Beginning a New School Year…and a “Sha Na Na”….

Thursday I dropped off a small gift for my daughter, Principal of a Middle School in the school district I live in. It was a 2017-18 computer produced calendar from the always popular Education Minnesota booth at the Minnesota State Fair. “Happy New Year” I said. Teacher workshop week was about over, and school begins (in almost all Minnesota school districts) the day after Labor Day. Here’s the Education Minnesota “welcome back” ad for 2017. Here’s more.

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Education Minnesota booth at Minnesota State Fair. Corey Bulman, 2017 Teacher of the Year, was guest in the booth.

(Best as I recall, the photo calendar idea began as an expensive experiment in about 1990, which was the first year digital imaging connected to computer became commercially available (see history of digital imaging here). Back then, the organization was named Minnesota Education Association. It was, as stated, an expensive experiment, but as best I know every year since the photo calendars have become very popular, a tradition for many, and, I suppose, less expensive, too. It is a great connection of educators with the community.)


In one way or another over 50 million students are beginning their public school year (in Minnesota, this happens tomorrow). Here’s another view of the same data. Another 5 million or more public school employees (teachers, administrators, secretaries, cooks, bus drivers….) enter school with them. In all, that’s about one of five Americans.

All, beginning with school bus drivers, will have (or already have had) the annual nervous night before the first day of school as they arrive at their assigned places of work. Remember your own first days of the school year: new everything, starting a new year.

Of course, many other students attend parochial, or charter, or home school…but by far the largest, always, is the public school whose charter is to serve everyone, never a simple task.

Daughter Joni (referred to in first paragraph) is beginning her 14th year as a school administrator. Time flies. One of her major tasks, in addition to being Principal, is to supervise the completion of a new Middle School, which will replace her 1951 building in 2018. She’s equal to the task.


I’m biased towards public education. Both parents were career public school teachers. Six Aunts and Uncles were public school teachers, most for a career…. I was involved in public education for 36 years – junior high teacher (9 years) and full-time teacher union representative (27). As mentioned, one daughter is, and has been for many years, a public school teacher or administrator. Nine grandkids are veterans of public schools. Another daughter was a school board member, very active in her local public schools.

Such a huge institution as “public education” is easy to criticize. All you need is a spotlight and a single someone on which to focus criticism, and a microphone to publicize it. With over 50,000,000 potential targets, there is someone there who will be in the negative spotlight.

But look at the totality before embracing the criticism….

Public education is a noble institution whose mission is to take all, and do the best they can given scarce resources: often too large class sizes, infinite varieties of individual differences and dilemmas, from family crises, to differing abilities, and even personality conflicts between human beings (teachers and students and other school employees are human beings too, after all).

Welcome back. Our country is a richer place because of public education.


As noted, I have been very fortunate to be associated with public education my entire life.

A down side of this, as one ages, is to be witness at endings. Within the last month, I attended three memorials of public school teachers I knew, each unique persons. About seven people I knew were at the most recent reunion of the junior high school at which I taught in the 1960s and early 70s. The most recent death, Jim Peterson, former Fridley teacher, was the teacher I knew the least. His wife preceded him in death by a year, and he was felled quickly by a disease lurking inside him, so he didn’t have much time to say goodbyes.

I wrote the family afterwards that I had been to many memorials, but Jim’s, which he planned himself, was the most memorable, in all sorts of ways which don’t need to be described, except for the final song at the time we processed out of the sanctuary for the church ladies lunch.

The singer, who said she knew Jim as a neighbor and almost like a Dad, said he’d given her two songs to sing at dismissal.

The one I’ll always remember was the last, a delightful rendition of the “Sha na na” song. Not familiar with Sha Na Na? Here’s the YouTube version sung by the composer of the song back in 1969, and here’s the wiki story about Sha na na.

Imagine yourself walking out of church after a memorial service with this send off!

Do you know a teacher or a school employee or a student or one who has been? Wish them well, as this New Year begins.

