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Modern School

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Member since: Sun Dec 12, 2010, 01:09 PM
Number of posts: 794

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The Knights of Labor Founded Today in 1869 (Brief History)

The Knights of Labor (KOL), officially known as the "Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor," was founded on December 28, 1869, when both American capitalism and the labor movement were young and relatively disorganized. It began as a secret society, but quickly grew into the largest and most significant labor organization in the U.S. by the 1880s. The Knights are considered by many to be a predecessor to the more well-known Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Like its more radical cousin, the IWW, the KOL called for the abolition of the wage system and fought to organize all workers into one big union, including women and immigrants. And, like the IWW, one of the KOL’s slogans was, “An Injury to One is the Concern of All.”

The KOL was founded by seven members of the Philadelphia tailors' union, led by Uriah Smith Stephens and James L. Wright. However, the Knights’ most rapid growth occurred under the leadership of Terence Powderly, who replaced Stephens as Grand Master, and convinced the organization to give up its secrecy. The Knights originally denounced strikes, socialism, anarchism and radicalism. Yet the organization became a hotbed of radicalism, with members that included Daniel De Leon, who would go on to later cofound the IWW and lead the Socialist Labor Party, as well as Albert Parsons and other future Haymarket martyrs. Furthermore, as the organization grew, it began to launch and win its own strikes (due primarily to the overwhelming demand of its membership, which was far more radical than its leadership), including the Union Pacific Railroad strike in 1884 and the Wabash Railroad strike in 1885. The success of these strikes inspired hundreds of thousands of workers to join the organization in just one year, mushrooming from 100,000 in 1885 to nearly 700,000 members in 1886.


One of the things that made the KOL so successful and so significant is that, unlike the majority of trade unions of the time (and today), they reached out to all working people, not just those in a single trade. Their assemblies included workers from all industries, skilled and unskilled, women as well as men, and blacks as well as whites. They fought for equal pay for equal work, the 8-hour day, and the abolition of child and convict labor.

The Knights of Labor were closely identified with the Great Upheaval and rail strikes of 1877. Though the workers were ultimately defeated in this mass working class uprising, the KOL was still seen by many as their best bet against capital, in part for their victories early in the revolt, and membership in the organization gradually began to rise during this era. Chicago’s branch of the KOL was inaugurated in the wake of the Great Upheaval and included many of the city’s leading radicals. The Chicago KOL initially supported socialist and “pro-labor” candidates and won some early favors from Mayor Carter Harrison.

Over time, however, Chicago capitalists pressured Harrison to take a harder line on labor, leading to increasing violence by the police against striking workers. At the same time, the capitalists were replacing skilled laborers with machines whenever possible. These trends contributed to the growing radicalization of the labor movement. Many began to see trade unionism as a dead end, as it isolated workers by trade and focused on untrustworthy politicians. More and more looked to the Knights, not only for the class solidarity the organization provided, but because of its recent victory against Robber Baron Jay Gould’s Wabash Railroad. By mid-1886, workers were joining the KOL at the rate of 1,000 per week.

The Knights of Labor were full of contradictions. While they espoused class solidarity and the abolition of the wage system, their leadership criticized the militant tactics of the anarchists and even called for summary punishment for those “responsible” for the Haymarket bombing, despite the fact that there wasn’t a shred of evidence linking any of the 8 Haymarket suspects to the bombing. Ultimately, when it became clear that it was a legal lynching by a kangaroo court, the rank-and-file of the KOL pushed for a new leadership that defended the Haymarket anarchists as victims of a labor witch hunt.

The Knights also had a mixed history in terms of race and immigrant laborers. They accepted women and black workers as early as 1878, yet they tolerated segregation in the South (including in their own assemblies) and Asians were often excluded. The Knights organized black sugar cane workers in Thibodaux, Louisiana. However, their 1887 sugarcane strike turned into a race riot, in which white vigilantes slaughtered between 50 and 300 unarmed black sugarcane workers. The event is known as the Thibodaux massacre. While some might blame this tragedy on naiveté and poor organizing by a union that otherwise was a supporter of black workers, their attitude toward Chinese immigrants was notoriously hostile. In Tacoma, Washington, the KOL worked to expel the city’s Chinese population and white members of the Knights participated in the Rock Springs massacre in Wyoming, which led to the deaths of 28 Chinese Americans. They also strongly supported the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Contract Labor Law.

