Category Archives: Activism

The NPA Union-Busters: an Open Letter to Vancouver City Council

If you agree with this posting, I strongly encourage you to email the Vancouver Mayor and City Council with a letter explaining just what you expect of them. Feel free to even copy this letter, sign it and send it to them at mayorandcouncil@city.vancouver.bc.ca which will forward to each of them.

Dear Mayor and Council,

For those of you who have no interest in vindictively punishing your highly valued staff in your 3 unions, I commend you. I encourage you to continue to lobby the others of you, the NPA I assume (correct me if I’m wrong), to bargain fairly.

I don’t know if you NPA union-busters are trying to save enough money from wages to pay off the Wilcox consultants or if you just like watching people suffer, but your refusal to meet your workers for more than 5 hours over THE LAST 6 DAYS is abhorrent and offensive to me.

I am ashamed that I live in this wonderful city when our “leaders” sink to this level of crass disrespect for the workers who support our social fabric, the workers you speak so highly of.

Your behaviour will not go unpunished in November 2008 when citizens wielding ballots all over the city will remember each one of you NPA social pariahs.

“Sam’s Strike” can only exist with 5 NPA councillors continually supporting him.

17% over 5 years for workers in neighbouring municipalities is a fair settlement. As a citizen of Vancouver I would support those kind of numbers. Pay equity for library workers who suffer from gender discrimination IN THE 21ST CENTURY, IN CANADA, is due. We should be ashamed to delay it any longer.

This is the end of the NPA in Vancouver: your obvious desire to corrode our civil society is your undoing.

Your offense is obscene.

It is time to bargain a contract, not rewind our labour culture to the 19th century. Get to the table and do your job!

The End of "Mayor" Sam Sullivan

Welcome Peter Ladner, NPA’s next mayoral candidate.

Sam Sullivan has unofficially ended his term as mayor at 11:03AM today as CUPE announced a tentative settlement in North Vancouver. We have passed the tipping point in the regional dispute.

Sullivan’s strategy has been absurd, ill-conceived and ill-informed at best, arrogant and destructive at worst. In fact, however, it is not a new strategy: it has a historic [and historically foolish] basis: Boulwarism.

It’s all about rejecting bargaining entirely and starting “negotiating” with a final offer that won’t budge from threats or strikes. It inherently opposes the rights of workers to negotiate with management.

In light of the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent ruling that BC’s Bill 29 is illegal and that collective bargaining is protected under the Charter, “Mayor” Sam’s tactics are in the spirit of what the Supreme Court opposes, as are the abuses the HEU suffered earlier in the decade and BC teachers’ loss of the right to bargain wages, working conditions and class sizes.

But “Mayor” Sam is always right. Until he is embarrassingly wrong. Here’s how it looks today:


Richmond, Surrey, Delta, Burnaby and North Vancouver have got Vancouver surrounded with contracts that aren’t punitively designed to punish labour because it is organized. Vancouver has had the strength to bargain unfairly with the GVRD’s bargaining support, until now as the 5 largest municipalities around Vancouver have or will settle by tomorrow. Vancouver’s bargaining strength is virtually gone. Richmond and Surrey, that do not use the GVRD bargaining stick, helped set a pattern that the other 3 cities have recognized, and in doing so have constrained the GVRD’s scope to push Vancouver’s agenda and support Vancouver’s internal turmoil.

Keith Baldrey wrote in the Coquitlam Now on July 25, 2007, “the BC economy has undergone significant changes (forestry, while still big, is not the huge industry it once was) and the power of organized labour has diminished in the past two decades. …The economy is doing well, and employees consider themselves deserving of a bigger portion of that richer economic pie.”

The truth is broader though. Sure, the better economy means the workers ought to share in it. But the truth is that even when the economy was not so good in recent decades, corporate profits and management salaries have done well, often at the expense of workers, whose purchasing power today is close to half of what it was 30 years ago.

People often complain—especially during civic strikes like now–that union workers are lazy whiners who seek opportunities to strike while “real” workers in the private sector don’t have job security or finite hours of work or good working conditions. Their goal seems to be to make unionized workers have to suck it up and suffer the same kind of crappy jobs, wages, working conditions, hours of work and lack of protections that non-union workers are forced to endure.

Unions have spent the better part of two centuries agitating for change: weekends, a 40 hour work week [hopefully to decline further for quality of life concerns and higher meaningful employment rates], no children working 12-hour 7-day weeks in coal mines [except in BC now, thanks to Campbell’s neoLiberal regime, children as young as 12 can get their asses to work], overtime pay, holidays, vacations, health and safety provisions, etc. So many of these benefits have become so valued that society as a whole has adopted them into legislation: the Labour Code, minimum wages, collective bargaining rights to support democracy in the workplace. And now the Supreme Court has joined our side.

So while many non-union workers think unionized workers get too much, my question to them is don’t you deserve as much too? Why try to stop others from being treated with dignity at work because you aren’t. Should we all have a labour race to the bottom so we’re all back in sweatshops? Stop the insanity.