POSTNOTE: My message to public schools, from “outside the walls”, remains on-line as it has been for many years. Read the message at Rethinking Community here.

Dick Bernard: Three weeks after inauguration day. Letters to Judd

More on the topic of the 2017 Presidency here.
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The town in which we live, Woodbury MN, would be considered a prosperous suburban community just east of St. Paul. Sometimes I refer to it as “suburban 3M”, since 3Ms headquarters are nearby and many highly skilled employees live here. Politically, we’re probably a “purple” place: our State Senator and one of our two state legislators are Democrat and female; the other side of the district had a hard fought race between two women: one Democrat, one Republican. The Democrat (we call Democrats DFLer – Democratic Farmer Labor in Minnesota) is a young African-American professional woman; our town of 62,000 has a significant number of Muslims, primarily highly educated professional people.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, yesterday, to see our local paper, the Woodbury Bulletin, carry a front page and very long column by Youssef Rddad on the WWII internship of the Japanese in America, with a headline “Does Trump order echo the past?
Meanwhile, back in Washington…. A good daily summary I look forward to every day is found in Just Above Sunset, a retired guy in Los Angeles. The last number, overnight, is titled: “The Persistence of Nonsense“. [Feb. 11: the most recent posting, again overnite, is chilling and important, here. Avoiding reality is not a good option…for us.]
Here at home I had occasion to pull down one of the boxes of farm “junk” – part of the last remaining residue of my grandparents 110 year farm in rural North Dakota.
I was looking for the book about the 1997 Red River Valley Flood (which is here, somewhere), but instead, sitting on top, was a 64-page pamphlet, “Letters to Judd”, originally written in 1925 and, according to author Upton Sinclair, “reprinted in 1932 and 1933. I might have rewritten it, but I thought you would learn more by reading it as prophecy.”
It would count as “prophecy” for the first decades of the 2000s as well.
Upton Sinclair was a prolific author, a Socialist, once a candidate for Governor of California. You can read the entire 1933 pamphlet here.
The pamphlet I have is the 1933 edition, and five pages can be seen here: Letters to Judd002
Take the time to read the first couple of letters. I think you’ll want to continue to the end.
Grandpa Busch was about 53 – my oldest sons age – when he picked up the book in 1933. His area, North Dakota, was in the hard times of the Depression. He had lost, or was about to lose, part of his land.
I’ve gotten to know a lot about Grandpa and Grandma and their family over these past many years.
Grandpa came to the prairie in 1905 to be somebody. As so often happens to the little guys (and gals), greed of bigger shots than he put the brakes on his aspirations. The Non-Partisan League beckoned; later he was one of the first to join and become very active in the North Dakota Farmers Union.
But I think he was always on the conservative side, not happy with “loafers” who got government jobs in the CCC and WPA and such (even though a nephew was in the CCC). He was a gifted tinkerer, convinced that inventing stuff – he had patents – would sail his families boat, though it never did.
It would be great to have a conversation with Grandpa about “Letters to Judd” – how he came to learn about it; what he thought of it…. He lived on 34 more years, on the same farm, always a dreamer, a tinkerer.
Letters to Judd is about the battle between concepts: Capitalism versus Socialism. We are in a society where Capitalism has won, but have we…?
Read the pamphlet, think about what you’ve read, share it, have a conversation.
What part do you play in our future.
from Corky: Letters to Judd is interesting read. Economic analysis is interesting. I understand the plight of farmers much better now.
from C: How sad. We watched the movie Grapes of Wrath last night on [TV]. You couldn’t help but cry at what they went through. I kept thinking of our refugees. I know we shouldn’t live in fear, but I can’t help it. I fear what is happening in our country. Is this the coming of Hitler’s dictatorship time? I hear how, ” this and that” is being investigated and it gives me hope but it’s so slow in happening. It’s like I read where a president was told “Don’t piss in the pot we all have to eat out of”. The women in congress speak up but the only men that speak up are Democrats, Senators Tim Kaine, your [Mn Sen.] Franken, and Republican John McCain.
from Emmett: As I read through the material, I found that it paralleled the story of my family. My dad suffered from a hernia and wore a truss, as did Judd. Our house was also made of a couple of houses brought together, and then other additions were added later. Much of what is said sounds a lot like what my dad said. And much of what is said is still happening today (automation). The letter writers would be shocked by what is currently happening in this electronic world we live in. It is interesting as to how people can witness the same thing and yet process it in such different ways. All this makes me think about Mitt Romney and his comment about makers and takers. You have a work force making things and the wealthy executives of the company take the profits for themselves leaving little for the makers. Yet from Mitt Romney’s perspective, he was the maker by virtue of his investments, while the 47%, made up largely by poor underpaid makers were the takers in his mind. I was thinking that this should be sent to Trump. But I’m not sure he has the intellect to digest it all. All this makes you understand the passage of Glass-Steagall, to protect us from the wealth crooks that caused the Great Depression and the Bush Recession.
