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December 16, 2018

5/2/2018 12:47:00 PM
Are we all for bread and roses?
From the editor

May 1st was May Day, International Workers Day. As with so many things, the United States is virtually alone in not celebrating it officially, nationwide, as a holiday. Did you see those images from around the world on TV, of people marching joyfully in the streets holding flags and banners high?
Perhaps only our elders recall a robust labor movement here. Bill Reynolds provides a local retrospective in this issue. La Conner Schools Superintendent Whitney Meissner offers her perspective on the work being done by teachers in classrooms across the state and nation.
Like so many things, International Workers’ Day was birthed in the U.S. as a19th-century movement for labor rights and an eight-hour work day. There’s a bumper sticker: “organized labor: the people who brought you the weekend.” They did.
With so many of us workers, and unorganized, why do I feel so alone when discussing organized labor? Maybe it is because so many of us are unorganized.
There is a huge difference between being an employee and being a worker. Employers want employees to believe they work with their bosses, with management. Workers know they work for their bosses, are under the rule of the company. There is a world of difference between for and with.
We do not wait for the “next available agent” on the phone. There is a worker on the other end of thay line. And we are her company’s customers, not guests. Words matter.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all,” Lewis Carroll wrote in “Through the Looking Glass.”
The issue is power. The issue has always been power: who has it, who wields it, who dominates anf who cooperates. Ask our Native and African American brethren.
People always have to decide if they will insist on a share of the power with those making the decisions, those who are in charge and own, or if they will acquiesce to bosses having power over them.
We are always more than worker bees. We need to stop and smell the flowers. We need to demand flowers at work. That’s a metaphor. The labor song is “Bread and Roses:” “give us bread, but give us roses.” Roses at work for each of us is a possibility, but only if we insist on roses, and probably collectively.
That is why it is called collective bargaining. That is why people sing solidarity forever. Together means together.
But only if, wanting it, people make it happen.

Related Links:
• Kenneth Stern

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