Sunday, November 12, 2017

Solidarity Is That Simple by Josh Hickey

Recently, I have had the opportunity to participate in a NYSUT program known as Education Autumn. This program is one of a series going on throughout the state involving member-to-member direct action. Over the last few weeks, I have knocked on more than 200 NYSUT member’s doors and had an opportunity to talk to all kinds of members about a wide variety of topics ranging from the value of being a union member, to educational justice and the struggles to improve our schools, our profession and our communities.

At some point, the conversation gets around to voting No on proposition 1, the Constitutional Convention, but usually before that happens, we have a conversation about what it means to be a union member. I’ve sat on couches and porches, talked with spouses, parents, friends, neighbors and children. One of the most remarkable things about the experience is just how many NYSUT members live in our communities. Sometimes there are other union members in the house, and we all get in on the conversation about how we need each other’s support.

Union members and often public employees are the lynch-pins of their communities. Together, we make society work. Together we pay the taxes and perform the services that let us live our lives, enjoy recreation time, raise families and provide meaningful community relationships. We all do our parts, in our own way, to keep life moving along. Police, firefighters, school personnel, sanitation, drivers, shop clerks are all part of our everyday life, and would be impossible without them. Without them, we’d be struggling to survive.

I come to work, and some of those same realities are evident to me. What I do as a classroom teacher is dependent on the work of so many individuals. From teaching and support staff, to custodians, cafeteria staff, security and clerical personnel, we all depend on each other. Our work becomes exponentially more difficult without the people we have around us. By working together, we can accomplish some pretty amazing things, and the children we work with go on and grow up and become the future.

That process is going on everywhere, all around us all the time, to the point where sometimes we might dismiss all the different ways our lives are interconnected as background noise. We come to expect that those processes and systems will continue to work as they have been. Maybe it is the historian in me, but I can’t help but think of the long years and the constant struggles it took to get to the point where we have even simple protections like workplace safety, sick leave, negotiated salaries, pension plans and a role in the decision making process.

The upcoming Janus vs. AFSCME case, soon to be decided by the Supreme Court represents yet another attack aimed at the core of the basic protections provided by your union. It is a little hard to predict just how sweeping the decision will be, but it is pretty certain that part of the decision will result in changes to Agency Fee laws. It would allow for some to not pay their fair share and still attempt to reap the benefits of union contracts. These people would act like parasites, sucking off the time, training, experience and cost of union protections and negotiations, while providing nothing to the collective effort.

Together, we have the strength to do great things. We have the knowledge, skills and power of all of our members to help support and sustain us. It is a community like any other, and we can’t forget that it takes work and effort to maintain. With it, we are strong and without it, we are alone, negotiating the terms of our employment as an individual. There are some very wealthy individuals (The Koch Brothers, The Waltons, The Broad Family, Bill Gates, Laurene Jobs) who are trying to dismantle public education and destroy teachers unions in many different ways. What better way to to show them that all educators will stand in solidarity to protect our schools, our children, and our profession by staying IN the union and making it stronger. Becoming a "free rider" undermines the work of our brothers and sisters who came before us, and supports the agenda of those mentioned above.

As I am walking through neighborhoods, looking to have meaningful conversations about what being a union worker means, I often think about a song I first heard on the picket line during my parent’s strikes and lock-outs, working for New York Telephone. Now just over 100 years old, this song was written by Ralph Chaplin to bolster and support the American labor movement, and it is as true today as it ever was. The first verse:

"When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run

There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one
For the Union makes us strong"

We don’t all need to knock on doors. We can engage in our communities by running for office, working through social media, or reaching out everyday to our colleagues in order to maintain the relationships that make our union and our communities strong. The OFT is currently working with NYSUT to enhance those ties we already share. Volunteers will be reaching out and speaking with their colleagues about the things we all have in common, hoping to build on and galvanize the work that is already done every day. These things do not just happen magically, it takes some effort and dedication, but we are worth it. Talk to your building rep today to volunteer to be an Ambassador for Public Education. For more information about the Education Autumn program, see the link below:

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