Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
February 25, 2007

It’s All About Education
Two stories on this topic caught my attention this week.

While American workers are right up on top in the number of hours worked American students rank 27th in the world in number of instructional school hours each year. Korea tops the list at 1078. The average number of hours for the industrialized world as a whole was 889. The USA barely nudged out Mexico with 799 per annum.

This week another study was released by the U.S. Education Department that was a classic good news-bad news report. Those graduating high school in 2005 racked up more high school credits, achieved higher grade point averages, and completed more college prep courses, under No Child Left Behind. Unfortunately, standardized test results showed that 12th-grade reading scores have generally been dropping since 1992. Fewer than one-quarter of seniors tested scored in the “proficient” range in math.

The disparity between these two measures would seem to indicate that while the Federal Reserve may have held down monetary inflation course and grade point inflation is running rampant. Particularly disturbing is the fact that while grades have improved for Black and Latino students as part of this rising tide the gap between them and white pupils has hardly budged.

Like the rest of society, our educational system is quite unequal. There are excellent schools and there are others both students and teachers dread attending. Most probably fall in between with stable mediocrity.

This inequality is rationalized as “local control” of education. Those districts strapped for funds, with students coming from homes with serious economic and social challenges, are as free to control their schooling as the affluent suburbs–or private schools.

No significant progress in education will be made within this system that in fact leaves most children behind. The “Ensure Everyone Access to Quality Public Education “ plank in the Labor Party program lays out the direction we need to take:

We are a nation of educational haves and have nots. The rich protect their children in elite private schools while our children suffer in increasingly crowded, dangerous, and under-funded public schools. The rich send their children to the best colleges and universities, while more and more of our children are denied higher education due to rising tuition costs and deep cutbacks in our state universities. This two-tiered educational system must end. We call for a renewed commitment to high quality public education for all, not voucher systems and other privatization schemes that further reduce resources for our public schools. We call for: National financing of all public education (instead of property taxes) so that each child, not just those of the rich, has the resources necessary for a good learning environment. National legislation and funds to reduce the student-teacher ratio to 15 to 1 in all public schools. National legislation and funding to extend public schools for pre-K children starting at age 3 on a voluntary basis. Parent education at public schools to help parents from all backgrounds learn more about how to help their children learn at home. Free public university and technical education of all kinds for everyone who wants it. Each of us should be able to go to school as far as our abilities can carry us. Like the GI Bill of Rights, everyone 18 years or over should receive a minimum livable wage for four years when attending a post-secondary educational institution.

Deadly Trenches
I’m not talking about Iraq or Afghanistan. John W. Anderson, 51, died in a trench in which he was laying sewer pipe in the Genesis Trails Subdivision, the latest expansion of Urban Sprawl in the Kansas City Northland. He wasn’t killed by a terrorist bullet. He was the victim of a greedy cockroach employer.

Anderson was in a 10-15 foot trench when it collapsed. He suffocated before firefighters could reach him. It is the kind of “accident” that will never happen if OSHA rules are followed. But Carlyle Plumbing Inc. of Liberty flouted every rule rushing to complete work for Signature Quality Homes of Gladstone. The trench walls were neither sloped nor shored. Anderson, working alone, was not provided a trench box. There was no expert on site to test the stability of the soil.

Unfortunately, such deaths are not so rare. What’s unusual about this case is that a Kansas City Star columnist, Mike Hendricks, decided to expose this for the crime that it is,

It’s not uncommon for construction crews to ignore the rules on trench safety and take chances. More often than not, nobody gets hurt. Workers climb in, get the job done, then climb back out unscathed.

Other times workers barely escape with their lives, as was the case for two lucky men in Olathe a little over a year ago.

And in a few dozen cases each year, someone gets killed, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of trench deaths.

As for the penalty the company might face, the fines that OSHA hands out these days — thanks to Congress — are rarely high enough to make contractors take notice, even when there’s a fatality.

For instance, a masonry worker in Bridgeport, Conn., died in a trench collapse in 2005 and his employer was fined a mere $20,100. On appeal, it was reduced to $14,700.

Not much of a deterrent.

Hendricks goes on to mention that in the Bridgeport case an angry prosecuting attorney has filed manslaughter charges against the boss and a trial is scheduled next month. This is one crime it’s time to get tough on.

A Poor Measure Of Society
The number living in severe poverty in the United States has reached its highest rate in more than three decades. And when they say severe they are not exaggerating. This category is reserved for families of four living on less than 9,903 dollars a year, 5,080 for individuals.

Says Tony Pugh, author of a study for McClatchy Newspapers,

The plight of the severely poor is a distressing sidebar to an unusual economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased significantly since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged. At the same time, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries. That helps explain why the median household income for working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.

These and other factors have helped push 43 percent of the nation’s 37 million poor people into deep poverty — the highest rate since at least 1975.

The share of Americans in deep poverty has climbed slowly but steadily in the last three decades. But since 2000, the number of severely poor has grown “more than any other segment of the population,” according to a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Surprisingly, the traditional silk stocking bastion of Johnson County, Kansas has the dubious honor of leading all large counties in the nation in growth of severe poverty.

GE Goes Dark In St Louis
The General Electric light bulb plant in operation in the St Louis suburb of Wellston since 1901 is being closed due to “foreign competition.” That “foreign” competitor is a GE plant in Monterey, Mexico, where the Wellston equipment will be shipped. Thomas Edison’s company now has only one remaining light bulb plant in the USA, in Winchester, Va.

HOG Ready To Slop Up Again After Strike
Harley-Davidson is a highly profitable company. One of their strongest appeals is that they are the only American motorcycle in mass production so they don’t have to worry so much about foreign competition. But that didn’t mean that they wouldn’t be looking for concessions from their workers and, after a two-week strike by the IAM at their largest plant in York, Pennsylvania, they’ve got them. The Harley workers did resist paying premiums for their health insurance but they will now shell out a lot more in deductibles and co-pays. Worse yet, a two-tier wage structure for new hires was agreed to. Negotiations are coming up with the IAM and Steelworkers at Harley plants in Milwaukee and Kansas City.

New Labor Beat Video
Rise of the Anti-War Soldier
is the title of a new Labor Beat video, shot with a background of the January 27 March on Washington. The first segment features extensive interviews with US Labor Against the War leaders, such as Jerry Gordon from Cleveland and Howard Wallace from San Francisco. Part two is an excerpt of a presentation by Anthony Arnove, author of The Case for Withdrawal. The concluding segment features protesting active duty GIs and Iraq veterans. If you’ve got broadband you can watch a streaming version posted
here. DVDs are available for 15 dollars.

Our Technical Challenges
We again ran into problems last week in updating the
Daily Labor News Digest, and other pages on the kclabor.org site. Sash and the nameless technicians at SupremeServer 5 have us going again, for now at least. If we run in to more problems we will post the news on the Labor Advocate Blog as a stop gap measure--but we hope to reserve the Blog mainly for commentary.

That’s all for this week.

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