And as Baldry writes that the power of unions has declined, it is because unionization, particularly private sector unionization, has declined. Instead of trying to drag other workers down to lower levels of treatment, it’s time increase the level and breadth of unionization, particularly in the private sectors. Why aren’t bank workers unionized? They are often treated like moronic cogs on a product-shilling wheel while the big banks in Canada regularly post quarterly profits [not revenues!] in the billions?

Sam Sullivan doesn’t get it. Actually, he does get it. It’s just that he rejects it while claiming in his inaugural address to support it:

“Vancouver is blessed with highly skilled staff who maintain our status as the most liveable city in the world. Tightening labour markets will present challenges over the next five years to attract, retain and develop our work force. All of us should be grateful for the front line workers who serve us so well. Our recruitment theme ‘Powered by Innovation’ should be more than a slogan as we provide interesting and rewarding careers.”

Intelligent city councils surrounding Vancouver get it too and they don’t reject it. CUPE workers get it because they know they deserve to be treated with respect…as do all other workers, despite what our arrogant, anti-social premier and mayor believe.

So thanks for the memories, “Mayor” Sam Sullivan. Let your lame duck mayoralty begin.

And, Peter Ladner, the tide is turning. Remember that as you build your NPA leadership campaign.

Sam’s Strike: The Arrogance of the Man and “The Man”

It is clear to me that Sam’s Strike is all about the Vancouver mayor’s deluded sense of autocracy [see below].

While other municipalities are being lined up to support Vancouver’s mean-spirited refusal to bargain in good faith, we wait to watch how long Sam can go thinking that the world will actually revolve around him and his idea that through his immense, sheer will, thousands of people who are actually committed to building community will crack under his might and give in to his petty demands.

His mayoralty is a shame.

Vancouver is the only city in Canada that has had three strikes in the last decade. In a strong economy, to not reward public workers, but instead to demand job insecurity and a contract term to expire days after the Olympics ends is just plain mean. It’s also representative of the grand golden straitjacket of neoliberalism that erodes the social fabric we’ve spent generations building.

Talks with CUPE 15 break down, city fails again to bargain worker issues

[July 28, 2007 08:53 PM]

VANCOUVER – CUPE 15, the union representing striking Vancouver inside workers, returned to the bargaining table yesterday at 9:30 a.m. tabling a 5 year package that addressed Mayor Sullivan’s concern about labour stability through the Olympics, with an understanding that the city was prepared to deal with issues that were also important to the union.

Despite this CUPE 15 movement, the City of Vancouver once again refused to bargain and spent less than 2 hours and 22 minutes over a period of two full days speaking with the union. The rest of the time, the city committee “caucused” while union negotiators sat and waited.

“We knew something was wrong when we arrived at the table and the City of Vancouver did not even have their two top decision makers in the room or in the building,” says CUPE 15 president, Paul Faoro. “You would have thought that with a strike coming into its second week, civic services at a halt and nearly 5,500 Vancouver city workers on the street, that General Manager Mike Zora and City Manager Judy Rogers would have made it a priority to attend and negotiate a settlement. What else could be more important?”

“There is one thing I give the city credit for,” says Faoro. “Consistency. The City of Vancouver has consistently failed to bargain and continues to frustrate the process to this day.”

CUPE 15 presented a complete written package to the city for negotiation on Friday morning. The city refused to respond in writing to the proposal.

“Frankly, we have had enough of this circus, and we suspect the public has had enough too. What is it going to take for the city to realize that manipulation and game-playing is not going to bring about a collective agreement?” says Faoro. “How much does the public have to be inconvenienced and how long do our members have to walk the picket-line without a paycheque, unable to provide the services they are proud to deliver to the residents of Vancouver?”

CUPE 15’s chief negotiator, Keith Graham, says the city is still holding onto their “final offer”, tabled on July 9th, 2007. This is the same offer that union members voted down by an overwhelming 89% because it had takeaways and failed to address issues of importance to the union, like job security (no-contracting out language), improvements for auxiliaries, whistleblower protection and harassment resolution language.

Description of major CUPE 15 issues:

Contrary to common belief, CUPE 15’s current collective agreement has no language in it that protects Vancouver’s inside workers from contracting out. At any moment, the city of Vancouver can outsource whatever services they choose, eliminating jobs and compromising the quality and stability of public services. It is for this reason that CUPE 15’s primary concern is to negotiate language that provides them with job security through the term of the agreement.

“We recognize that is it reasonable for the city of Vancouver to secure labour stability through the Olympics, but it is also reasonable for city workers to seek job security,” says Faoro. “Mayor Sullivan and his management staff have given us no reason to trust that they won’t just contract out our jobs one-by-one over the next 5-years.”

Another major issue that the union would like to see addressed is improvements for auxiliary workers, whom have no right to be scheduled by seniority, no benefits, no statutory holiday pay and have gone from temporary and occasional work relief to a massive under-compensated labour pool. In parks, for instance, two-thirds of the workforce is made up of “auxiliary workers” who are kept in this position for years and years.

