Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Labor

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking in support 
of striking AFSCME sanitation workers at Mason Temple, Memphis, 4/3/68

Go to the AFSCME main page

Negroes are almost entirely a working people. There are pitifully few Negro millionaires, and few Negro employers. Our needs are identical with labor's needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor's demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.
AFL-CIO Convention, December 1961

I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream—a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man's skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality. That is the dream...
AFL-CIO Convention, December 1961

New economic patterning through automation is dissolving the jobs of workers in some of the nation's basic industries. This is to me a catastrophe. We are neither technologically advanced nor socially enlightened if we witness this disaster for tens of thousands without finding a solution. And by a solution, I mean a real and genuine alternative, providing the same living standards which were swept away by a force called progress, but which for some is destruction. The society that performs miracles with machinery has the capacity to make some miracles for men—if it values men as highly as it values machines.
UAW 25th Anniversary dinner, April 27, 1961

As I have said many times, and believe with all my heart, the coalition that can have the greatest impact in the struggle for human dignity here in America is that of the Negro and the forces of labor, because their fortunes are so closely intertwined.
Letter to Amalgamated Laundry Workers, January 1962

It is in this area (politics) of American life that labor and the Negro have identical interests. Labor has grave problems today of employment, shorter hours, old age security, housing and retraining against the impact of automation. The Congress and the Administration are almost as indifferent to labor's program as they are toward that of the Negro. Toward both they offer vastly less than adequate remedies for the problems which are a torment to us day after day.
UAW District 65 Convention, September 1962

At the turn of the century women earned approximately ten cents an hour, and men were fortunate to receive twenty cents an hour. The average work week was sixty to seventy hours. During the thirties, wages were a secondary issue; to have a job at all was the difference between the agony of starvation and a flicker of life. The nation, now so vigorous, reeled and tottered almost to total collapse. The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions, government relief for the destitute, and above all new wage levels that meant not mere survival, but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over our nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.
Illinois AFL-CIO Convention, October 1965

The South is labor's other deep menace. Lower wage rates and improved transportation have magnetically attracted industry. The wide-spread, deeply-rooted Negro poverty in the South weakens the wage scale there for the white as well as the Negro. Beyond that, a low wage structure in the South becomes a heavy pressure on higher wages in the North.
Illinois AFL-CIO Convention, October 1965

In the days to come, organized labor will increase its importance in the destinies of Negroes. Automation is imperceptibly but inexorably producing dislocations, skimming off unskilled labor from the industrial force. The displaced are flowing into proliferating service occupations. These enterprises are traditionally unorganized and provide low wage scales with longer hours. The Negroes pressed into these services need union protection, and the union movement needs their membership to maintain its relative strength in the whole society.
Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? 1967

Today Negroes want above all else to abolish poverty in their lives, and in the lives of the white poor. This is the heart of their program. To end humiliation was a start, but to end poverty is a bigger task. It is natural for Negroes to turn to the Labor movement because it was the first and pioneer anti-poverty program. It will not be easy to accomplish this program because white America has had cheap victories up to this point. The limited reforms we have won have been at bargain rates for the power structure. There are no expenses involved, no taxes are required, for Negroes to share lunch counters, libraries, parks, hotels and other facilities. Even the more substantial reforms such as voting rights require neither monetary or psychological sacrifice. The real cost lies ahead. To enable the Negro to catch up, to repair the damage of centuries of denial and oppression means appropriations to create jobs and job training; it means the outlay of billions for decent housing and equal education.
Teamsters and Allied Trade Councils, New York City, May 1967

When there is massive unemployment in the black community, it is called a social problem. But when there is massive unemployment in the white community, it is called a Depression.
We look around every day and we see thousands and millions of people making inadequate wages. Not only do they work in our hospitals, they work in our hotels, they work in our laundries, they work in domestic service, they find themselves underemployed. You see, no labor is really menial unless you're not getting adequate wages. People are always talking about menial labor. But if you're getting a good (wage) as I know that through some unions they've brought it up...that isn't menial labor. What makes it menial is the income, the wages.
Local 1199 Salute to Freedom, March 1968

You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth.
AFSCME Memphis Sanitation Strike, April 3, 1968

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Nothing to Hide and No Excuses: Video Evaluation to Raise Teacher Quality

School Reform Foundation and Charter Teachers for the Future of America have a plan for teacher evaluation.  
Every reform cliche is turned on its head here, 
starting with "the strong correlation between student low performance and teachers having desks.