Powderly’s rabid hatred of radicals nearly killed the KOL, but his collaborationist wimpiness, authoritarian leadership and general mismanagement ultimately did the organization in. In 1886, for example, he intervened in a packinghouse workers strike, ordering workers back on the job when a compromise with the bosses appeared imminent. He feared that a strike at this point would have led to a wave of strikes that could have crippled the organization. This may have been true, but only because his disdain for strikes prevented the necessary organizing and preparation. Yet his weakness and unwillingness to fight led the defeat of the packers and contributed to the mass exodus of workers from the organization that effectively killed the Knights anyway.

He also withdrew KOL support for the May 1, 1886 General Strike that had been called in Chicago to fight for the 8-hour day. This certainly weakened the Knights, as the fight for the 8-hour day had grown into a national movement, supported by working people of all persuasions including many mainstream trade unions, as well as socialists and anarchists. Yet the ruling elite were blaming outsiders, foreign radicals, bomb-throwing anarchists, in hopes of diffusing support for the movement, and Powderly, who was still viciously anti-radical, hoped to rescue the image of his organization by distancing it from the movement, even though the Knights had been early supporters of the 8-hour day.

There were also numerous disputes between skilled trade unionists in the KOL, who wanted an organization that represented primarily their relatively privileged status, and industrial unionists, who wanted an organization that built solidarity between all workers in a given industry. The latter, of course, has greater potential to win strikes, as it makes it harder to pit workers against each other, but it requires organizing the so-called “unskilled” and “semi-skilled” workers, who many believed couldn’t be organized. The IWW, which was an industrial union, later proved that it was possible and very effective to organize these workers.

Modern School (photos and video available, plus links)
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2011/12/knights-of-labor.html

Sources:
The Knights of Labor http://www.knightsoflabor.org/
The Lucy Parsons Project http://www.lucyparsonsproject.org/haymarket/schneirov_nights_of_labor.html
Libcom.org http://libcom.org/history/dynamite-louis-adamic-mayday
The Samuel Gompers Papers http://www.history.umd.edu/Gompers/KOL.htm
Wikipediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_Labor
Posted by Modern School | Wed Dec 28, 2011, 05:07 PM (0 replies)

Evidence Links Live Poultry Markets to Human H5N1 Infection

China’s wet markets (live food markets) have long been suspected of being reservoirs for the deadly H5N1 avian flu. The scientific evidence supporting this hypothesis has just been published in the December 2011 Journal of Virology.

Scientists sequenced the H5N1 virus from live bird markets in China and were able to match it to sequences of H5N1 found in patients who had recently visited the live bird markets. They picked up 69 environmental samples from cages, floors and ditches at six wet markets during the 2008-2009 flu season, finding H5N1 at four of the markets. The genetic sequence of the environmental samples had a greater than 99% correspondence to human isolates, according to the Medical Express blog.

These findings are important because they support improving veterinary monitoring and control of the wet markets and quicker culling when infections are identified. H5N1 is still primarily passed to directly humans through infected animals and has a 60% mortality rate among infected humans. However, because the wet markets facilitate the comingling of numerous different species, including fowl and pigs, they are a likely breeding ground for a deadly genetic reassortment that could make the virus easily transmissible between people.

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2011/12/evidence-links-live-poultry-markets-to.html
Posted by Modern School | Thu Dec 22, 2011, 07:33 PM (0 replies)

Deadly New Man-Made Flu Could Wipe Out Millions

A group of scientists is preparing to publish research on how they created a man-made version of the H5N1 Avian Influenza virus that could potentially wipe out millions of people, the Daily Mail reported this week. (An article on the research was also published in the journal Science this month: vol 334, No. 6060, p1192-3, December 2, 2011).

The naturally occurring H5N1 is deadly enough, with a human mortality rate of 60%. Fortunately, it is not easily transmissible between people, keeping the morbidity (infection rate) extremely low (less than 1,000 cases world-wide). Virtually all human cases so far have resulted from direct contact between people and infected animals. However, scientists have feared that the existing strains of H5N1 could easily mutate or pick up new genes through genetic reassortment, making the virus easily transmissible between people and potentially catastrophic.

The new lab-created virus is precisely this: a genetically altered version of H5N1 bird flu strain that is easily transmissible between ferrets. Almost all known influenzas that are transmissible between people are also transmissible between ferrets, making them good animal models for studying human influenzas. Thus, the scientists believe their altered strain is also transmissible between people.