CUPE 15 would like to see more of these jobs converted into full-time jobs with benefits and negotiate improvements for remaining auxiliaries that include scheduling by seniority. Right now, management can and does decide to call into work an auxiliary with less than a day on the job over an auxiliary worker with 14 years service with the city.

The union has also made it a priority at the bargaining table to negotiate harassment resolution language and whistleblower protection – contract language that protects workers from discipline and/or job loss when they speak out on an issue of public concern, like water safety, equipment maintenance, safety procedures, etc.

Union package to city of Vancouver, July 27, 2007:

Using the contract ratified in Richmond as a starting point, CUPE 15 tabled a wage increase of 21 percent over 5 years that they clearly stated was negotiable. The package also included proposed benefit improvements and the above-mentioned priorities.

The city claimed that the union’s package amounted to a total cost of 30 percent and was not “affordable and reasonable”. Faoro says the city’s calculation is more “phantom costing” and just an excuse not to begin negotiations in earnest.

“It is frustrating to be at the bargaining table with people who clearly do not understand or are pretending not to understand how negotiations work,” says Faoro. “The idea is both sides present their position and you end up somewhere in between.”

Robin Jones, CUPE National representative and chief negotiator for CUPE 394 and CUPE 718,
the two Richmond locals that ratified a deal last week is available to comment to the media on the total cost of his committee’s initial proposal to the city, which he says began at about 40% cost to the city of Richmond.


“We asked for almost 12 benefit improvements, we agreed to only two in the end, glasses and dietician services. We asked for a $2 an hour shift differential, we agreed to only $1 an hour in the end. We asked for $1.50 an hour dirty pay, we agreed to 75 cents, we asked for 100 percent benefit coverage and we ended up with only 80 percent in the end and the list goes on,” says Jones. “That’s how negotiations work and today we have a signed collective agreement and both sides are happy. But you can’t get there if one party is not willing to negotiate.”

CUPE 15 represents Vancouver’s 2,500 inside city workers who normally work at city, parks, Ray-Cam, and Britannia Community Centre.

Police States ‘R Us

A 25 km security perimeter is fascinating, as is turning away cars with more than 5 people in them.

But forcing a public centre to not rent space for a public meeting is astonishing.

Essentially, the right to free public association is arbitrarily over.

This is the context in which the new North American Union is being negotiated. Democracy and transparency and civil rights as variables. Welcome to the New World Order.

MEDIA RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 11, 2007

RCMP, U.S. Army block public forum on the Security and Prosperity Partnership

The Council of Canadians has been told it will not be allowed to rent a municipal community centre for a public forum it had planned to coincide with the next Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) summit in Montebello, Quebec on August 20 and 21.

The Municipality of Papineauville, which is about six kilometres from Montebello, has informed the Council of Canadians that the RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) and the U.S. Army will not allow the municipality to rent the Centre Communautaire de Papineauville for a public forum on Sunday August 19, on the eve of the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership Leaders Summit.

“It is deplorable that we are being prevented from bringing together a panel of writers, academics and parliamentarians to share their concerns about the Security and Prosperity Partnership with Canadians,” said Brent Patterson, director of organizing with the Council of Canadians. “Meanwhile, six kilometres away, corporate leaders from the United States, Mexico and Canada will have unimpeded access to our political leaders.”

As well as being shut out of Papineauville, the Council of Canadians has been told that the RCMP and the SQ will be enforcing a 25-kilometre security perimeter around the Chateau Montebello, where Stephen Harper will meet with George W. Bush and Felipe Calderón on August 20 and 21. According to officials in Montebello, there will be checkpoints at Thurso and Hawkesbury, and vehicles carrying more than five people will be turned back.

Founded in 1985, the Council of Canadians is Canada’s largest citizens’ organization, with members and chapters across the country. The organization works to protect Canadian independence by promoting progressive policies on fair trade, clean water, safe food, public health care, and other issues of social and economic concern to Canadians.

Poisoning a Community: What Forces Teachers to Leave

Jeepers. This piece [see below] was terrifying, mostly because of the angry abuse making up many of the comments at the website.

“It’s just a job.” That’s a scary phrase. But I can relate to it. I quit just before I got to that place, and that was after 12 years teaching in first a pretty good climate leading to a steadily soul-destroying climate.

I still deal with the regret of spending almost a decade wanting to become a teacher, doing the training and getting a job, then building professional competence, only to see it assaulted by political forces. Reforming from within is something so many are capable of doing without becoming too bitter. I have immense respect for them. The price became too high for me.

Now I have stepped out of the classroom to find more politically powerful tools to address the underlying hyper-individualistic ideological and neoliberal economics motivations for destroying the public, universal, communitarian, society-building education system in exchange for one that worships the inherent god of free-market economics.

But I still resent having my vocation stolen from me by a poisoned climate. Yet, I am still optimistic. Optimistic and unwavering in my belief that when my children turn 5, they will have a rewarding public school experience despite others’ attempts to defund and undermine it for their own material greed, misanthropy and hatred of “the inferior”.

