Monday, April 14, 2008

Pick up that Picket Sign!

The picket signs have been going up all over our district again.  Well, some of them.  We had a few loud and raucous events, but now that the fight is rolling into Act II, the angry expressions of fury have dissipated a little.  I think we had 12 of our 50 teachers at the last before-school informational picket.

People often think that Unions are old-fashioned and irrelevant.  I get asked almost as many questions about car insurance as I do about the contract.  And damn, they sure take a lot of dues!  When people discover how much they need a Union, it's often too late.  One of the problems with teachers' Unions is that every member is college-educated.  That means that almost every member grew up in a family that had the capacity (i.e. - upper middle class) to send them to college.  And they didn't grow up in a Union household.

I guess that makes me one of the lucky kids.  I grew up in a Union household, in a Union town; and I still managed to go to college.  Even though the Unions were being blamed for all of the economic woes of the entire midwest, I got to hear what my Dad was thinking about.  If you work hard at the factory, then you deserve the basics:  a house, a retirement, a vacation and health care.  And if you save up your money, you should be able to send your kids off to college.

While I'm writing, I better give equal time to my mother, who was not in a Union, but worked hard and also made sure I was going to get all of those things.  Her ethos was a little bit more conservative.  She believed that if a company treats you right, you don't need a Union.  And when Dad was layed off or on strike, it was Mom's paycheck that kept us in chicken noodle soup.

But here's my truth.  Without the U.A.W., I don't go to college.  Well, maybe community college, but no way can my parents pay for the University of Michigan.  Without the Union, I don't get to see the rest of the country with my family (family vacation = camping trip through some little corner of North America.)  And mostly, without the Union, my Dad's cancer bankrupts my Mom.  Its hard enough watching a spouse die.  But getting the bills ...

All these basics were brought to us by a Union.  They're all being slowly eroded because the Union movement is losing its momentum.  We've already lost our grip on health care.  And those of us who have it find out that it doesn't cover half of what we might get.  Now people are losing their ability to keep their homes.  

Look, I know life is expensive.  But in the end, my Dad was right.  You work your whole life for a school community, there are some things you ought to get from the deal.  A house.  a retirement.  A vacation.  See the Doctor when you're sick.  And send your kids to college.

Pick up that picket sign so we don't lose the basics.