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UNIONS MATTER: International Unions Denounce Austerity Programs in Greece!



By Meryl Simon for Unions Matter

As a person who loves Greece—its literature and magnificent works of art—and has studied its language and rich history, I’ve been tremendously affected by the intense suffering of its people as a result of actions by the Troika (the European Commission, the Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund). In 2005, the Troika lent the newly elected conservative government desperately needed money on the condition that it carry out a harsh austerity program in order to pay back its lenders. Consequently, thousands of well-paying government jobs disappeared and the remaining workers were stripped of benefits fought for and gained by their public sector unions. Great numbers of jobs in the private sector have also been lost. The Greek government was forced to privatize what formerly belonged to all Greeks, including the Port of Piraeus and the oil and gas utilities.

The agony that followed is described by the International Union of Food and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF) which represents 12 million workers in 125 countries:

“At the Troika’s insistence, the minimum wage was reduced by 22%, and 32% for workers under 25.  Collective bargaining has been shredded, in blatant violation of international and European Union law.  Public services have been gutted and there are shortages even of basic medicines.  Economic output has declined by 25% compared with pre-crisis levels, a level of destruction normally associated with war. A quarter of the work force is jobless, with unemployment over 50% for young people.  Malnutrition and infant mortality are on the rise….Austerity is…a conscious blueprint for expanding corporate power.”

As a retired teacher and member of the United Federation of Teachers, I’m profoundly grateful for the fact that unionized workers are able to live with decency, including in retirement. And I respect the IUF’s compassionate and exact description of the enormous pain and humiliation imposed on the people of Greece. I am glad that country got new hope from the recent election of the SYRIZA party, which has as its motto one word:“dignity.” In his first speech before the new parliament, the elected prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, leader of SYRIZA, promised “emergency measures to deal with the humanitarian disaster, [including] reinstatement of labour legislation, disbandment of unjust land taxes, fiscal reform to make the rich pay,…a rehiring of the sacked public sector workers, and a stop to the auctioning off of public assets…such as Greece’s ports and energy.” The new government has also begun to make a justifiable case for the revocation of the crippling debt to the Troika. International negotiations for this purpose are continuing.

The leadership of international trade unions, including in Germany, are supportive of the new government. I was very stirred to learn of a powerful statement linked to  Labour Start, signed by seven of the nine presidents of the major German trade unions:

“We highlight once again the criticism already voiced on many occasions in the past by the trade unions: right from the outset, the key conditions under which Greece receives financial assistance did not deserve the label ‘reform’. The billions of euros that have flowed into Greece have been used primarily to stabilise the financial sector. At the same time, the country has been driven into deep recession by brutal cutbacks in government spending that have made Greece the most heavily indebted country in the entire EU.

“The rejection at the ballot box of those responsible for the previous policy in Greece is a democratic decision that must be respected….Anyone who now demands that the country simply continue along the previous, so-called ‘path to reform’ is in fact denying the Greek people the right to a democratically legitimised change of policy in their country.”

While conditions are different in the United States, there are some similarities. The destruction of Greek unions, massive job losses, and brutal impoverishment of its people has, to a lesser degree, happened here in America–and if some persons were to have their way, it would be entire. There are relentless efforts by corporate America, aided by some municipalities and states to weaken and ultimately destroy unions. This is being gone after by people who have a huge stake in ensuring that profits earned by American workers go not to the men and women who do the work, but instead to companies and their investors—who do not do the work.

The reason for this is explained by Eli Siegel, founder of the education Aesthetic Realism. Beginning in 1970, he showed with wide-ranging evidence that our economy—the profit system–had failed, and would never recover. He stated there would be efforts to keep this crippled economic system going by paying the American worker as little as possible—what, in effect, has been done in Greece: impoverishing people, making them desperate for jobs and willing to accept a pittance as pay. And for this to happen, labor unions have to be made powerless, even done away with. As Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, has been showing in issues of the journal The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, this is continuing with ferocious determination. In a recent issue entitled “Shame, Pride, & Economics,” she writes with passion about one form the impoverishment of people has taken in Greece and Spain:

“Today, the word austerity is being used as a euphemism for making people homeless, impoverishing them, forcing children to be hungry and malnourished, making infants die of disease. That is: the word is being used to cover a desperate and vile attempt to keep the profit system going. This is one of the foulest instances of euphemism in any language.

“Austerity, as we find it in the press and statements of economists and government officials (particularly European), is the cutting down on government expenditures, as a means of lessening government debt. And the expenditures to be slashed are for such things as school lunches, assistance to the unemployed, medical aid, pensions. Many of these expenditures are part of what has been called ‘the safety net.’ Now, ‘the safety net’ in itself is an admission that the profit system is a failure: that profit economics cannot provide the people of a nation with that which they need to live. So in an attempt to make up for some of the suffering inflicted by the profit system, various governments provided ways of having people get a bit of the money, food, housing they need….