Oh, yes, the soul-destroying climate:

– parents who blindly stand behind their students who are caught cheating, insisting that the teachers are lying, despite evidence, perhaps because they feel being a good parent means always believing your child
– arbitrary statistical school “performance” goals that encourage fudging enrollment in provincial government exam courses
– the institutional mentality that increasingly needs to pound square peg students into round holes
– “customer” satisfaction surveys
– corporate “food” companies building food fairs in cafeterias
– parents claiming I am discriminating against their students because I didn’t catch all the other cheaters on the test, therefore their students shouldn’t be “consequenced”
– labour flexibility = servitude
– functionally illiterate administrators who believe they are inspiring
– administrators soliciting parents to complain to them about teachers instead of following district policy asking them to show enough respect for the teachers to speak to them first
– administrators trying to subvert any due process to get teachers to quit
– administrators soliciting students to complain about unfavoured teachers
– high stakes testing
– the ignorance-championing view that what cannot be measured with “objective,” “verifiable” statistics is not worth teaching
– new teachers having to justify their grade distribution to their administrators as a statistical whole, rather than an aggregate of actual individual students’ achievement
– staff meetings split into 4 different groups in different rooms to keep the staff from discussing contentious issues affecting the entire learning community
– the Fraser Institute–with its website and publications riddled with spelling errors–promoting myopic, research-rejecting educational values
– teachers who welcome and even champion government violations of their labour and human rights
– Ministry staff and government functionaries who believe consulting stakeholders means refusing to speak with BCTF representatives because they are a special interest group, different from all the other special interests
– legislating used car salespeople to have a self-regulating professional body, but removing teachers’ ability to have the same
– students who feel it is a human rights violation to be asked to handwrite or not write formal essays w/ txt msg abrev’s and shit, u no?
– Emery Dosdall
– Christy Clark
– Gordon Campbell

http://thetyee.ca/Views/Teacherdiaries/2007/03/28/GoodbyeClass/

Why I Left the Classroom
Teaching changed, so I changed my life.
By Shaun Cunningham
Published: March 28, 2007
TheTyee.ca

One in five teachers leaves the profession within the first five years of teaching. Or is it one in thirteen, as the Ontario government claims? Whatever the stats, they don’t reveal how many vanishing teachers were young and restless, old and exhausted, or, like myself, somewhere in between.

Based on what I’ve overheard in the public school staff rooms of British Columbia, about 98 per cent of teachers say they seriously consider getting out about once a day. The other two per cent are, of course, either Buddhists or medicated. I am one of these. Gone, that is, not medicated.

My own stand-up performance lasted 15 years, thus outlasting by ten years all those who leap from the ship within the first five years. It’s not so much that I’m a slow learner, but rather that this is how long it took me to achieve the spectacular kind of burn-out which hasn’t been seen since one of my Junior High math teachers declared in the middle of class, “This doesn’t add up”, left the room, and was never seen again.

Teaching was my identity and I miss it. So the answer to why I left isn’t simple. The answer, “to look after my children” brings sighs, nods of knowing commiseration, and the occasional hug from young mothers who barely know me. But in truth, I have a kind of laundry list of items which, taken together, may or may not constitute the dirt on why I and so many teachers leave the best profession on earth.

Numbers that add up

Those who believe that the 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. school bells constitute the parameters of teachers’ working hours subscribe to one or more illusions. One of these is perhaps based on recollections of the kind of schooling that depended primarily on textbooks, workbooks and on matching words to pictures. A second might be the vision of a teacher standing before a group of “average students” who are all able to learn at roughly the same rate and in roughly the same way.

Teachers now stand before a group of individuals. Each of their learning styles, their needs, their contexts, abilities and disabilities needs identification, respect, modification and thought. In one split class of 29 students, I was faced with 19 different “labels,” nine of which required completely individualized education plans. After countless meetings and forms, at June’s end that particular year, I waved good-bye to a group who seemed not to be significantly hampered by my inability to meet their needs. I, on the other hand, was mute with both exhaustion and a sense of personal failure.

Given the expectation of individualization, textbooks (where updated versions exist in sufficient numbers) have become only semi-useful tools of instruction. Many teachers run, by necessity, a “resource-based classroom.” This involves locating, evaluating, modifying and adapting material wherever you can find it. When two parents asked for homework in advance so as to pack it along on a trip to Disneyland, I suggested that they would need to make room for me. “I’m the program,” I said. “What time do we leave?”

Discussing this often inspires lectures from experts on education, most of whom work at jobs outside the field — like my Uncle Bob, for example. He had 40 or 50 kids in his room and his teacher carried a stick and wasn’t afraid to use it. He refers to these times as “the good old days,” which is why no one wants Uncle Bob at Thanksgiving dinner.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll

When did I get so conservative that I wanted to skip the class debating session and work on negative integers instead? Well, the day I intervened to stop a vote on who was hotter, Hillary Duff or Britney Spears, that’s when.

The voice in my head says, “I
can’t believe I’m talking about this with 30 twelve-year-olds and I REALLY can’t believe that kid just asked that question in public. Is this something to discuss openly? In a classroom? Is my face red? Is this really in the curriculum?”