If this strain were to escape the lab, accidentally or maliciously, hundreds of millions of people could die. The 1919 flu pandemic killed between 50 and 100 million people at a time when the world population was only a fraction of its current size and when plane travel was relatively uncommon. Exacerbating conditions today are the growth of mega-slums (like in Mumbai, Kinshasa, Cairo and Port-au-Prince), with hundreds of thousands of people living crammed together, and the growth of mega-farms, with tens of thousands of animals living crammed together, often near densely populated cities.

Many scientists are saying that the research never should have been done and the results should certainly not be published because it would provide access to terrorists. In fact, one scientist, Paul Keim, from the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), said he couldn’t think of another pathogen as scary as this one, adding that anthrax isn’t scary at all in comparison. Others believe the research was a necessary breakthrough in understanding how the virus evolves and that it could provide important clues for veterinary and viral monitoring and vaccine development. The risk of a naturally occurring deadly influenza pandemic is real, relatively high and a far bigger threat than a terrorist-created strain, some virologists have argued, thus justifying such research.

The research team, led by virologist Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands, found that just five mutations were sufficient to make the virus spread more easily. Similar data was uncovered by another team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the University of Tokyo. Fouchier’s alterations made the virus easily spread through the air without reducing its lethality, Scientific American reported.

The NSABB is reviewing both papers, but does not have the authority to block publication. It could ask journals not to publish or recommend that key details be left out of any possible publication so as not to give a roadmap to potential terrorists.


Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2011/12/deadly-new-man-made-flu-could-wipe-out.html
Posted by Modern School | Thu Dec 22, 2011, 07:31 PM (2 replies)

Deadly New Man-Made Flu Could Wipe Out Millions

A group of scientists is preparing to publish research on how they created a man-made version of the H5N1 Avian Influenza virus that could potentially wipe out millions of people, the Daily Mail reported this week. (An article on the research was also published in the journal Science this month: vol 334, No. 6060, p1192-3, December 2, 2011).

The naturally occurring H5N1 is deadly enough, with a human mortality rate of 60%. Fortunately, it is not easily transmissible between people, keeping the morbidity (infection rate) extremely low (less than 1,000 cases world-wide). Virtually all human cases so far have resulted from direct contact between people and infected animals. However, scientists have feared that the existing strains of H5N1 could easily mutate or pick up new genes through genetic reassortment, making the virus easily transmissible between people and potentially catastrophic.

The new lab-created virus is precisely this: a genetically altered version of H5N1 bird flu strain that is easily transmissible between ferrets. Almost all known influenzas that are transmissible between people are also transmissible between ferrets, making them good animal models for studying human influenzas. Thus, the scientists believe their altered strain is also transmissible between people.

If this strain were to escape the lab, accidentally or maliciously, hundreds of millions of people could die. The 1919 flu pandemic killed between 50 and 100 million people at a time when the world population was only a fraction of its current size and when plane travel was relatively uncommon. Exacerbating conditions today are the growth of mega-slums (like in Mumbai, Kinshasa, Cairo and Port-au-Prince), with hundreds of thousands of people living crammed together, and the growth of mega-farms, with tens of thousands of animals living crammed together, often near densely populated cities.

Many scientists are saying that the research never should have been done and the results should certainly not be published because it would provide access to terrorists. In fact, one scientist, Paul Keim, from the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), said he couldn’t think of another pathogen as scary as this one, adding that anthrax isn’t scary at all in comparison. Others believe the research was a necessary breakthrough in understanding how the virus evolves and that it could provide important clues for veterinary and viral monitoring and vaccine development. The risk of a naturally occurring deadly influenza pandemic is real, relatively high and a far bigger threat than a terrorist-created strain, some virologists have argued, thus justifying such research.

The research team, led by virologist Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands, found that just five mutations were sufficient to make the virus spread more easily. Similar data was uncovered by another team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the University of Tokyo. Fouchier’s alterations made the virus easily spread through the air without reducing its lethality, Scientific American reported.

The NSABB is reviewing both papers, but does not have the authority to block publication. It could ask journals not to publish or recommend that key details be left out of any possible publication so as not to give a roadmap to potential terrorists.


Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2011/12/deadly-new-man-made-flu-could-wipe-out.html
Posted by Modern School | Thu Dec 22, 2011, 07:31 PM (0 replies)

Schools and Communities Lose By Outsourcing Lunch Services

Public schools get about $1 billion worth of free surplus fruits, vegetables, meat and cheese from the USDA each year which, instead of preparing into healthy fresh meals, they outsource to large corporate food processors like Aramark and Sodexo. The “logic” of this system is that it is supposed to save schools money on labor costs and economies of scale. In reality, schools do not save money in this scam, according to Lucy Komisar, when the fees charged by the food processors and supply costs are factored in.

Komisar notes that roughly one-fourth of the school nutrition program has been privatized and outsourced, primarily to just a few food giants, like Sodexo, Aramark, Chartwells, Tyson and Pilgrim’s. Of the $1 billion in free surplus foods given to schools each year, close to half is sent out for processing (a 50% increase since 2006) to make things like chicken nuggets, tater tots and pizza. Yet, instead of saving money, schools are paying kickbacks and other fees to these companies and getting little more than junk food in return.

Komisar points to research by Roland Zulio, from the University of Michigan, who found that the amount of money Michigan schools spent on fees and supplies for this service was roughly equal to the amount they saved on labor and food costs, yielding no net savings for the schools. If one adds in the “external” costs, like the particulate air pollution and extra carbon added to the atmosphere caused by trucking these foods long distances, or the unionized local chef jobs lost to outsourced non-union corporate assembly lines, school lunches are a serious rip-off.

In his research, Zulio specifically noted that Chartwells (though this is likely true for the other processors, as well) was able to cut costs by slashing benefits for workers, but that these savings were not passed on to schools. He also discovered a correlation between low test scores and the degree to which school lunches were privatized, speculating that perhaps the excess fat, salt and sugar were impairing student achievement. However, it is also possible that low income schools are relying more heavily on food outsourcing than affluent schools and that the low test scores are due more to students’ socioeconomic backgrounds than their school lunches.

By outsourcing their food, fresh and wholesome ingredients are transformed into foods with the “same nutritional value as junk foods,” according to a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWF). The RWJ report found that over 50% of commodity foods are sent to processors first, where fat, sugar and sodium are added before being sent back to schools. In California, the report notes, over 82% of commodity food funds are spent on meat and cheese whereas only 13% is spent on fruits and vegetables.

While the RWJ report is a little old (2008) and things may have changed slightly in California and the nation as a whole, the fact remains that the bulk of school lunches do get heavily processed and outsourced to food giants like Aramark and Sodexo, making the foods less healthy while providing schools with no economic benefit.

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2011/12/schools-and-communities-lose-by.html
Posted by Modern School | Thu Dec 22, 2011, 07:12 PM (0 replies)

Proms and Frat Parties Seem Like Best Years of Our Lives Due to “Reminiscence Bump”

Life Doesn't Get Any Better? (Image from Flickr, by Speedywithchicken)
Gary Stix published an interesting article on memory on the Scientific American blog on December 16. In his piece, he argues that there are three important truths about autobiographical memories: (1) we can’t remember what happened during the first few years of our lives; (2) we can remember greater details from yesterday than from ten years ago; and (3) the most lucid and lasting memories build up during the reminiscence bump, a period during late adolescence and early adulthood.

Numerous studies have identified this before, including one done by Francis Galton (Darwin’s cousin and an early proponent of eugenics) back in 1879. Stix identifies some recent studies which looked at people’s favorite books and when in their lives they were read. He also pointed to a study of Dutch football fans who, when asked to choose the greatest players of all time, tended to choose players who starred when the test subjects were 17. (The subjects were aged 16-80 and preferred Johan Crujiff, Pele and Diego Maradona).

The reminiscence bump may occur because we are able to form memories more easily during adolescence and because we are starting to develop an adult identity then. This is important for learning and teaching, both for young and for old, and is possibly at the root of the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” It may explain why adolescents are so quick to pick up on new technology, while older people often stick with older technologies, even when obsolete. It might also explain why so many people remember their high school and frat party exploits so vividly and adoringly, often calling them the “best years of my life,” trumping marriage, parenthood, homeownership, a successful career or a good night’s sleep.

Then again, what I remember most fondly about my high school and college life (I was proudly never in a frat) was the freedom from serious responsibilities and how carefree I was in those days. I love my wife and my son dearly and they bring me greater daily joy and comfort than I remember experiencing as a youth. I also love teaching. However, I never slept as well as I did in those days, nor have I ever felt so carefree since.