# We need an inquisition to make schools strong again.

# with video replay and stop motion we can analyze every last twitch or spasm in 
transforming student outcomes.

# You're not hiding something are you?

Rethinking Schools

Check it all out at

The winter issue of Rethinking Schools, now online at, is packed with articles to fuel the grassroots movement to defend and transform our public schools. Here's a sampling:

One of the scariest attacks on teachers this year links our salaries and job security to student test scores. It sounds so reasonable to people who don't know anything about it. Need ammunition for a school board meeting or the PTA? In "Neither Fair Nor Accurate: Research-Based Reasons Why High-Stakes Tests Should Not Be Used to Evaluate Teachers" Wayne Au offers six clear explanations why "value-added measurements" don't make sense for teacher assessment.
Fight back with great teaching: In Bill Bigelow's "If There Is No Struggle . . ." Teaching a People's History of the Abolition Movement, a role play lets students "become" members of the American Anti-Slavery Society and grapple with the strategic dilemmas of this pivotal U.S. social movement.

As the tragic suicides of lesbian, gay, and transgender youth mount, it is clear we need schools that are safe for students and teachers to be who they are. In "'My Teacher Is a Lesbian': Coming Out at School," Jody Sokolower details her own experiences coming out as a middle and high school teacher and explores questions like: Why, when, and how does it make sense to come out as a teacher? How can you protect yourself? What can straight teachers do as allies?
Our editorial takes on the impact of the escalating anti-immigrant climate, and calls for "Every School a Sanctuary."

This issue of Rethinking Schools also includes two significant investigative reports on Waiting for "Superman": "Superhero School Reform Heading Your Way: Now Playing in Newark, N.J.," by Stan Karp, and Barbara Miner's "The Ultimate $uperpower: Supersized Dollars Drive Waiting for 'Superman' Agenda."
and much, much more. . . .

THE BLUEBERRY STORY : A Businessman Learns a Lesson

THE BLUEBERRY STORY : A Businessman Learns a Lesson
by Jamie Robert Vollmer

"If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I
wouldn't be in business very long!" I stood before an auditorium filled   with
outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute. My speech
had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of in-service. Their
initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the
hostility with a knife.

I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public
schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that became famous
in the middle 1980s when People Magazine chose our blueberry as the
"Best Ice Cream in America."

I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change;
they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the
industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging
"knowledge society." Second, educators were a major part of the   problem: they
resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by
tenure and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly.

They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero
defects! TQM! Continuous improvement! In retrospect, the speech was
perfectly balanced -- equal parts ignorance and arrogance.

As soon as I finished, a woman's hand shot up. She appeared polite,
pleasant -- she was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school
English teacher who had been waiting to unload.

She began quietly, "We are told, sir, that you manage a company that
makes good ice cream." I smugly replied , "Best ice cream in   America, Ma'am."

"How nice," she said. "Is it rich and smooth?"    "Sixteen percent butterfat," I crowed.

"Premium ingredients?" she inquired. "Super-premium! Nothing   but triple A." I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.

"Mr. Vollmer," she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow   raised
to the sky, "when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an
inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?"

In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap. I was dead
meat, but I wasn't going to lie. "I send them back."

"That's right!" she barked, "and we can never send back our
blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional,   abused,
frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. 
We take them all: GT, ADHD, ADD, SLD, EI, MMR, OHI, TBI, DD, Autistic, junior   rheumatoid
arthritis, English as their second language, etc.
We take them all! Everyone! 

And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it's not a business. It's school!"

In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides,
custodians and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, "Yeah!
Blueberries! Blueberries!"

And so began my long transformation. Since then, I have visited
hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools   are
unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon
the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are
constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups   that
would send the best CEO screaming into the night.

None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when,
and how we teach to give all chi ldren maximum opportunity to thrive in a
postindustrial society. But educators cannot do this alone; these
changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission and active
support of the surrounding community.

For the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect
the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and
therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools,   it
means changing America.

Please forward THE BLUEBERRY STORY to teachers, parents,   politicians and everyone interested in education.