Yes, it is. Everything is: reading, writing, arithmetic, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

The hat rack

Teacher training programs provide hats, which are trendy in style, to suit the basic tasks of daily organization, instruction and assessment. There are many of them, but they’re quickly outdated. Then teachers add their own new hats in the day-to-day dealings with 30 students, which we wear proudly into staff rooms: “Hey! Check out my new counsellor cap!” Each new one makes us feel as though we have responded, made a difference in young lives.

We collect more hats in our service to school-based managers, formerly known as principals. The boards themselves, who often speak as though CEOs of a publicly traded company, remind our captains never to remove their “fiduciary duty” fedoras. Where budgets rule, the quality of leadership is determined by numbers.

By year three, my headgear had expanded from the day-wear of a classroom teacher into the evening-wear of other roles: Attender of Many Meetings (some of which are called to cancel the initiatives announced at the last), Neurologist, Pharmacist, Public Speaker, Filer of Documentation, Punching Bag, Conscientious Objector. . . .

As I sat at home one night ignoring my own kids while polishing my union helmet before another evening meeting, it finally hit me. “Hey! This is just another hat!”

Flip flopping

In theory, schooling is about “the basics,” and in reality, at report card time at least, it returns to those roots. Between this tri-annual grounding, however, schooling has become very much about the societal ill du jour and about ideology. What’s on the talk show tonight may well be in your classroom in the form of a draft document by the end of the week. Then cancelled shortly after. I recall gulping down supper before heading off to do an evening workshop on “How to read your Year 2000 report card.” My fork froze halfway to my mouth when I heard Mike Harcourt announce on the TV news that the Year 2000 program was dead.

Though not funny at all really, it became a form of entertainment for my teacher wife and I. “Wait for it!” we would say, while listening to a talk or call-in show. Sure enough, someone would say, “Schools need to do more about this.”

Of course, schools need to address the ills of a society. It’s just that some of these ills are diagnosed awfully quickly and the prescription tends often to be a program apparently hashed out in the back of a cab on the way to a booksellers’ convention.

If the governments used the same method to plan public health as they do for education, medical treatments would be determined by the callers to yesterday’s phone-in show.

‘Flexibility’

My son, at seven years of age, got mad at me for referring to my students as “my kids.” “They’re not your kids, Dad,” he said. “I am.”

I tried to keep that fact in front of me afterward when trying to manage how much of my life became occupied with the dilemmas of the troubled little souls I dealt with. It didn’t work. “My students” came to inhabit my thoughts, my planning and my approach to what was needed as surely as my own kids did. Sometimes, in those cases where students were in serious trouble or seriously troubled by their own circumstances, where I was not getting through, they took up even more space in my head. What was I to do — adopt them? No room in the house.

I took to phoning those radio talk shows instead. “Listen,” I said. “If you’re going to ask teachers to deal with all the complex issues and dynamics of the day (in between the regular public bashings, that is), you’re going to need smaller classes. There’s a reason that people don’t have 30 kids when they decide to raise a family.”

The answer to this demand, sadly, was a new 2002 contract that replaced class size limits with “flexibility.”

Feeding the students

By at least one measure, B.C. tops the provinces with the highest rate of child poverty. Those who dispute the numbers might visit what now constitutes a typical classroom. Depending on the locale, you will find an alarming number of children coming to elementary school without proper wear on cold days, without nutritious — or any — lunch, without sleep, without acquaintance with books and quite likely, without the slightest conviction that their schooling might change anything about their contexts and choices. The children of poverty require you to work at the level of need for which a degree in social work might have been better preparation. And when you have a choice between finding a warm spot for a kid to eat the school-provided, clandestine lunch or finding a replacement bulb for the overhead projector you need for the afternoon lesson on addition, it’s the math that goes by the wayside.

Until, that is, the quiet and loud demands for care become overwhelming and you realize you don’t feel you are making the kind of difference that needs to be made. You can too easily relate to the prejudice promoted by conservative governments and think-tanks. You begin sounding like someone else, speaking resentfully of “all these needs.”

Getting revenge

When I was a student, my own experience of schooling was mostly abysmal. Part of the rationale for becoming a teacher, I have always claimed, was “revenge.” I thought the best way to overcome the bitterness I felt was to join the ranks and do the job better, make schools better. Ten years into the profession, I recognized in myself an exhaustion akin to that which my Grade 11 social studies teacher must have been feeling when he had us spend the year copying notes from a textbook while he sat reading the newspaper at his desk.

Though I spent very little time at my desk — and no part of my day on “personal reading,” I asked a friend for a favour when I saw the potential for burn-out coming on. “When you see me starting to fizzle, when you see that look that says, ‘Please kill me’ on my students’ faces, tell me,” I said. I didn’t want to stick around and torture kids more than the general experience of life in school already burdens some of them.

Unfortunately, my friend left town too soon. It became my own responsibility to spot the signs and, sure enough, they accumulated. Meeting-by-meeting, form-by-form, minister-by-minister, and kid-by-kid. So I left.

I have great admiration for those who remain to fight with the kind of wide-ranging involvement energy, time and conviction required. As for me, I volunteer in my children’s own schools now and I write thank-you notes to their teachers at the slightest provocation. Perhaps I’ll give it another try someday, but only after practicing the mantra it seems to require: “It’s just a job. It’s just a job. It’s just a job.”