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2011/12/proms-and-frat-parties-seem-like-best.html
Posted by Modern School | Thu Dec 22, 2011, 07:10 PM (4 replies)

Pragmatism Beats Out Occupy and Bunga Bunga for Word of Year

Merriam-Webster is calling “pragmatic” the word of the year, saying there were more searches for this one word in 2011 than any other word, including “occupy,” according to the Daily Mail.

Searches for the term “pragmatic” spiked this past year when Congress voted to increase the debt ceiling and when its super committee tried to slash the deficit. This I found curious considering that the word “pragmatic” is far more useful, comprehensible and, one would think, more well-known than the words “deficit” or “debt ceiling.” But maybe Americans’ attention and curiosity glazed over once they got past the “pragmatism” that was being imposed on them by their rulers. Perhaps that was all they needed to know, that those who truly understand these things were simply creating a logical solution to incomprehensible problems, and that was good enough!

That “pragmatic” beat out “occupy” will surely be a disappointment to the 99%, who are certain that they truly are the 99% and that their favorite tactic, ”occupying” should therefore have received 99% of the votes, while “pragmatic,” which is clearly what the 1% want the 99% to be, should have only received 1% of the votes. This paradox may best be explained by the 99%’s confidence that they all know what they’re talking about already when they say they are “occupying” this and that. Therefore, the 99% don’t need to look up the word “occupy.” In contrast, as members of the 99% who are subject to the “pragmatism” being imposed by the 1%, they felt inclined to do a little homework and make sure that this “pragmatism” business really was in their best interests.

While the 99% are all certain that everyone understands the term “Occupy,” and are now using the term for most anything they want to change—Wall Street, Wal-Mart, Department of Education, internet, Republican minds, couches, Sesame Street—they seem to forget that their own government—which is to say, the 1%—has been “occupying” Iraq and Afghanistan for the past decade, not to mention Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Samoa for much longer. So, if we add together the occupations being carried out in the name of the 99% and those being carried out by the 1%, it would seem that everyone is occupying or being occupied.

Apropos (which, alas, was not one of the contenders this year) to ending military and imperialist occupations, two of my favorite pieces of political graffiti from the 1980s were: “U.S. out of America,” and the variant “U.S. out of my reproductive organs.” There were, of course, some nationalistic feminists in those days, one of whom spray-painted the following on a San Francisco wall: “Free Tampons, Not Kuwait.” Inspired by these retro-slogans, I would like to suggest some new slogans for the 2010s like: “Free Time, Not Markets!” or “In A Classless Society We Are All the 50%!”

This double use of the term “occupy” to mean something good that “the people” do to resist the “bad governments” that “occupy” other nations for “bad reasons,” reminds me of the term “collaborate,” which is supposedly a good thing that good teachers do to help their students, even though it is also a terrible thing that the Vichy government did to help the Nazis. Both “occupation” and “collaboration” can lead to repression, brutality and death for innocent people. In fact, the terms are quite connected in that occupiers rely on collaborators to help them achieve their goals. The Palestinian Authority has acted as a collaborator with the Israeli government in the suppression of the Palestinian people. The mainstream trade unions have acted as collaborators with the capitalists to ensure that working people stay on the job and accept compromises and take-backs that keep profits high and salaries low. Scabs collaborate with bosses to undermine strikes. Spies and informants collaborate with the police and military to undermine activist groups like OWS.

Teacher “collaboration” is a funny thing. The notion of a bunch of professionals sitting down together to brainstorm solutions to educational problems, develop innovative curriculum, and discuss the issues and needs of shared students certainly makes a lot of sense and seems worthwhile. However, the term “collaboration” in the context of education is a fraught, poorly defined and often abused term. It is commonly used to mean “embrace what I say and what I’m doing and graciously assist in it, whether or not you agree.” Teachers who ask too many questions, who point out logical inconsistencies or who critique reforms and policies are often accused of being “bad collaborators.” Teacher evaluations generally include how well they “collaborate,” a subjective observation that can be used to punish teachers who aren’t cheerleaders for the reform du jour.

Speaking of collaboration, what could be a greater collaboration than that between Hollywood and the public? Hollywood provides billions of dollars’ worth of mindless garbage for our consumption and we not only consume it hungrily, but stalk their stars’ every move, no matter how pitiful. Take “Tiger’s Blood,” another top contender for word of the year—a term I had no idea was now in the popular vernacular. I had to look this one up, being the out-of-touch OG (old guy) that I am and was delighted to discover that it came from a Tweet by Charlie Sheen. Tiger’s Blood, it seems, is what runs through his veins, somehow making him impervious to addiction (and likely contributing to both his inflated ego and his stupidity). The fact that this word went viral and was even considered for word of the year is testament to how desperate the American people are for a distraction to their miseries. Wetting oneself over royal weddings and scandals is pathetic enough, but following every ridiculous tweet by drunken Hollywood bottom feeders like Charlie Sheen??? Come on, people, get a life!