“Aesthetic Realism explains that the source of all injustice is Contempt, the desire in every person to get an ‘addition to self through the lessening of something else.’ The use of human beings for someone’s private profit is a form of contempt. Eli Siegel was passionate about this matter, and his passion was at one with logic. ‘Man,’ he said, ‘was not made to be used by man for money.’

“And it is contempt that has a person cloak a hideous thing with pretty nomenclature. Once, child labor was described by some as a means of teaching young people responsibility. The present use of the word austerity is in the same tradition. No matter how smoothly government leaders and economists engage in that use, it is an insult to and a mockery of humanity.”

As someone who cares deeply about justice coming to all people, I believe humanity will be seen with the full respect it deserves only when this question, first asked by Eli Siegel, is answered honestly by people everywhere: “What does a person deserve by being a person?”

Meryl Simon is an Aesthetic Realism consultant and anthropologist.
This post was originally posted on Unions Matter here

Reclaim The Promise To Public Education; Stop Starving Our Schools

Community groups are working to ‘Reclaim The Promise’ we made to future generations to provide a strong, well funded, high quality public education. 

public school sign brick building The national debate on education reform rages on everyday, in every school district, in every state across the country.  Some say that schools are failing our children, while others say the schools are failing our children.  No that is not a typo, both sides are essentially saying the same thing; we need to fix our broken education system to provide a better education for our future generations.

The major differences erupt when both sides offer their solutions to fixing our broken education system.  Those ‘fiscally conservative’ politicians on the right blame teachers unions and bad teachers, and suggest we eliminate public schools for private charter schools. Proponents of public schools see the problem stems from a lack of community support.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, has been outspoken about the attacks on public schools and this idea that privatization is the only option to help our public schools.  In recent phone interview Weingarten stated, “Austerity cuts are starving our public schools.”

Karen Schow is special education teacher working in Boise, Idaho.  She has seen these austerity cuts directly affecting her students.  Due to budget cuts, Schow is now the only special education teacher in her entire school.  She works with multiple special needs students including students with Down’s syndrome, all alone.  Just last year the school had two full time special education teachers, but the school cut that down to one.  “These cuts are hurting my kids,” Schow told me in a phone interview. “Politicians are short changing not only my students but students across the state.”

Kia Hinton is parent and outspoken public school advocate from Philadelphia.  Hinton highlighted how “Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Corbett, cut over one billion dollars from the state’s education budget”.  This forced dozens of school closures, mostly in areas that directly effect children of color.  Areas that are already struggling to fight poverty, violence, and other community issues.

Closing public schools makes it harder for working families.  Schools are farther away, underfunded, and overcrowded.  These cuts hurt the children the most.

Hinton talked about how some of the schools in her area no longer have a school librarian if they are still lucky enough to have a library at all.  They have also cut art programs and music classes, which are necessary for a well-rounded education.

Weingarten said that, “politicians are pushing to ensure that public schools are failing to open the door to their alternative ideas”.  Their alternatives include; charter schools, privatized schools, or to just close the school entirely. Politicians have been pushing for privatized for-profit charter schools, yet these charter schools are failing to meet the needs of their communities.

Just like in Philadelphia, Chicago and Kansas City as closing public schools to open private for-profit charter schools.  John Jackson President and CEO of The Schott Foundation for Public Education said, “Corporations are making profits on the backs of our students.” Not only are they making money on our children, they are taking your tax dollars to bolster their profits.  Yet there these for-profit charter schools are not preforming any better than their public counterparts in the same area.

Lora McDonald a social worker and the Executive Director of More2 said these for-profit schools failing in Kansas City.  McDonald said that four of these for-profit charter schools have closed in the last year.  McDonald said that not only are the charter schools failing, “kids in public schools have continually out-preformed those in charter schools.”

The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association, other unions and community groups are working to ‘Reclaim the Promise’ that we have made to our future generation by provide a high quality public education.

Everyone deserves his or her chance to reach the American Dream.  For many this dream has become more of a myth, completely unattainable. Weingarten spoke to how a strong public education is crucial to reaching the American Dream.  Weingarten stated, “This is a movement to reclaim public education.”

Talking about ‘Reclaiming the Promise,’ John Jackson stated, “Public education is strong at and it works. Want to make sure it works for all children. Public education is the foundation for economic prosperity for millions of Americans.”

This is why communities are rallying behind the need to ‘Reclaim The Promise’.

  • Reclaiming the promise is about fighting for neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning.
  • Reclaiming the promise is about ensuring that teachers and school staff are well prepared, are supported, have manageable class sizes and have time to collaborate so they can meet the individual needs of every child.
  • Reclaiming the promise is about making sure our children have an engaging curriculum that focuses on teaching and learning, not testing, and includes art, music and the sciences.

Communities throughout the country will be standing together to on December 9th in a national day of action. Over 100 community groups and unions have signed up to take part in this event.  Weingarten stated that this is a “bottom up event.” Unlike other union lead events this one is coming up from parents, and community organizations that want to make real change in their communities.

