

One page in particular was disturbing:

Urgently needed

clothing, and more for 

kids in America


school supplies 

for U.S. classrooms

It’s not that I didn’t know this was the case, it was the context of being included with children in under-priviledged nations. The United States’ GDP is the largest in the world, signficantly larger than China, Japan, India and Germany, at at figure of


and we can’t support our children with school supplies and clothes?

Where is all that wealth going and why do our children have to depend on charity? The problem lies in wealth inequality.

In 2007 the richest 1% of the American population owned 34.6% of the country’s total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%. Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%.    Wikipedia

The richest Americans control most of the wealth and add on top of that their financial privilege of supporting candidates that further their own interests rather than the common good where every citizen benefits.  How can our $35 contribution to a political candidate match the thousands that someone with wealth can give to the candidate of their choice?

As long as the current distribution system and campaign financing remain as policy, looks as if we will have to rely on charity, pleading for money for even basic school supplies for America’s children. I guess that’s the great equalizer with developing nations, we can all grovel now.

Occupy Philadelphia: Suburbanite Ventures into the City

I’ve checked the news reports, watched the videos and read the Facebook posts, so it was time to head down to City Hall to see what is going on and lend support. Armed with two cameras and a protest sign I boarded the train, transporting me out of the suburban bubble to downtown Philadelphia.  My goal: to give balanced coverage for those watching on the sidelines who might be debating the merits of this protest. Now some might say how can you give balanced coverage if you are carrying a sign and participating in the demonstration? My question is: how can you give balanced coverage if you are not carrying a sign? Objectivity is a strange animal. When one remains neutral, that is a position.

Some news reports stated that this movement lacks a central theme, but their website states their mission clearly enough:  the one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.

So back to my protest sign.  The sign actually belongs to my son, given to him by my sister about seven years ago. A woman painted  this poster after becoming severely disabled from an accident and then subsequently denied benefits from her insurance company.  Her fury resulted in this creation:

Into Philly

While riding on the train, someone had scrawled a prophetic message on the inside of one of the overpasses:


I arrived at City Hall and found a rag-tag but well-organized occupation zone. News vans from ABC and CBS were parked along the street. Even with few economic resources to draw on, the protestors created a mini-town with an information booth, medical tent, security station, speaking platform, tent city and a democracy resource center, to name a few. I didn’t have much time to visit each area as I joined a smaller group for a march to Temple University. Given that I’m an alum, I thought it only fitting that I should join that protest.

Before we headed down to Temple, the leaders led the group in recitation.  One person would shout a few words at a time and then the group would repeat the words. Surprisingly, this communication method was an effective way for everyone to hear the message. The leaders informed the group of their legal rights and gave them a number to call, which was a smart approach to protesting.

We “occupied” SEPTA, riding on the ell while chanting and singing. We  joined with the Temple students who were holding a protest on mountaintop removal. Together we marched orderly and quietly into the Board of Trustee’s Meeting. Our instructions were just to be present. The Trustees had agreed to meet with Temple students after their meeting to discuss the demands, but at the end a student stood up and read their demands. At this point the Occupy folks stood in support.

Civic Affairs and Police Presence

During the protest actions at Temple, a fairly large contingent of officers from Civic Affairs were present. These officers, dressed in shirts and ties, wore pink armbands. They didn’t seem to be armed. Civic Affairs is part of the police force that serves as an intermediary between protest groups and the police. Years ago ACT-UP sued the police for $8 million for brutality during a protest. The city then established the Civic Affairs Department to mediate these encounters.

Rally at Temple University

What Worked

A couple strategies made the protest a success:

  • working with the Temple students ahead of time to coördinate a joint protest
  • observing the letter of the law
  • commingling with crowds in such a way that it would be extremely difficult for authorities to differential between protestors and bystanders
  • energizing, yet reasoned and calm presence

Chants sometimes included, “We Are The 99% and so are you!”  The citizenry of this country is at the mercy of the corporate behemoths. I congratulate the Occupy protestors for confronting the power and greed of Wall Street.

Occupy Philadelphia.

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