Speaking of getting a life, I would like to humbly (or humblebragly) request that those esteemed billionaires who seem to know so much about how to do my job, kindly eat feces and die. Yes, “humblebrag” was another top contender. According to Urban Dictionary, it means to subtly let other people know how fantastic you are by doing it in a self-deprecating manner, or self-promotion of the most despicable and loathsome sort, generally delivered via social media. An example of a “humblebrag” would be if I posted the following to my blog or Twitter feed: ”As everybody knows, teachers all come from the bottom one-third of their graduating classes. So the 4.0 GPA I earned was nothing compared with the 12.0 GPA’s earned by the overachievers at my university.”

My vote for the word of the year, however, has to go to an antiquated, but very evocative term that made a recent comeback. “Bunga bunga” dates back to 1910 or earlier, according to Wikipedia. However, it grew in popularity last year when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi used it to refer to his infamous orgies. Wikipedia says that “bunga bunga” may mean an underwater orgy, an African-style ritual performed by naked women for male spectators, with pole dancing and competitive stripteases by women dressed as nurses and cops. My guess is the term is a variation on bung or bunghole, as in having one’s head in the bung or “Whoops, Silvio’s stuck his tongue in the bung again.” Or, as Gargantua recited to Grangousier at the tender young age of five (In Rabelais’ political satire):

Thy Bung
Hath Flung
Some Dung
--On us

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2011/12/pragmatism-beats-out-occupy-and-bunga.html
Posted by Modern School | Thu Dec 22, 2011, 07:09 PM (1 replies)

Crippling the Right to Organize?

In an Op-Ed in the New York Times on December 15, William Gould (Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, 1994-1998) argued that American workers will lose their right to be represented by a union on New Year’s Day because the National Labor Relations Board will lose its quorum and therefore its ability to decide cases.

The Sky Is Not Falling On New Year’s Day (It’s Been Falling All Along)
In reality, the NLRB lost its quorum in 2008, when three of its five seats became vacant and Democrats and Republicans repeatedly blocked each other’s nominations. In March 2010, Obama made 2 recess appointments, which temporarily gave the body feet again, but those will expire at the end of the year. Thus, the NLRB has been crippled for years, with a brief and impotent respite in 2010. Its status in 2012, therefore, will be more of the same.

Without a functioning NLRB, Gould argues that employers will be able to interfere with union elections. They won’t have to recognize unions that have been supported by majority votes and they will be able to illegally fire workers and without being compelled to reinstate back pay.

All of these are terrible for workers, of course. The problem is that bosses have been doing these things for the past 70 years (particularly during the last 40 years, when employers started to exploit more loopholes in the National Labor Relations Act), even with a functioning NLRB, which exists as a sort of “supreme court” for labor conflicts. Like the Supreme Court, the NLRB has been subject to the same fluctuations and whims of presidential politics and has often ruled against the interests of workers. Even when “pro-union” officials have served on the NLRB, the board has functioned primarily to ensure that private business is allowed to operate with as few constraints as possible in their pursuit of profits. That is to say that even when it has forced employers to provide back pay or accept the results of a union election, the employers were still permitted to underpay and overwork their employees, while extracting huge profits from their labor.

A Union Is Only As Strong As Its Membership (Not Its National Laws)
The NLRB came into existence in 1935 with the passage of the Wagner Act, which came in response to years of labor unrest, including several major General Strikes in 1934 (e.g., San Francisco Waterfront, Minneapolis Teamsters, New England Textile workers, Toledo Auto-Lite) that left many workers dead and hundreds injured.

The Wagner Act and the NLRB were designed as bones to be tossed to the unions to make them more quiescent. The labor unrest, particularly the General Strikes, came at great cost to capital and the capitalists recognized that making a few small concessions, like allowing the right to organize and collectively bargain, not only would keep their employees on the job and making profits for them, but could also be used to manipulate union leadership and get them to be more compliant partners. Unions, too, would have new rules they would be expected to follow. Strikes could occur, but only after certain hoops had been jumped through. Arbitration, mediation, cooling off periods, fact-finding, are all ways to take the wind out of workers’ sails and chill their tempers, while keeping them in the factories making widgets for the bosses.