from Peter: Here is a letter I just sent to my extended family. I encourage everyone to follow the link and take effective action
It may have been awhile since you heard from me about other than births, deaths or marriages.
We are confronted with an administration that seems bent on harming as many as possible of the most vulnerable among us. Most of you saw this coming, and opposed it, but here we are.
Today immigration raids have begun in earnest, tearing apart families all over America. I had seen this under the previous administration, when I participated in a workshop in Boston with teenagers who often came home from school to find the front door missing and their parents gone. In Boston. In America. But this is now set to “surge”, according to ICE.
This can’t be accomplished by haranguing people who already agree with us, which is what happens when we blog or use the Book of Faces. One way that might have real impact, however, is to erode their corporate support, as outlined below. Because, although corporations are not democratic in any way, they exist because we put up with them, regardless of politics or law. And we don’t have to put up with them. They live under the Rule of Money, not the Rule of Law, and in that country [Money], we have considerable, innate power.
The history of the list, and those included on the list, is
We are seeing a massive power-grab by the likes of Bannon, who is a dyed-in-the-wool white supremacist. He is now attacking Planned Parenthood, the golden goose of his hate-spewing career, now that he is running the White House. That person knows no limits, and believes in an an ultimate war between the few people he likes, and the rest of humanity. The President, as is obvious, is a loon who is easily steered by such manipulators, and will be discarded – a last great trumpian spectacle – when his puffery ceases sufficiently to distract the nation from the deep substantive changes his backers are making to our system of governance.
We are all needed now. Meanwhile, as Joni Mitchell sang:
“The gas leaks
The oil spills
And sex kills…”
PS- as with all links in emails, paste it in your browser, don’t click on it here!
from Fred: Here is [a] Kipling poem The Sons of Martha and the note my friend sent. If you want to see Upton Sinclair’s comment [on the poem] just google reviews of the poem*.
“I’ve seen this cited in a couple of places on the web as a key to (at least some of) the psychology of the 2016 election. It’s called “The Sons of Martha”. Biblical reference is Luke 10. Notes here.”
Rudyard Kipling (1907)
The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother, of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.
It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.
They say to mountains “Be ye removèd.” They say to the lesser floods “Be dry.”
Under their rods are the rocks reprovèd – they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit – then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.
They finger Death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.
To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden – under the earthline their altars are –
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city’s drouth.
They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not preach that His Pity allows them to drop their job when they damn-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s ways may be long in the land.
Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat;
Lo, it is black already with the blood some Son of Martha spilled for that!
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.
And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessèd – they know the Angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessèd, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the feet – they hear the Word – they see how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons!
* – Upton Sinclair: from “The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.(Under this title the English poet has written a striking picture of the social chasm. He figures the world’s toilers as the “Sons of Martha,” who, because their mother “was rude to the Lord, her Guest,” are condemned forever to unrequited toil. “It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.” The poem goes on to tell of the ignorance and torment in which they live—while the Sons of Mary, who “have inherited that good part,” live in ease upon their toil.
“They sit at the Feet and they hear the Word—they know how truly the Promise runs.
“They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and—the Lord he lays it on Martha’s Sons.”
But it appears that for a long period of years Mr. Kipling has refused to permit this radical poem to be reprinted. Under the circumstances, all that the editor can do is to state that it may be found in the files of the New York Tribune and other newspapers throughout America having the service of the “Associated Sunday Magazines,” on April 28, 1907. The editor ventures to doubt if there exists a more dangerous social force than the man of genius who turns his divine gift to the crushing of the efforts of his fellowmen for justice)”

