Happy Labor Day, courtesy of American workers

This could have been my grandmother and her sister near the turn of the 20th century in a Rhose Island textile mill.

My great-grandparents came to this country in the mid-1800s, escaping the great Hunger in Ireland. They were luckier than many; they lived to get on a ship and get here.

My grandparents, born into poverty in the 1880s, never finished elementary school. My grandmother taught herself to read and write and later taught my grandfather. They left school in second grade to go to work because their families needed their income to survive.

As children, they worked in the textile mills of Rhode Island and Connecticut. The noise of the machines cost them their hearing — both needed hearing aids by the time they were in middle age. They worked seven days a week, 12-hour days.

Mill owners loved having children as employees because they were paid less, and their little hands could reach into the machinery and untangle threads caught up in the works. It didn’t matter that children’s hands were mangled — or even that children died. There were always more to replace the ones who were lost.

My in-laws landed in Pennsylvania when they came to this country from Eastern Europe and they worked the coal mines. My father-in-law lost the tip of his finger in an accident and was sent back to work that same day with the finger bandaged. The men of these northeastern Pennsylvania coal towns didn’t live long. They died in mining accidents and from black lung disease, and their employers didn’t care because there were always more to replace the ones who died.

These horrible working conditions happened just a generation or two before me. I remember the stories from my grandparents. My grandmother couldn’t even vote as a young woman, so she had no power to change things other than to hope the men in her life would vote for people who would make conditions better.

Most of us alive today have no direct connection to those times, and the 1 percent are counting on that as they try to abolish all the gains made by our grandparents, many of whom died in the fight for fair labor laws.

We stand at a crossroads in this election year. We can vote to reaffirm those laws, or we can vote for people who wish to do away with minimum wage laws and crush the few unions that are left.

I plan to vote for the rights of workers to make a living wage and to have the protections my grandparents fought so hard to gain for me.

Enjoy your holiday and remember how it came to be. Remember that our forebears lived in mill towns and were paid in company scrip that couldn’t be spent anywhere but at the company store, where prices were just high enough to keep you in debt and unable to leave.

Remember that people could be fired — or killed — for trying to organize for safer and more humane working conditions.

Our ancestors went through hell to make a better world for us. Let’s not hand it back to the 1 percent.

You bet I’m angry

By my friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Matt Davies

I had a pretty lengthy rant going on Local Edge Radio the other day. I started with the arrogance and mean-spiritedness of Justice Antonin Scalia, making light of the Affordable Care Act, complaining it was too long to read and saying it was OK to let people die.

It was NOT OK to let my son die, or any other American whose life could be saved by appropriate medical treatment. A study released this week placed the United States 19th out of 19 industrialized nations in health care outcomes. Dead last (pun intended). It also estimated 101,000 Americans die each year because they lack access to appropriate treatment.

Someone commented to me that we can’t afford to treat everyone — just look at all the problems the Euro-nations are having.

Well, first of all, the economic mess comes from the power of Wall Street and the big banks to do whatever they please, rob the economy blind, take us to the brink of world economic disaster and suffer no punishment for it. Secondly, every one of those countries pays far, far less than we do for health care because it costs far, far less to care for people before they become critically ill. It costs far, far less to treat mental illnesses in a clinic than it does in a jail, which is where some 60 percent of people with chronic and persistent mental illnesses get treatment nowadays.

And we’re just talking about the financial cost, not the human cost of allowing people to suffer needlessly.

Regulation is important, not just for health insurance companies, but for banks, Wall Street, utilities — every industry. Without it, you get economic meltdown as the 1 percent steals ever more from the working class.

Without regulation, there is less safety in the workplace — the reason my son has had third-degree burns three times where he works.

The Right would have us believe government can do nothing right. They point to schools, which have been defunded at historic rates.  When schools were funded, American children had the best education system in the world. That hasn’t been true since the 1980s. In fact, we have been slipping badly.