Shaun Cunningham was a B.C. elementary school teacher for 15 years, who recently moved to New Brunswick. This week, he started substitute teaching in his daughter’s school.

Class War: A Labour Day Greeting Card!

Last year at Labour Day I wrote about how I began reading Mark Steyn’s pearls of shit.

He was waxing on about how the world is so great and technology will save us and humans can trump an instant karma planet that may not endure us much longer. We should all stop whining and have faith in the Fortune 500 R&D divisions to conjure up the next fuel for global pillaging.

But class war is on my mind this year. And since it’s Labour Day, it’s important to point out that your labour is worth more shit and less value than ever before in recent generations. AND IT’S OUR FAULT because we are letting “them” do it to “us.”

And I know that it sounds like the “typical” bleeding heart anti-establishment tone to blame some “them” but there is a “them”, and Greg Palast has defined “them” quite neatly [see his whole piece below]. And as much as all this data relates to the USA, Canada is a syncophantic replica of this economic beast.

Just a few timbits of a sense of “them”:

50.4% = amount of US income earned by the richest quintile

5.9% = the amount the US median income dropped since Bush’s election-rigging machine stole the White House

83% = the amount of stock market shares owned by the richest US quintile

53% = the amount of stock market shares owned by the richest 1% of the US

3% = the amount of all US private assets owned by the poorest 50% of Americans

As a country’s economy grows and wealth increases, the Gini Index measures the income disparity within that nation. One of the things that demonstrates who gets the benefit from economic increases is to examine the relationship between wages and productivity. When a nation’s productivity increases, you would think that the wages of the workers who are producing more effectively would reflect that improvement.

Since 2003, the reverse has happened in the US. Productivity increased while median wages declined 2% after adjusting for inflation. In the first half of the decade, worker compensation [wage plus benefits] has been half of US productivity increases. However, the share of wage income earned by the richest 1% of Americans nearly doubled to 11.2% in the last 30 years.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the [US’s] gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s.” Wages 6 months ago reflected just 45% of the US GDP, while 36 years ago wages represented 53.6% of their GDP. In fact, a Goldman Sachs report concluded, “the most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor’s share of national income.

Corporate profits are predominantly earned by the richest quintile of Americans these days. They are “them”.

Since last summer, however, the value of workers’ benefits has also failed to keep pace with inflation, according to government data.

Dividends per share rise when large and small corporations cut benefits to workers. Dividends are largely distributed to the top income quintile of Americans.

But maybe “them” have been hurting by this as well. “At the very top of the income spectrum, many workers have continued to receive raises that outpace inflation, and the gains have been large enough to keep average income and consumer spending rising.” OK, maybe not.

But why is it so easy to blame “us” for “them” screwing us out of living or just wages?

If you think people deserve a share in the value or wealth they create, you understand the Labour Theory of Value, and you are in good company with two of the fathers of capitalism: Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Sadly, though, neoliberal free trade economics of global corporate neofeudal rape and pillage reject such quaint notions and liken you–in your support of the Labour Theory of Value–to Karl Marx: not so much a fan of classical or neoliberal economics.

And when I say that it’s our fault that we continue to allow ourselves to be abused by the richest quintile or 1% of Americans [or Canadians or OECD world], it is because of how Marx connected the Labour Theory of Value to social order. More egalitarianism comes when more people are able to share in the fruit of their labour. This is not happening so much anymore. During the communism scares of the early 20th century, labour was able to make great gains in wages, benefits and social welfare as capital feared Red Revolutions across the industrial world. With the Evil Empire gone, and only a few marginalized “Red” nations remaining, there is less incentive to buy off labour.

Polls show that Americans are less dissatisfied with the economy than they were in the early 1980’s or early 90’s. Rising house and stock values have lifted the net worth of many families over the last few years, and interest rates remain fairly low.” Plus, “global trade, immigration, layoffs and technology — as well as the insecurity caused by them — appear to have eroded workers’ bargaining power. Trade unions are much weaker than they once were.

And then there’s Wheel of Fortune, reality television and the other elements of what make up today’s religion as the opiate of the masses. Class warfare belongs to another time and place. We see Hummers driving down our street and we think we’re in the blessed world of economic birthrights. “We” are “them” so warfare is against ourselves. Except the economic statistics show we’re being bled like the frog in the pot on a slow heat.

But then again, in a global sense, the OECD world is the world’s top economic quintile. If the workers of the industrialized world unite against our oppressors, that’s just us in the top 2-19% income group going after the top 1%. Is that really a class war?

Horatio Alger, Jr, 19th century American pulp novelist, championed the great American rags to riches dream. As long as the poorest four quintiles of North American population continue to think that we’re just one raise away from getting our Hummer, we will refuse to recognize that class politics that allow the irony-free American “president” to chuckle while claiming to be the president of the “haves” and the “have-mores”.

