Retired teachers chapter news

Labor must show the way

American Federation of Teachers Political Director John Ost (center), flanked by Miller Photography

American Federation of Teachers Political Director John Ost (center), flanked by AFT political staffer Janice Springer and Retired Teachers Chapter Leader Tom Murphy, addresses retirees at their November general membership meeting.

Retiree Stanley Albritten asks Ost a question. Miller Photography

Retiree Stanley Albritten asks Ost a question.

Early in the last century, when icebergs threatened North Atlantic sea lanes, a London newspaper suggested placing two or three members of the same political party who had different points of view on the icebergs so the heat of their vicious arguments could melt away the frozen shipping hazards.

Political parties can have hotheaded internal disputes especially when they’re out of power. While part of it is finger-pointing and blame, there is also the search for a vision that can help unify and bring the party’s point of view to the public. If the internal discussions have a positive dynamic, even intense arguments can be beneficial. If it’s just old-fashioned finger-pointing, then the bloodletting can be disastrous.

I think the poor Republican Party, even following the electoral victories that gave it control of the White House and the Congress, is at its wits end about how to manage its victory. The right wingers and more moderate establishment have argued so hotly that their attempts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) foundered under its own steam. Twenty of the party’s members recently signed a letter calling for reconsideration of the Dream Act (DACA) while their more conservative colleagues accuse them of violating the GOP’s 2016 campaign promises to not only severely restrict immigration but to step up deportations.

New York Republicans such as Peter King and Dan Donovan repudiated their own Speaker Paul Ryan’s tax proposals that would eliminate state and local tax deductions (SALT) as well as mortgage interest payments. And ongoing tweets and comments from the president viciously attack such party stalwarts as Sen. John McCain every time he expresses his exasperation with flawed leadership.

On the Democratic side, even more verbal heat is being generated with the losers trying to point blame as they struggle to regroup. Donna Brazile has infuriated Clinton partisans in her new book over who did what at the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign.

Other party members ask: Could Bernie Sanders have won if he wasn’t closed out? Wouldn’t popular Vice President Joe Biden have sailed to victory if he had been the candidate? Why was there no campaign in Michigan as Bill Clinton said there should have been? Why the focus on transgender bathrooms instead of jobs, jobs, jobs? Why were the culture wars once again allowed to swamp old-fashioned worker issues such as, “It’s the economy, stupid”?

Some democrats say Sen. Charles Schumer’s agenda for the future — A Better Deal For American Workers — is all platitudes. And while labor leaders say it’s a good start, where is organized labor even mentioned in the plan?

So last year’s winners and losers are locked in internal debates about what happened and where we should be going.

My advice to the winners is, “Reset your compass to a more moderate, Rockefeller Republican-style strategy.” Labor once had working relationships with them, a sometimes partnership that helped make government work for working people.

On the Democratic side, it’s in our interests to encourage wholesome debate, even if it sometimes gets loud and hot.

Fortunately for progressive labor, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) can offer positive guidance in the debate. Both are sending guest speakers to our end-of-year Retired Teachers Chapter general membership meetings.

At our November meeting, the AFT’s John Ost presented an overview of where labor and retirees are heading, warts and all.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the many studies the AFT makes available to thinking progressives, STRONGER UNIONS, STRONGER COMMUNITIES.”

Big corporations and the wealthy — along with the politicians who do their bidding — have rigged our economy and our political system against working people.

However, when working people have the freedom to join strong unions and negotiate a fair return for their work, they have the power to help everyone succeed — whether or not they belong to a union.

Today, union members continue to negotiate for better wages and conditions that have a ripple effect in local economies. But the work does not stop there. Through collective bargaining, union members are scoring victories that help entire communities — like safer nurse-staffing levels that help patients and smaller classroom sizes that help students. Together with community partners, unions are also using their collective voice to advocate for policies that benefit all working people — like affordable health care and great public schools. Finally, unions are using their resources to provide communities with direct support — whether that is making sure children have access to counselors and drinking water at school or making training available for good jobs.

Put simply: When unions are strong, communities are stronger.

A wag once said that when Democrats form a firing squad, they stand in a circle. Sometimes the party seems chaotic in trying to find its voice and vision.

While progressive labor must stand outside such fratricide, it can show the way forward.

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