#1077 – Dick Bernard: Remembering Sandy Peterson, two Unions, and a Merger

Sandra Peterson died on October 24, 2015. Her death was local news in Minnesota. She deserves the kudos which are coming her way. She was a visionary leader.
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Some of the guests at the anniversary, Feb. 28. Center front is Judy Schaubach, then VP of MEA; 2nd from left in top row is Sandra Peterson, then President MFT.  Others: front row Sharon Kjellberg and Denise Specht; top row from left Paul Mueller, Greg Burns and Dick Bernard

Some of the guests at the anniversary, Feb. 28. Center front is Judy Schaubach, then VP of MEA; 2nd from left in top row is Sandra Peterson, then President MFT. Others: front row Sharon Kjellberg and Denise Specht; top row from left Paul Mueller, Greg Burns and Dick Bernard

I knew Sandy as a union leader, first of MFT, then Education Minnesota, “back in the day”. It was to be expected that she would be described as a “tough union leader and tender hockey grandmother” as though these were contradictions in terms. She, like so many “union leaders” and “grandparents” made, and still make, a very positive difference. She and I didn’t know each other well, but we certainly weren’t strangers either. Indeed, we office’d just a few doors down from each other for the last two years of my career, first at MFT, then at MEA.
(For many years, here in Minnesota, there were two competing unions: one was the Minnesota Education Association (MEA); the other the Minnesota Federation of Teachers (MFT). I was one of many MEA Field Representatives; Sandra was President of MFT.)
At this point, a little history would help to understand the “teacher union” business in context with Minnesota.
For most of my staff career (1972-2000), each organization viewed the other as the enemy, and we acted accordingly.
The two-union conflict is a long and interesting and important story, which veterans of one camp or the other can likely still recall with fervor (and differing interpretations). It is a story younger teachers cannot relate to.
The time of change in relationships was the 1990s.
I happened to be the MEA staff “on the ground” in Rosemount-Apple Valley in the early 1990s when the winds of change began to blow. Both “sides”, I think, knew that the teachers they represented were sick and tired of the unproductive conflict, and discussions led to proposals which led ultimately to state then national action: To my recollection, the two locals became Dakota County United Educators in 1993, the first merged MEA-MFT local, recognized by both national unions (the photo above is at the 20th anniversary of that merger in 2013).
In 1998, the two state unions merged to become Education Minnesota, and at the end of August, 1998, several of we MEA staff were assigned offices at the nearby MFT headquarters in St. Paul. President Sandra Peterson’s office was just down the hall from us, and while there was likely apprehension among all of us, it wasn’t visible and it didn’t last long.
On August 31, 1998, I took the two following photos outside the new Education Minnesota co-office; about the same time Sandra Peterson and MEA’s Judy Schaubach became the merged Unions Co-Presidents. (click to enlarge).
Changing the signage from MFT to Education Minnesota, August 31, 1998, 168 Aurora, St. Paul MN

Changing the signage from MFT to Education Minnesota, August 31, 1998, 168 Aurora, St. Paul MN