And if the Irish saved western civilization after the fall of Rome and through the Dark Ages, perhaps the ascendent political movements of Latin and South America with their focus on human over corporate centred economic development will save the myopic greed of the class rulers of North America.

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TODAY’S PIG IS TOMORROW’S BACON (a Labor Day recipe)

By Greg Palast
September, 3 2006

Some years from now, in an economic refugee relocation “Enterprise Zone,” your kids will ask you, “What did you do in the Class War, Daddy?”

The trick of class war is not to let the victims know they’re under attack. That’s how, little by little, the owners of the planet take away what little we have.

This week, Dupont, the chemical giant, slashed employee pension benefits by two-thirds. Furthermore, new Dupont workers won’t get a guaranteed pension at all — and no health care after retirement. It’s p
art of Dupont’s new “Die Young” program, I hear. Dupont is not in financial straits. Rather, the slash attack on its workers’ pensions was aimed at adding a crucial three cents a share to company earnings, from $3.11 per share to $3.14.

So Happy Labor Day.

And this week, the government made it official: For the first time since the Labor Department began measuring how the American pie is sliced, those in the top fifth of the wealth scale are now gobbling up over half (50.4%) of our nation’s annual income.

So Happy Labor Day.

We don’t even get to lick the plates. While 15.9% of us don’t have health insurance (a record, Mr. President!), even those of us who have it, don’t have it: we’re spending 36% more per family out of pocket on medical costs since the new regime took power in Washington. If you’ve actually tried to collect from your insurance company, you know what I mean.

So Happy Labor Day.

But if you think I have nothing nice to say about George W. Bush, let me report that the USA now has more millionaires than ever — 7.4 million! And over the past decade, the number of billionaires has more than tripled, 341 of them!

If that doesn’t make you feel like you’re missing out, this should: You, Mr. Median, are earning, after inflation, a little less than you earned when Richard Nixon reigned. Median household income — and most of us are “median” — is down. Way down.

Since the Bush Putsch in 2000, median income has fallen 5.9%.

Mr. Bush and friends are offering us an “ownership” society. But he didn’t mention who already owns it. The richest fifth of America owns 83% of all shares in the stock market. But that’s a bit misleading because most of that, 53% of all the stock, is owned by just one percent of American households.

And what does the Wealthy One Percent want? Answer: more wealth. Where will they get it? As with a tube of toothpaste, they’re squeezing it from the bottom. Median paychecks have gone down by 5.9% during the current regime, but Americans in the bottom fifth have seen their incomes sliced by 20%.

At the other end, CEO pay at the Fortune 500 has bloated by 51% during the first four years of the Bush regime to an average of $8.1 million per annum.

So who’s winning? It’s a crude indicator, but let’s take a peek at the Class War body count.

When Reagan took power in 1980, the One Percent possessed 33% of America’s wealth as measured by capital income. By 2006, the One Percent has swallowed over half of all America’s assets, from sea to shining sea. One hundred fifty million Americans altogether own less than 3% of all private assets.

Yes, American middle-class house values are up, but we’re blowing that gain to stay alive. Edward Wolff, the New York University expert on income, explained to me that, “The middle class is mortgaging itself to death.” As a result of mortgaging our new equity, 60% of all households have seen a decline in net worth.

Is America getting poorer? No, just its people, We the Median. In fact, we are producing an astonishing amount of new wealth in the USA. We are a lean, mean production machine. Output per worker in BushAmerica zoomed by 15% over four years through 2004. Problem is, although worker productivity keeps rising, the producers are getting less and less of it.

The gap between what we produce and what we get is widening like an alligator’s jaw. The more you work, the less you get. It used to be that as the economic pie got bigger, everyone’s slice got bigger too. No more.

The One Percent have swallowed your share before you can get your fork in.

The loot Dupont sucked from its employees’ retirement funds will be put to good use. It will more than cover the cost of the company directors’ decision to hike the pension set aside for CEO Charles Holliday to $2.1 million a year. And that’s fair, I suppose: Holliday’s a winning general in the class war. And shouldn’t the winners of war get the spoils?

Of course, there are killjoys who cling to that Calvinist-Marxist belief that a system forever fattening the richest cannot continue without end. Professor Michael Zweig, Director of the State University of New York’s Center for Study of Working Class Life, put it in culinary terms: “Today’s pig is tomorrow’s bacon.”

The Futility of the Left-Right Political Spectrum

The left-right spectrum is pretty obsolete, what with right wing w.Caesar running crazy deficits to undermine government’s ability to meddle with individual freedom to become rich and free from social regulation and left wing governments pledging to balance budgets: typically the reverse of the old Cold War Keynesian days.

In November of 2002 a friend sent me a link to a site, Political Compass, to do a survey to see where I would live on a two-dimensional spectrum consisting of left-right and authoritarian-libertarian, like so:

The next two images show estimates of where other well-known people could be on this spectrum.

Currently:

So 2.5 years ago I did the survey and ended up in the bottom left quadrant:

These days, as I get older and wiser and parental and more mature and more committed to the establishment I did the survey again to find myself–shock–even more radical:

Ultimately, I think everyone ought to swing by this website, Political Compass, to see where they are. The sooner we get more and more people releasing themselves from the tyranny of a 1-dimensional political spectrum, the better. The next task will be to create 3 and 4-dimensional models.