The Wagner Act and the new NLRB did give labor many new rights and privileges, but in the long-term it also took the teeth out of their movement. Admittedly, there was an upsurge in strikes and union organizing immediately after the passage of the act, but this subsided as the bosses learned how to manipulate the new laws and labor leaders were coopted. Even so, there were few General Strikes after the passage of the Wagner Act, with the Oakland General Strike of 1946 being the only notable exception.

Part of the problem was the unions themselves, which by this point were almost entirely oriented toward the self-interest of their own membership, rather than the interests of the working class as a whole, and a general acceptance of the existing social order. That is to say they accepted the right of a tiny minority of the population to maintain a monopoly on wealth and political power, as well as the inequality and privation that resulted. Indeed, they saw their bosses not as oppressors, but as benefactors whose existence was required in order for them to receive a paycheck, even if that paycheck was barely enough to pay the bills. This was in marked contrast to the perspective of revolutionary unions like the Industrial Workers of the World, who not only fought for short-term improvements in pay and working conditions, but for the long-term abolition of the wage system and bosses.

While there were numerous strike waves after the passage of the Wagner Act, particularly in the 1940s and 50s, unions began to use this tactic less and less, focusing more on political action (i.e., getting “their” guys elected to public office) and legal action (i.e., getting the NLRB to rule in their favor). This approach gave the bosses the clear advantage. They could do whatever they wanted in the workplace and then hope (or lobby) for a favorable ruling by the NLRB, keeping profits high and workers’ income low in the interim. They have far more money than the unions, which gives them the clear advantage in terms of getting their guys elected to office and in terms of stacking the NLRB in their favor. Furthermore, regardless of who is in office, the political and legal systems are both designed to favor capital over labor.

While political and legal actions are indirect and fickle means to achieve workers’ interests, direct action (e.g., strikes, boycotts, slow-downs, sabotage) places direct pressure on the bosses and is much more effective at achieving workers’ demands. It directly empowers workers, instead of leaving them at the mercy of political middlemen and bureaucrats. It reminds the ruling elite that their ability to rule is tenuous and not assured.

Prior to the Wagner Act, there were still unions and successful strikes. Workers could not count on the courts or governmental bodies to defend their interests, so they relied much more heavily on direct action. Labor can still do this and, in fact, has no other choice. Even with “pro-labor” representatives on the NLRB, labor had been steadily losing ground over the past 40 years. This was due in large part to labor’s unwillingness to emphasize organizing and direct action and its overemphasis of union resources on political and legal action, generally at the expense of organizing. With an eviscerated or nonexistent NLRB, perhaps unions will recognize this truth, and focus once again on their one true strength: their ability to withhold their labor.

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2011/12/crippling-right-to-organize.html
Posted by Modern School | Tue Dec 20, 2011, 11:22 PM (0 replies)

Academica: A Case Study In The Privatization of Public Education

Academica is Florida’s largest and richest Educational Management Organization (EMO), with over 60 schools, 20,000 students, and $158 million in annual revenue, the Miami Herald reported this week. It is also one of the largest in the country. The EMO is so successful, in fact, that their CEO, Fernando Zulueta, sends his principals to weekend “professional development” retreats at an exclusive resort in the Bahamas, complete with champagne and a casino.

According to the Herald, Academica receives more than $9 million a year in management fees just from its South Florida charter schools, all coming from public tax dollars. However, through two dozen other companies, Zulueta and his brother control more than $115 million in South Florida real estate which is leased to public schools at a profit (nearly $20 million per year), but which is exempt from property taxes. (Zulueta and his brother were both real estate developers prior to jumping on board the school privatization gravy train).

While it might seem extravagant to wine and dine public school principals as if they were CEOs or venture capitalists, some of Academica’s principals are also board members at other Academica schools, overseeing management contracts and real estate leases. Thus, they are important human assets in the management of Academica’s financial resources and, like bankers, are often rewarded for doing this well in the form of bonuses and perks that do not exist for traditional public school administrators.

