Guardian columnist Dick Meister is former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom. He has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 350 of his columns.
It's way past time to raise the pitifully low federal minimum wage. That would provide badly needed help to the millions who are living in poverty or near-poverty at the current rate of $7.25 an hour, and would help all Americans by stimulating the sagging economy.
Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois are carrying bills that would set a new minimum of $10 an hour. They're pressing hard – as they very well should – to get the general public and their allies in Congress to fully appreciate the widespread good that would come from helping some of the country's neediest workers. Read more »
Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www,dickmeister,com, which includes more than 350 of his columns.
The coming of the Internet has had a profound impact on media coverage of working people and their unions. No, the mainstream media have not expanded their generally limited and shallow labor reporting or their generally anti-labor editorial positions. But there now are dozens of non-mainstream websites and blogs, such as the Bay Guardian's, that provide in-depth labor coverage. The print versions of union newspapers and newsletters could never reach the very much larger audience that's now available via the Internet.
There are even pro-labor broadcast outlets, such as Pacifica Radio's KPFT in Houston, that cover labor issues in depth. The broadcasts and labor websites and blogs expose many people to labor activities and issues they may not otherwise have heard of, or understand – including pro-labor views, Read more »
Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 350 of his columns.
"Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread, but give us roses!"
–From a poem by James Oppenheim
Bread and roses. It was the battle cry of the thousands of striking women and their supporters who marched through the streets of Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912, in the heart of the textile industry. Although it's been 100 years since they marched, their militancy and bravery remain among the brightest highlights in the long history of the American labor movement.
The three-months long strike in Lawrence, led by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) pitted the 25,000 workers – half of them women under 20, many as young as 14 – against the violently anti-labor textile mill owners, who were strongly backed by the press, politicians , school officials, and clergy.
Striking was difficult for the workers, who had only their poverty-level wages to live on. They had barely enough to pay the rent for the run-down, disease-ridden shacks and tenement flats where most of them lived. Many were constantly in debt, having to borrow money to meet their bare necessities. Health care and other fringe benefits were virtually unheard of, and more than one-third of the workers died in their mid-twenties. Read more »
(Note: In July of 1972, when the Guardian was short a Fourth of July story, I sat down and cranked out this one for the front page on my trusty Royal Typewriter. I now reprint it each year on the Bruce blog, with some San Francisco updates and postscripts.)
Back where I come from, a small town beneath a tall standpipe in northwestern Iowa, the Fourth of July was the best day of a long, hot summer.
The Fourth came after YMCA camp and Scout camp and church camp, but before the older boys had to worry about getting into shape for football. It was welcome relief from the scalding, 100-degree heat in a town without a swimming pool and whose swimming holes at Scout Island were usually dried up by early July. But best of all, it had the kind of excitement that began building weeks in advance. Read more »
Mom and the AFL-CIO have an intriguing new message for America's working people: "Eat Your Veggies – and Join a Union."
Many moms know, of course, that unionized workers are paid better than their non-union counterparts, have better benefits, better working conditions and stronger voices in what goes on at their workplaces, as well as in off-the-job political activities. Read more »
Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, is co-author of "A Long Time Coming: The Struggle To Unionize America's Farm Workers" (Macmillan). Contact him through his website, www.dickmeiste.com, which includes more than 350 of his columns.
How fitting it is that Dolores Huerta has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her many years of hard and invaluable work for union rights and civil rights generally deserve no less than the country's highest civilian honor, bestowed on her May 30 by President Obama.
Huerta, now a vibrant 80 years old, has had a remarkable career spanning more than a half-century. She's probably best known for her work with Cesar Chavez in the founding and operations of the United Farm Workers union. But that's been just part of her lifelong and extraordinarily successful and courageous fight for economic and social justice. Read more »
Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.
Yes, labor lost its attempt to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, one of the most virulent labor opponents anywhere. But as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared, the heated election campaign was "not the end of the story, but just the beginning."
The campaign, triggered by Walker all but eliminating the collective bargaining rights of most of Wisconsin's 380,000 public employees, showed that labor is quite capable of mounting major drives against anti-labor politicians, a lesson that won't be lost on unions or their opponents.
As a reporter for the old Redwood City Tribune in 1965 or so, I got a call one day from the late Luman Drake, then an indefatigable environmental activist in Brisbane. “Bruce,” he said, “you are good at exposing scandals on the Peninsula, but you have missed the biggest scandal of them all. Garbage, garbage in the Bay off Brisbane, garbage alongside the Bay Shore going into San Francisco.”
He then outlined for me, his voice rising in anger, how the scavengers of an early era had muscled through a longtime contract to dump San Francisco’s garbage into the bay alongside the Bay Shore freeway. And, he said, they are still doing it. Why can’t you fight it? I asked naively.
“Fight it, fight it,” he replied. “The scavengers are the most powerful political force in San Francisco and there’s not a goddamn thing we can do about it.” I checked out his story, then and through the years, and he was right. Everyone driving in and out of San Francisco could watch with horror for years as the scavengers kept dumping San Francisco garbage into a big chunk of the bay. (Note the oral history from Drake and then Mayor Paul Goercke and others who fought the losing fight for years to kick out the scavengers from Brisbane.) http://legendarymarketingenius.com/oralhistorySBMW.html)
Five decades later, the scavengers are still a preeminent political power in San Francisco. The scavengers (now Recology) have operated since 1932 without competitive bidding, without regulation of its high residential and commercial rates, without a franchise fee, and without any real oversight. Finally, after all these years as king of the hill, Recology’s monopoly is being challenged by Proposition A, an initiative aimed at forcing Recology for the first time to undergo competitive bidding and thereby save city residents and businesses millions of dollars in rates and service. Read more »