Bloggers and Labor: We Need Each Other
by Teamsters, Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 01:54:22 AM EST
Cross posted from DailyKos
In labor's heyday -- the 1940s and 1950s -- as post-war Americans built the middle class, there were thousands of reporters who covered labor full-time. Today, there are only two full-time labor reporters at metropolitan newspapers in the United States -- Steven Greenhouse of The New York Times and Stephen Franklin of the Chicago Tribune.
This is why labor needs bloggers. This is why the Teamsters are on YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, Kos and MyDD. Because while the MSM prattles on about Britney's shaved head, and Anna Nicole's body, hundreds of cases of unfair labor practices and other incidents of worker injustice would otherwise go unreported.
According to The Center for Economic Policy and Research, almost one in five union organizers or activists can expect to be fired as a result of their activities in a union election campaign. But you will not hear about this statistic in your local TV news or read about these incidents in your local newspaper. That's because the news media are money-making ventures operated by large corporations or local elites interested more in their own political and commercial connections than free speech or the public good.
The issue isn't bias among reporters. It's class. It's about what stories are allowed to get reported and which ones aren't. It's about not pissing off local employers, bankers, business partners and most importantly, advertisers.
The battle going on right now at the Santa Barbara News-Press is perhaps the grossest example of what I'm talking about. Here a battle has broken out over a news staff's ethical quest for editorial independence and a dictatorial heiress publisher who wants to maintain her grip on her community's hearts and minds.
To help them in their struggle, the News-Press' reporters and editors voted last fall to become Teamsters. Publisher Wendy McCaw continues to contest the vote and refuses to negotiate a contract. Instead, she is papering her community with cease and desist orders, trying to get small businesses to take signs of union support out of their shop windows. Just two weeks ago she fired eight reporters and editors for their union activity and for exercising their free speech rights.
It's about control -- control of our language and our public consciousness. In the case of the News-Press, it's blatantly obvious. But in most cases it isn't.
If we read about our city's 50 wealthiest businessmen, we begin to believe that we could reach those heights. Yes, there are plenty of resourceful people who make it rich on their own, and more power to them. But the truth of the matter is, far more Americans will work for someone else until the day they retire than will make a successful living working for themselves -- let alone make it rich.
If we are told that business and markets are efficient and that government is glutted with bureaucracy, we begin to believe it and support the gutting of education, transportation and social programs.
If we are told that global competition is the cause for layoffs, the reason to push higher health care costs onto individual workers and that pensions and retiree benefits are killing American business, we believe it. Nowhere in the mainstream press will you read that American CEOs soundly defeat their global counterparts in terms of compensation. In 2001 the average CEO earned 531 times more than the average worker (by 2004 the ratio had actually shrunk to 431:1). In Japan the ratio is 10:1; in Germany the ratio is 11:1; and in the UK the average is 25:1. No, it's more likely that you will hear that union scale wages and benefits are making the company less competitive, not the top management's skim.
Even in popular culture, unions and the working class are often seen in a negative light or are nonexistent. Books on labor history are absent from our bookstores. Depictions of working Americans on television or in the movies are commonly negative (with the exception of a few pro-labor movies such as Bread and Roses and Norma Rae). Union workers are routinely depicted as lazy, comedic or criminal. Meanwhile, viewers aspire to the OC, The Apprentice, and Survivor. TV is filled with shows that depict deceit, wealth and individuality as virtues, and teamwork, social responsibility and working toward a common good as quaint.
But I'm preaching to the choir. We all know the MSM is inadequate or we wouldn't be here. And the struggles of the working class did ring through the midterm elections. But these struggles did not begin with the Bush Administration, and this brings us to a bigger issue.
Not only are the struggles of the working class not discussed as current affairs, they are not discussed as historical facts. American classrooms are void of worker struggles. School children learn of Henry Ford's assembly line and his adoption of the eight-hour day, but they are not taught that the struggle for an eight-hour day began as far back as 1836 when the average worker in America worked 16 hours, six days a week. Mass strikes such as the Pullman Strike of 1894, the Haymarket Riot of 1886 or the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934 are not discussed, the reasons for the mass worker actions or the repressive violence that followed are never revealed.
One of our MySpace friends teaches junior high students. He told me:
When I taught 7th grade history last year, they summed the ENTIRE labor movement up in one sentence: "Gradually workers formed unions and demanded better wages." Trash like this does not belong in a history book. It needs to be replaced with a section on important strikes, education on collective bargaining and workers rights, and the proven wage and benefits advantages of joining a union.
Even at the high school level there is no discussion of how labor unions helped advance women's rights, civil rights and progressive causes throughout history. So unless today's youth grow up in a union household, it is very unlikely they would even know what a union is, let alone what the labor movement stands for.
Progressivism and the labor movement have been intertwined from the beginning. Both began as a response to industrialization and have stood for workers rights and social justice. A strong labor movement is good for Progressives; a strong progressive movement is good for Labor. And Americans have benefited from our combined strength. The DOL, NLRB, FDA, OSHA, EPA, were legislated into being thanks to our actions. Unfortunately Americans have forgotten these agencies' origins and have let them become corrupted by the very corporate interests they were created to protect us against.
The Internet, blogs and social networks provide unions with new hope -- to educate and inform without a corporate filter -- and new allies.
This is why the Teamsters are jumping into blogs with both feet. Not only are we doing more to write our own messages and educate the public on our issues and solutions, we are also contributing to BlogPAC's efforts to create a 50-state progressive bloggers network, and encouraging our organizers and lobbyists in the field to reach out to local and state bloggers. And we are reaching out to our members to get more active online as well.
It is in our best interests -- progressive bloggers and unions -- to work together. We can provide organization, support and mobilization. You can provide us with a voice to broadcast the issues that are important to us both.
And as long as we agree that the working class is underrepresented in the American conversation and in American politics, that the capital class maintains far too much control in the halls of government regardless of branch or political affiliation, then we can return to the days when thousands of writers worked for the workers, spoke for the voiceless, exposed the corrupt and empowered the powerless.