The 5 Letter Word that Scares Chuck Schumer

Democrats are in the midst of releasing their “better deal” economic platform this week. With the federal government enveloped in terrifying corruption and chaos, Democrats are perfectly poised to offer a clear, empowering alternative to the GOP’s current “platform” of greed, complicity and division.

And already, I worry that Democrats are letting this golden opportunity slip away, leaving activists like me pessimistic about our chances of restoring democracy and retaking the House of Representatives in 2018.

Case in point: In his op-ed earlier this week, Senator Charles Schumer managed to write an entire article about how Democrats plan to protect American workers without using the word “union” even once. And he’s not alone. Mainline Democratic leadership across the board seems to harbor a pathological fear of the U word- presumably out of fear of alienating their corporate donors. Nancy Pelosi wrote a similar “union” free article. Which leads me, a unionized public school teacher and nearly full time activist, to conclude that they still do not get it.

Take this paragraph from Schumer’s op-ed:

There used to be a basic bargain in this country that if you worked hard and played by the rules, you could own a home, afford a car, put your kids through college and take a modest vacation every year while putting enough away for a comfortable retirement. In the second half of the 20th century, millions of Americans achieved this solid middle-class lifestyle. I should know — I grew up in that America.

But things have changed.

One would think that Senator Schumer knows what largely made that “basic bargain” possible: Unions. Yet the U word is nowhere to be found in this “better deal.”

(To be clear, I understand, as I hope Senator Schumer does too- that the bargain existed for primarily white men and that a better social contract would be first and foremost inclusive )  

Think of all those coal and manufacturing jobs that middle America, Donald Trump, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and just about everyone longs for- the only reason those were good jobs is because of collective bargaining and union power. The reason the abused factory workers of the turn of the century became the stable suburban middle class families of the 40s and 50s? Unions.

I oversimplify a bit, and admit I am not a labor historian.  But it is no coincidence that America was most equal when its’ unions were most powerful and pervasive. If Chuck Schumer and his cohorts really want to offer American workers a “better deal, they should start by restoring the “U” word to prominence, empowering unions and championing the organizing efforts of non-protected workers in the service, contract and domestic work industries.

As Nick Hanauer, Seattle based entrepreneur and living wage supporter, wrote in his brilliant article, “To My Fellow Plutocrats, We Can Cure Trumpism,”:

“There is no earthly reason why an entry-level job at low-wage employers like Walmart or McDonalds could not pay $15 or even $20 per hour with full benefits, the way an old factory job used to. There is nothing “unskilled” about a barista or a home health care worker, and no economic principle that prevents these workers from earning a living wage. The only difference between today’s service workers and yesterday’s manufacturing workers is that most service workers have no union, and thus have no power.”

Both public and private sector unions have been under attack by Democrats and Republicans for the last 40 years with union membership declining across the country. Republican controlled state governments have passed “right to work” laws to make it harder for workers to organize and remain in the middle class. Public school teachers- who remain one of the few remaining strong union forces in this country- have been viciously attacked and undermined by everyone and their grandmother in the last 20 years- from Arne Duncan, to Andrew Cuomo, Mike Bloomberg, George W. Bush, and yes, even Barack Obama.

If Democrats really want to put forth a positive, populist economic message that will truly benefit American workers, they need to do much more than restore common sense anti-trust laws and take on drug companies- or even raise the minimum wage.

To truly protect American workers- and I believe to win in 2018- Democrats must empower ALL workers- whether domestic employees, service workers, the growing corps of renewable energy laborers , contract workers and freelancers-  to negotiate for fair salaries, quality benefits, paid leave policies and job security while challenging the avarice of CEO’s that want to keep profits out of the hands of their employees. The way to do this is to stop ignoring and undermining union power, and reclaim the mantle of labor as a party. Get organized Democrats. The U word is back in style.

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Betsy Devos: New but Same Old Disaster for Public Ed

Betsy Devos, a right wing billionaire from Michigan who has no experience as an educator or even as a parent of public school children, may very well be our new secretary of education. Her platform?  Increasing unregulated, for-profit charters and school voucher programs to send America’s children to private christian schools. AKA: Destroying public education.

Let’s get a few things straight.

Unregulated, for-profit charters should be illegal. They take taxpayer money, provide sub-par education, cherry pick kids leaving the hardest cases for public schools and make money for people who are already rich. How is this ok with anyone?

Children are not commodities.

Quality public education is a right and a service- not a for-profit opportunity.

Teachers are public servants, who work very hard for very little. Without the security provided by unions and retirement benefits teaching is a completely unsustainable career. Hence the insane turnover at charter schools.

There is no evidence that charter schools are better than public schools. There is definitely no evidence that dubious for-profit charters and online schools are better than public schools. But there is evidence that adequately funded public schools and unionized teachers DO provide quality education.

The federal government has no business funding private, unregulated christian schools.

In Michigan, Devos’ home state, public schools have been so neglected that buildings are rotting, students are drinking poisoned water and teachers are making do without any supplies at all. Meanwhile, Betsy Devos gets to be the new Ed Secretary.

But this is nothing new. Amidst all the outrage about Devos’ appointment there is a group of people, mostly teachers and parents, who have been fighting these very same battles for years. John King and Arne Duncan also steered education policy around billionaire interests and the false promise of “choice” all while sending their own children to progressive private schools.  Unqualified, often right-wing billionaires- the Waltons, Gates and Devos families among them- have been calling the shots in education for a very long time and teachers and parents have been sounding the alarm for just as long. We have been protesting school closures, organizing strikes, opting out of test and punish and voting to keep caps on charter schools around the country while Republicans and Democrats alike champion the decimation of public schools and organized labor.

Maybe it’s time for everyone on the left and above all- for educators- whether you work in a public, private or charter school, to wake up and realize that privatization is at best ineffective and at worst perpetuating the plutocracy we are rapidly becoming. It’s time to think critically about an unregulated “reform” movement funded by hedge fund managers, tech billionaires and fundamentalist christian “philanthropists” like Devos. It’s time for a unified Democratic platform that stands up for public schools and public school teachers.

Teachers and leaders like Carol Burris and Diane Ravitch have been speaking out for years. It’s time to listen.