Everyone deserves to be able to get a high quality education, and public schools can provide that.  We need to invest in our future by investing in our public school system.  A strong public school is the bedrock of our society.  When your son or daughter says they want grow up to be President, it is a strong public school system that can make their dream a reality.   Just as President Clinton, a graduate of Hot Springs High School, a public magnet high school in Arkansas.



RTP_banner-2Click here for more information about the National Day of Action.

If you are interested in hosting your own event as part of this national day of action, click here and tell AFT about it.


AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s Statement On May Jobs Report

The politics of austerity still hold the world in a vise-like grip and today’s employment report provides another view of that failure, despite U.S. job creation barely above what’s needed to accommodate new entrants into the labor market.

Within today’s 7.6% unemployment rate are millions of people who could be building our economy. Millions of young people are living with unemployment rates between 25 and 50 percent, their dreams of opportunity slowly fading. Communities of color are devastated.  And formerly middle class workers are finding part time, low wage, no benefit jobs. This tepid, so-called recovery hurts all of us.

The reality is, our economy will not recover until our government and global financial institutions begin to govern – not just for the banks – but for the well-being of all of us. People unwilling to give up the ghost of austerity provide the same-old tired ideas: the idea that drastic cuts to public spending will promote private spending.

Austerity doesn’t work—under any name or by any measure. Eurozone leaders are beginning to accept this idea. We should do the same.

As Michael Linden of the Center for American Progress reported yesterday, the economic theory and empirical reality undergirding the bipartisan embrace of austerity have crumbled. The evidence shows that what we need now is job creation.  Amidst sequester and without real progress on the 2014 budget or the debt ceiling, he argues that “[t]hese changes should dramatically affect the debate on federal economic policy in general and the federal budget in particular.”

We strongly agree with Linden’s assertion and urge Congress to reject cuts in Social Security and Medicare, reject senseless cuts that hurt the ability of our country to grow and meet the needs of people. The sequester is not savvy frugality but a disastrous assault on working people that Congress must repeal, rather than replace. We must all demand real solutions — like investments in good jobs, education, infrastructure, job training, and the green jobs that come with sustainable development. America’s working people are ready to stand with any leaders committed to large-scale investments to create jobs, to rebuild our middle class and lead us all forward.

Corporations Are Stealing From Hard Working Americans

Cut Tax Breaks

If you do not agree that corporations are stealing from Americans then you do not understand our current tax structure.

It is a well known fact that there are many multi-billion dollar corporations that do not pay any taxes to the federal government. They use the current tax codes to write off everything from shipping jobs overseas to corporate jets.  These tax breaks end up taking away from the revenue that the federal government should be collecting.  It is no wonder why corporate giants like the Koch brothers are so heavily involved in politics, they are protecting their tax breaks.

When you combine these tax breaks with the austerity cuts being pushed by the GOP in Washington we end up in a very depressed economy.  The federal government is now in a position that they must cut social programs like meals on wheels and head start to allow corporations to deduct the cost of their corporate jets.  Am I alone in thinking this is appalling?

Watch this amazing video explanation from AFSCME on how these corporate tax breaks are continuing to hurt our economy and our government.

Looking Over the Fiscal Cliff

Congress returns to Washington DC today – but “fiscal cliff” negotiations aren’t expected to resume until next week.

The delay may allow Congressional GOP leaders to bring a different position to the bargaining table.

Immediately following Election Day, GOP leadership seemed stuck in their “no new taxes” campaign rhetoric.

Since then, several prominent Republicans have questioned the wisdom of sticking with Grover Norquist’s infamous “pledge”.

Over the decades, Norquist’s “pledge” has not been a fiscally-conservative position.  It works like a ratchet wrench: things can only go in one direction; taxes can only go down.  And taxes have gone down – considerably – since Norquist started agitating.

Right now, the federal tax burden – tax revenues as a percentage of the economy – is at one of the lowest points in modern history.

Much of the decline was caused by cuts to corporate taxes.

Next week’s “fiscal cliff” negotiations need to be framed by this reality.  Particularly in a down economy, Congress can’t just cut its way to a balanced federal budget.  (They have tried that in Europe; it’s not solving anything.)

America’s working families know that you can’t balance the budget if revenues keep declining.  We’ve tried to keep our own books balanced despite declining wages.  Too many families have ended up doing just what the federal government has done: borrow money to make ends meet.  And that doesn’t work out very well, over the long term.

As the “fiscal cliff” negotiations continue, keep an eye on your Social Security and Medicare benefits.  It’s just like what happened with the NH Retirement System: the politicians want to cut our benefits, after we spent decades paying into the system.

Right now, even the politicians who are forswearing Norquist’s “pledge” are insisting on “entitlement reforms” in exchange for “new revenue”.  But that’s a false choice.  They are simply trading one way of ratcheting-down taxes for another.

Returning tax revenues to their previous (pre-Norquist) levels would go a long, long way toward solving our country’s debt crisis.


[Tax revenues shown above do not include Social Security, Medicare or other retirement program revenues.  Data is from Table 2.3 of http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2013/assets/hist.pdf.]

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