Originally posted Feb 04, 2012
It would be inaccurate for me to suggest that the Arizona Legislature is waging a war on unions.
Legislators are very busy men and women with lots of important issues on their plate.
In order to be more precise and journalistically complete, I would have to point out that in addition to regular working people, Arizona lawmakers are waging war on children, on sick people, on poor people, on teachers and on unions.
Essentially, on all regular, hard-working people.
It’s a big job. Legislators can’t do it alone, and they don’t have to. The Republicans who control the Legislature appear to be controlled by the lawyers who run the Goldwater Institute, and who do most of the heavy lifting for them.
For instance, Goldwater folks helped to produce a series of proposals approved in committee Wednesday that would ban collective bargaining by any government employee in Arizona, including police and firefighters.
In other words, the men and women whom we ask to conduct the daily business of government for rock-bottom wages, along with the men and women whom we ask to confront armed criminals or run into burning buildings, would have no opportunity to engage their employer in contract talks.
Given the dramatic changes proposed in the bills, it might seem puzzling that the first witness called by legislators described the proposal he was speaking about as a “modest change.” That is, until you found out that the witness was a lawyer from (you guessed it) the Goldwater Institute.
The lawmakers say that these attacks on working people are “not personal.” It’s just business.
Big business. Mixed in with a little ignorance.
I’m wondering how many Arizona legislators would know the story of Mary Harris “Mother” Jones.
Would they know that in 1903, she led what was called the “March of the Mill Children” over 100 miles from Philadelphia to President Theodore Roosevelt’s Long Island summer home? Roosevelt refused to see her.
Business interests at the time considered Mother Jones to be a radical making unreasonable demands. Do you think the lawmakers know what those demands were?
She wanted to reduce the 55-hour workweek. For children.
It was union workers who got the workweek reduced to 40 hours. And who got health-care benefits.
And paid vacations. And safety regulations. And all the other things that we now take for granted.
Some of those activists died in the effort to win the right of negotiation for regular folks.
And now members of the Legislature want to take them away.
These same legislators have made ongoing cuts to education, making it more difficult for children to learn about American history, perhaps because they themselves don’t care about the past.
About transcendent events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire of 1911, in which more than 140 people, mostly women, died while locked in their sweatshop. Or the “Ludlow Massacre” of 1914, in which mine operators fired on workers and their families with guns.
Things have changed a lot since those awful days, of course.
We’ve gotten complacent. And in the process, clever politicians (and think-tank operatives) have persuaded working people to turn on other working people. They persuade us to envy and resent the benefits others enjoy, rather than using such people as examples of what all working people deserve.
This happens when you stop teaching or learning about labor icons like Mother Jones, Samuel Gompers, John L. Lewis, Walter Reuther, A. Philip Randolph or Cesar Chavez.
And instead elect men and women who don’t know history or care about working people, and who listen only to high-priced lawyers in fancy suits.
Reach Montini at 602-444-8978 or firstname.lastname@example.org.