Real Soap, “Real” Beauty, “Real” Feminism?

Dove soap’s Campaign for Real Beauty is very interesting to me. I’ve seen the billboards and I appreciate their attempt to legitimize beauty beyond what we’re brainwashed with in Maxim, Playboy, Baywatch and the like.

But I’m not so sure about Dove. I’m not so sure that even if their soap products, etc. are stupendous that I respect them co-opting a legitimate debate for corporate ends. True, they may be spurring some to expand their sense of beauty, but underlying Maxim, Playboy, Baywatch and Dove is the consumerist necessity of defining for us what we want so we can buy it from one company, as opposed to the other.

So cynically–or perhaps realistically–Dove is merely engaging us in clever market segmentation: they are the soap for people who don’t wish to recognize any legitimacy in stereotyped constructions of beauty. How post-modern of them.

Then there’s the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, that helps “girls all over the world to overcome everyday beauty pressures.” Right. Again, Dove may be god’s gift to women’s dermatological health, but do we really want Dove being in charge of this dialogue? They sure want to be in charge of it. Great viral PR [we’re encouraged to invite friends to the website]. In fact, instead of them actually having to advertise to you about how great they are in funding socially-conscious projects, we end up seeking that information from them. It’ll stick to us better that way because we want to know about them. The cosmetics and health products industries are prime culprits in destroying women’s self-esteem. How ironic–or socially healing?–of Dove to try to rectify this. Either way, they will probably sell more soap.

Happily for Dove, 2 of the 5 items listed as success stories for the Self-Esteem Fund are photo exhibitions they created themselves.

It may be terrible to rub this in, but Dove is even doing market research on us as we navigate their site. In providing information about their motives [thoroughly altruistic sounding, of course–remember, they’re on our side!], they ration the information so that we need to click to further screens for elaboration. They end up with a good sense of just how much each of us is interested in various depths of information. This information about us can be combined with a log of all pages we visit on their site [including the time we spend between clicking through pages] to give them a pretty wonderful sense of how much we care to know. Heck, even I track my access logs to examine reading/clicking habits on my site [anonymously, though, because I collect nothing about yall but IP numbers]; I’ve got to believe Dove does it too. Worse still, if we actually log in and supply demographic data when we create our profile on the site [assuming a certain percentage of those signing up are not lying], they get an even broader sense of us, despite their claim that they only collect navigation data anonymously and in the aggregate. And what is our benefit from all this? Better soap? Better self-esteem through Dove products?

Even more cynically, perhaps, how many of the people taking part in the definition of beauty discussions on that site are Dove lackeys spinning conversation in defined PR areas? If I were running this campaign, I wouldn’t leave the discussion board completely at the mercy of regular normal people without having my branding agents subtly making it all worthwhile.

So then I dug through my hard drive to find the August 1992 update of the soc.feminism faq that defines various flavours of feminism to see which ones would support Dove’s campaign and which ones would condemn it. The updated faq of Different Flavours of Feminism is more useful.

Applying each flavour to Dove’s campaign will require great thought: more than I can accomplish without a few more days/weeks of mental meandering. [Maybe in the meantime I’ll write something in here about the disaster of w.Caesar’s election. Or not]

For now, until you follow the link to the full faq with descriptions of the flavours, here they are, listed:

Amazon Feminism

Anarcho-Feminism

Cultural Feminism

Erotic Feminism

Eco-Feminism

Feminazi

Feminism and Women of Color

Individualist, or Libertarian Feminism

Lesbianism

Liberal Feminism

Marxist and Socialist Feminism

Material Feminism

Moderate Feminism

‘pop-feminism’

Radical Feminism

Separatists

Men’s Movements:

Feminist Men’s Movement

Men’s Liberation Movement

Mythopoetic Men’s Movement

The New Traditionalists

The Father’s Movements

Finis

Afghanistan, September 11, 2002 and Land Mines

Afghanistan signs the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel mines on September 11, 2002 while Iraq, Israel and the USA (and 46 others) still have not.

With North America (at least) dwelling on commemorative events surrounding the first anniversary of September 11, 2001, odd ironies were at play elsewhere in the world as that day, Afghanistan signed the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel mines.

There are still unanswered questions about who is functionally in charge of Afghanistan (and if the big W is pulling strings, or the big W’s string pullers, whatever) and why that day was chosen. What kind of political value would there be, and for who, to orchestrate that event on that key day? Is it a sign of the White House’s total domination of the enemy that is/was Afghanistan that they signed on that day?

146 countries have signed, ratified, or agreed to be bound by the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, also known as the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel mines. They are listed here.

49 countries haven’t signed the treaty as of this month, including some notables: Iraq, Israel, and the USA.

And while political posturing prevents more countries from signing, Canada’s light shines as an example of how other states COULD operate.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham attributes, “much of the remarkable progress achieved to date to an unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination between governments, international organizations and NGOs.”

I wonder who will sign on September 11, 2003.