Blurring The Lines Between For-Profit and Non-Profit
Proponents of school choice and charter schools often make the claim that there cannot be a profit motive when charter schools are run as non-profits. However, “non-profit” charter schools are often run by for-profit EMOs, as are many of Academica’s schools. In Florida, for example, Academica has four networks of schools that are each run by a nonprofit corporation. However, they lease from Zulueta’s companies and Academic routinely vets and recommends principals and other personnel, according to the Herald article. This has even included placing a lobbyist for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, a pro-charter association for which Zulueta serves as an officer, at the helm of one of Zulueta’s nonprofit school boards.

Squeezing Blood From Turnips
One might reasonably wonder how a private company can make so much money running public schools financed through tax dollars when school districts across the country are firing teachers, closing schools and shortening the school year due to shrinking budgets. For Academica (and many others), one source of profits is inflated rents and leases. Several Academica schools, for example, were paying rents for their facilities to Academica at a rate equal to 23% of their total revenue, when the average for Miami-Dade charter schools was only 13.5%. All this extra cash went directly into Academica profits, but it also meant less revenue was available for other expenses like teachers’ salaries, books, teaching supplies and equipment. In other words, less resources and services for the students means more profits for Zulueta.

Occupy the EMOs: The Wall Street Connection
Zulueta has built many of his schools through bonds sold to Wall Street investors, using the schools’ mortgages as collateral, including a $54 million bond in 2004. However, in 2009, Standard & Poor rescinded its rating of Academica bonds for “lack of information” on the company.

Zulueta also relies on a network of cronies to secure many of his land deals. For example, virtually all of his school construction and real estate deals have utilized the same “independent” appraiser to review the deals and the same “independent” attorney to negotiate them with the “independent” nonprofit districts, which calls into question their independence and credibility. The attorney, Charles Gibson, is on the board of the Theodore R. and Thelma A. Gibson Charter School, an Academica-run school founded by Gibson’s grandparents. In what could be seen as kickbacks, the school has received $415,000 in grants and loans from Academica.

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2011/12/academica-case-study-in-privatization.html
Posted by Modern School | Mon Dec 19, 2011, 09:53 PM (0 replies)

America Eats Its Young (And Some Of Its Old)

One out of every 13 California seniors aged 50 or older is at risk of hunger, according to a recent report the AARP Foundation (American Association of Retired Persons) reviewed in the Bay Citizen. However, according to the Columbus Dispatch, a similar number (7.5%) of seniors is at risk of hunger nationally. There has been a 79% increase in elder hunger over the past decade, with the greatest increase occurring between 2007 and 2009.

The seniors who are most at risk, not surprisingly, are the poor, blacks and Latinos, and those with few family connections. According to the Dispatch, only 2% of white seniors faced constant hunger, while 7% of black seniors did.

As disturbing as these numbers are, it is important to place them into the proper context. According to the USDA, 85.5% of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2010, meaning that they had access to sufficient food for all members of the household to live healthy and productive lives. This means that 14.5% of American households were not food secure, nearly double the rate for seniors, suggesting that as poor and hungry as our seniors are, the young are even worse off. According to the report, children were insecure at some times during 2010 in 9.8% of households, which was down slightly from 10.6% in 2009.

However, even these data do not reveal the full extent of the problem. Considering that many families have several children, the 9.8% of households with hungry children probably had several hungry children, or a rate of childhood hunger far higher than 9.8%. Indeed, according to the Feeding America website, 20% of the children in 40 states lived in food insecure households (32.3% in Washington, D.C. and 29.2% in Oregon) in 2009. Others report that as many as 1 in 4 American children go to bed hungry on a regular basis.

Of course it is deplorable that anyone is going hungry in what most Americans consider the richest and greatest country in the world. It is even worse that we allow our most vulnerable to starve. Yet, even with the increase in elder poverty and hunger, older Americans on average are still getting wealthier on the backs of younger Americans. Census and Pew Foundation reports indicate that while the incomes and wealth of younger Americans have stagnated or declined over the past few decades, those for baby boomers and the elderly have been increasing (see “Kid Janitors Don’t Solve Poverty,” by Mike Males). This has occurred through legislation, changes to the tax structure, cuts to social programs and general wage declines, particularly for those just entering the workforce.

This has resulted not only in a net decline in wealth and income for young adults, but hunger and privation for their children, since they are the one who are having children. However, the cuts that have allowed older Americans to increase their wealth have also affected low income seniors and they are hurting, as well (just not to the same extent as children and young adults).

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2011/12/america-eats-its-young-and-some-of-its.html
Posted by Modern School | Mon Dec 19, 2011, 09:51 PM (0 replies)
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