Now they’re defunding highways and transportation, claiming that the market will build and maintain roads where they’re needed. Yes I have heard that claim many times; I’m not making it up.

But you still can turn on your tap and get water. You still have libraries and police and fire departments you can call when you need them — at least until the Right privatizes them or eliminates them entirely by defunding them. Already, we’re seeing concerted efforts to reduce their power to negotiate and reduce their salaries and benefits.

Workers’ salaries aren’t keeping pace with inflation. In every city in the country, it takes more than twice the minimum wage to pay for even the most basic needs (housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, child care). Those basic needs do not include cable TV, any meals out, including McDonald’s, or Internet service.

Why do you suppose that’s true? Well, we’ve villified the American worker and killed the unions.

This sustained attack on working Americans has reduced our salaries and increased our debt — it hearkens back to the Guilded Age when factories put people up in company-owned housing and paid them in company scrip which could only be spent at the company store. Prices at the store were high enough to keep workers in debt so they couldn’t leave.

If you think that’s not where we’re headed, think again.

And now they attack women, forcing us to have transvaginal sonograms — against our and our doctors’ wills — before we can have a perfectly legal surgical procedure. They call us whores because we want to be the ones to decide when and if we will bear children, as though we can’t be trusted to control our own bodies.

I lived through the changing of those laws. I thought we had changed attitudes too, but apparently, we weren’t as successful as we thought.

We are engaged in endless wars, killing and maiming our soldiers while asking nothing of any of the rest of us. The military-industrial complex is making billions off of these wars while soldiers and their families suffer with not enough pay and not enough care, not to mention the misery we inflict on the populations of people we attack. But if we demand an end to war, we’re told we’re not supporting the troops. That’s bullshit, pure and simple.

I’m tired of the attacks on the American people and I’m furious about the lies they perpetrate on us.

The Affordable Care Act will not result in rationed care; that’s being done already by Big Insurance. It will not mean people over 75 will be refused treatment for cancer, not like my 30-year-old son was refused care because he didn’t have insurance. These things are deliberate lies.

You bet I’m angry.


Walker is arrogance personified

Apparently Scott Walker believes he doesn’t have to listen to the courts any more than he has to listen to his constituents.

Walker, Wisconsin’s ultra-corporate-friendly governor, has decided to publish the anti-labor law he illegally pushed through the state senate. The law strips most public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights.

Legislative Reference Bureau director Steve Miller said publishing the law in the Internet doesn’t mean the law takes effect Saturday. He says that won’t actually happen until Secretary of State Doug La Follette orders the law published in a newspaper, and a judge ordered last week that La Follette not do anything.

But Walker says the act of publishing the law online makes it effective, and he intends to enforce it before the state’s Supreme Court decides on the lawsuit facing it. He apparently is above the power of the court that issued the restraining order. He can play with the rules and not have to answer for it.

The law is possibly the most blatant attack on labor since Ronald Reagan began the law against working Americans by firing the air traffic controllers, and seeing Walker’s success, other states are following suit.

By the mid-1980s, when I was working as a newspaper reporter,  a business could be sold and the new owner come in and settle with the strongest union and then screw the rest of the employees. I watched it happen at the Herald News, when the Drucker family sold the paper to Dean Singleton’s Media General.

Singleton came in and promised a rosy future for the paper, settled with the Teamsters, and nine days after taking over, laid off a third of the newsroom staff and  reduced benefits for those who remained.

He told the union members that if they didn’t negotiate “in good faith,” he would cut off their health benefits.

That’s how he broke the union in Passaic, NJ. He went on to become notorious for buying up newspapers and slashing staff and benefits — and quality.

As unions lost power under constant attack from big business — including the media — people began to believe all unions were corrupt and all their members greedy.

Only now, when private sector unions are all but gone, are working people beginning to see what has been done to them.

It may be too late to save public sector unions and build the private sector back up.

Or maybe arrogant people like Walker will awaken the working public in time to stop their progress.

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