Happy Labor Day

To cheer you up on Labor Day 2014, here are some reports on labor issues from various sources:

Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that most tech companies in the Bay Area neither support nor oppose the proposal to raise the minimum wage in San Francisco, because they don’t bother hiring minimum-wage workers in the first place: “Large tech companies, whose workers make an average of $156,581, are mostly indifferent on the issue. They employ few minimum-wage workers, often contracting low-wage positions to outside providers.” [“Low-paying jobs may get a boost,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 31, 2014, p. D1]

Today, an editorial in the San Jose Mercury-News bemoans the disappearance of the middle class. The editors reminds us of the recent news that, to no one’s surprise, tech workers are overwhelmingly male, and white or Asian. Then the editors go on to report that a recent study by Working Partnerships USA, a San Jose organization, found that there is plenty of racial and gender diversity in the maintenance and support staff of Silicon Valley companies: “The ethnic and gender divide parallels the economic divide: the service workers make a fifth of what tech workers make.” [“Middle class’ demise needs our attention,” San Jose Mercury-News, September 1, 2014, p. A11]

Finally, I am reading Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships by Tim Otto, a member of the Church of the Sojourners, an intentional Christian community in San Francisco (no connection to Jim Wallis’ Sojourners Magazine). The fifth chapter of Otto’s book is devoted to a theological reflection on how our current economic principles impact our families. He writes: “Consumer capitalism undermines the family by:
“1. Giving us less incentive to create strong families.
“2. Promoting [geographic] mobility, which weakens support for the family.
“3. Training us to see ourselves as consumers and other people as products.”

And if this kind of thing — the demise of the middle class, the sexism and racism of the big tech companies — makes you feel bad, might I suggest that you should go out and buy more consumer goods, which will help keep those low-wage workers in China fully employed. Happy Labor Day!

Labor Day, LGBTQ rights, and the 1963 March on Washington

We’re all hearing a great deal about how the 1963 March on Washington featured Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. But I’ve been thinking about jobs and LGBTQ rights.

With Labor Day just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about how it was billed as a “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” Shannon sent me a link to the Organizing Manual (you can view it online here) — and the Organizing Manual contained this passage about jobs and labor:

Why We March

“We march to redress old grievances and to help resolve an American crisis.

“That crisis is born of the twin evils of racism and economic deprivation. They rob all people, Negro and white, of dignity, self-respect, and freedom. They impose a special burden on the Negro, who is denied the right to vote, economically exploited, refused access to public accommodations, subjected to inferior education, and relegated to substandard ghetto housing.

“Discrimination in education and apprenticeship training renders Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and other minorities helpless in our mechanized, industrial society. Lacking specialized training, they are the first victims of racism. Thus the rate of Negro unemployment is nearly three times that or whites.

“Their livelihoods destroyed, the Negro unemployed are thrown into the streets, driven to despair, to hatred, to crime, to violence. All America is robbed of their potential contribution. …

“The Southern Democrats came to power by disfranchising the Negro. They know that as long as black workers are voteless, exploited, and underpaid, the fight of the white workers for decent wages and working conditions will fail. They know that semi-slavery for one means semi-slavery for all.”

 

That’s something to think about on this Labor Day weekend. Maybe we haven’t come as far as we think we have in the last fifty years — with the salaries of the CEOs rising, and the middle class disappearing, these days many white workers are also entering semi-slavery….

And then one of the two names listed on the front page of the Organizing Manual is that of Bayard Rustin. He was crucial to making the March on Washington become a reality. But because he was openly gay, the others who were in charge felt they had to keep Rustin in the background. At least we’ve made some progress in the area of LGBTQ rights; today, they might even have let Rustin speak, or at least show his face on the speaker’s platform [but see Erp’s correction to this statement in the comments below].

Pioneers

After services this morning, a visiting Unitarian Universalist from St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, told me while he was in California he was going to visit Rosemary Matson. He told me that Rosemary Matson’s husband, Rev. Howard G. Matson, had been a chaplain to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, and Rosemary herself continued to be involved.

