Sunday, February 20, 2011

Family Values: For My Parents

I came home today from our All-member union meeting. Once my son Andy and I got home I started to think about what I was going to do in protest of Gov. Walker's "budget repair bill."  This bill would elminate the right to collectively bargain for working conditions and benefits for a majority of public employees including teachers.  It would also limit compensation to nothing greater than that of the consumer price index. This means that as I stand, I would never stand to earn more to improve my own standard of living and that of my child's. Tens of thousands of Wisconsin educators are feeling the same way today (well, at least the informed ones).  I looked at Andy and felt an instant of despair for us.  This bill must not pass as it stands, not for my own personal benefit, but for that of all public employees, the working class, and the future for the children in our classrooms.

I thought of Andy and that I want him to know that when it counted most his mom stood for her convictions.

I thought of my parents. My dad took me to his union meetings when I was young and didn't know why we were there, but I would listen. My dad stands for his convictions even when we wish he would just sit down for a little bit.

I thought of my first lesson in empathy when I was in fourth grade and it was a presidential election year. While my parents were talking about the election over dinner, we got on the topic of Welfare. I asked them, as I had heard one of my classmates say at school, "Why can't people on Welfare just get a job and work too?" My mom looked at me and said, "If something happened to me or your dad and we couldn't work for a living, wouldn't you want help for us too?" I was quiet after that. I understood that my parents were willing to pay slightly higher taxes out of their modest wages for this security, then there was good reason for it.  This is the value of taking care of each other and not poo-pooing another person's misfortune.

Unions are representative of what matters most: the value of family. Family values. No matter what religion, politics, sports team, etc. your family follows, the idea of a family is knowing who will be there for you when you need them.  The idea that even though we bickered at home constantly, my sister was the first to defend me to a playground bully.  In the 1990's and early 2000's the conservative movement hijacked the term of family values to mean either something vague and reminiscent of the two-parent nuclear, Norman Rockwell / Leave it to Beaver family that goes to church, or the antithesis of President Clinton's indiscretions with an intern.  President Clinton is still standing up for the poor today. Ken Starr? Newt Gingrich? Smears on the bathroom wall of relatively recent American history.  Normally I would say "my union" but I know now that this phrasing is wrong.  AS a UNION, WE bargain for our rights and working conditions as teachers, knowing first-hand what we need as educators to do our jobs to the best of our capabilities.  Our policies and contracts protect every single one of us from being bullied.  I myself have been guilty of not being active in my union at times while reaping the benefit of what my fellow educators who also served in our union did for the rest of us (be it settling the contracts or just making sure to be informed and informing other teachers when changes in the district are made). There is a reason why union members refer to other members as brothers and sisters. We stand or fall together.

I always remember my dad being active in his union. He understood this. Experience taught him that you can never turn your back on the man with your paycheck in his hand because he may push you under the train and pocket it.  When it comes to our working rights (and those of all working-class people) we need to be ever vigilant.  At least Gov. Walker has thrown that icy water on our indifferent faces this winter. We are awake now. If organized labor is a movement, Scott Walker is a bottle of Exlax now facing a shitstorm of his own making.

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