On the Farmworker Movement Documentation Web site, I found more information about Rosemary and Howard Matson. Howard Matson helped found the National Farm Worker Ministry, an interfaith group supporting farmworkers. Together, Rosemary and Howard had created the Unitarian Universalist Migrant Ministry. Both of them worked with Cesar Chavez and other major figures in the struggle to gain rights for Mexican Americans. Rosemary Matson recorded this anecdote about Chavez:

I remember my unexpectedly providing lunch for Cesar and 15 of his delegation at our home in Berkeley. They were between meetings in Oakland. A trip to the deli for pans of lasagna sufficed for all except Cesar, who I found out was a vegetarian, drank carrot juice, and needed a nap.

We have just completed a “Justice General Assembly” focused on immigrants’ rights. Although Rosemary Matson received an honorary degree from Starr King School fo the Ministry, I cannot help but think we should be paying more attention to those Unitarian Universalists who have been working on this broad issue since the 1960s.

West coast port shutdown, Oakland

Occupy Oakland is participating in the West coast port shutdown organized for today. Here’s my account of participating in this morning’s action — my perspective is very limited, but I felt it was worth presenting the unspectacular side of the Occupy movement.

I arrived at the West Oakland BART station right at 5:30 a.m., the time we were scheduled to start heading out to the various berths. I looked around for Kurt and Craig, the ministers I was hoping to meet, but couldn’t find them in the pre-dawn darkness. The organizers started us walking towards the terminal; we moved along at a pretty quick walk; this was a serious and committed crowd of people.

I joined the contingent heading to berth 30-32. One of the organizers told us that members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 said they would not cross a picket line, so we formed two picket lines at the two gates near us. It was not the best-organized picket line I’ve ever seen: people kept drifting away and standing in the middle of the road in front of the gates, then drifting back. I saw a few people wearing shirts or carrying signs identifying themselves with organized labor — some members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) carrying a banner of their union, someone with an IWW banner, and one or two others. The OEA members and the Wobbly stuck to the picket line.

OEA members on the picket line

I got to talking with Mark, a physician who works for one of the Bay area counties. Continue reading “West coast port shutdown, Oakland”

One possible litmus test for “UU culture”

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is in the middle of an attempt to cut the state budget, and at the moment he’s focusing on passage of a bill that will end collective bargaining for state employees. This action sparked protests and a Democratic walkout, and for four days now state workers and their supporters have basically taken over the Rotunda of the state capitol building.

As a Unitarian Universalist, I am fascinated by our religious response to this event. For anyone with a union connection, the events in Wisconsin will be seen as a watershed event — indeed, if Scott Walker’s bill passes, what’s happening in Wisconsin could be as important to union supporters as last year’s anti-immigration legislation in Arizona was to those working on immigration reform. But Unitarian Universalists have been basically ignoring what’s going on in Wisconsin; aside from a blog post by Patrick Murfin, I have seen no UU response.

It will be interesting to see how this develops. When Arizona passed anti-immigration legislation, Unitarian Universalists were furious, and a number went and got arrested in protests. However, Unitarian Universalists generally do not show much support when it comes to unions and worker’s rights. If Scott Walker’s bill passes (as it is likely to do), I do not think we will see a massive upwelling of support among Unitarian Universalists for collective bargaining rights.

This, I believe, reveals something about what Chris Walton and UU World magazine have been terming “Unitarian Universalist culture”. While Unitarian Universalists have a strong tendency to support politically liberal causes, they do not support all politically liberal causes equally, and unionism is one cause that gets little or limited support. Because of this, I predict that we will not be seeing prophetic statements from the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association condemning Scott Walker; I also predict that the Standing on the Side Of Love campaign will not start including love for union workers the way it included love for immigrants in the wake of Arizona.

I’m fascinated by the way Unitarian Universalists pick and choose among politically liberal causes, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on why this might be so. Specifically, why don’t we support unionism (with the exception of Cesar Chavez’s farmworkers union, but then maybe that was more about immigrants than about unions)? Is it because our strong strain of individualism is repelled by collective bargaining? Is it because so many of us are members of the managerial class that we tend to distrust unions? Or what? Maybe this will help better define what “UU culture” really is.