Some of the MFT staff August 31, 1998

Some of the MFT staff August 31, 1998

I retired from Education Minnesota two years later. My retirement had nothing whatsoever to do with the merger. It was an ordinary retirement.
The merger had been well planned, and the years of working more and more closely together on many things made the transition simpler.
It took a long while for the “brand” “Education Minnesota” to stick. (In some sectors, I doubt it will ever stick. For instance, the third Thursday and Friday of October will, it appears, always be called “MEA days” or “MEA vacation” in the public eye in Minnesota.)
It is 17 years since the merger of MEA and MFT. Anyone with less than 17 years of teaching experience has no real context of a time when there were two teacher unions in conflict with each other (and were thus easier to divide and conquer.)
Mergers take lots and lots of ability to find and build common ground. Sandra Peterson more than played a strong and positive role. There are adjectives better than “tough” which I would use to describe her and others who have built strong and effective unions, not only in the public school teacher sector.
“Visionary” comes to mind.
Unions are an asset to the public good, not otherwise.
Ironically, just a couple of days ago my copy of the NEA Retired magazine arrived in my mailbox. It’s cover topic is about Union. It is worth a read, here: I am the Union001
Bon Voyage, Sandra!

#1027 – Dick Bernard: Remembering 50 years; a Teacher Union Gathering.

Today was the annual Recognition Dinner of Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota, and as I’ve done since the first one, in 2001, I always attend. And when I get home, I’m always glad I made the trip to the north suburbs of Minneapolis, to some venue in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.
It was a rainy late afternoon, early evening, this year, and a rush hour drive, but as always the general theme of food, fun, family prevailed, the family being 85 or so present and past leaders of the now over 2700 member teacher union.
This year I was especially glad to be there, though externally I probably looked and sounded a bit withdrawn.
It was an evening of reminiscence…a time of thinking back.
It was 50 years ago this coming summer, July 21, 1965, when I came to Anoka for the first time, and signed a contract to teach in the brand new Roosevelt Junior High School in the neighboring town of Blaine. I signed the contract in Superintendent Erling Johnson’s office in the old Anoka Senior High School, the school from which Garrison Keillor had graduated a few years earlier, in 1960.
I didn’t know it then, but three days later my critically ill wife, Barbara, would die at the University of Minnesota Hospital, leaving me in a strange city, a new arrival, with a year and a half son. Survival depended on community, in the broadest definition….
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Dick and Tom Bernard about Halloween 1965 at Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis MN

Dick and Tom Bernard about Halloween 1965 at Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis MN

The early weeks remain a blur, and the first year was especially difficult, but somehow or other unplanned things tend to work out, and in this case they did.
Another unplanned event got me involved in the teacher’s union beginning towards the end of the 1960s.
I was teaching at Roosevelt, and a teacher colleague, Ron Swanson, became President of what was then called AHEA, the Anoka-Hennepin Education Association. Anoka-Hennepin was already a large district, and while there was not yet collective bargaining, representing about 1000 teachers was very hard work.
Ron was a local boy, and I was an outsider, but one day I remember Ron walking by with a large box of Association files, heading to a meeting, and complaining of a bad headache.
It was then and there that I decided that I needed to get involved and do something, though I had no idea what teachers unions did. That singular decision led to a 27 year career representing public school teachers – something I’d never even considered doing. So is how life goes.
AHEA Executive Board Meeting in October 1971

AHEA Executive Board Meeting in October 1971

You learn quickly, of course, when you jump in, and others who are active see that you have an interest.
For me, it began with becoming part of a Public Relations Committee which founded something we decided to call “Coins for the Community”. Tonight, at the dinner, it was mentioned that Coins for Community remains as a project of the Association 45 years later!
Old AHEA Newsletters I have reveal the origin and first results of “Coins for Community”: AHEA Coins for Community001. I can still see in minds eye the small committee meeting in an Anoka-Hennepin classroom deciding on the project. A teacher at Sorteberg Elementary School asked her son to design the Coins logo which was used for years.
Then came a year of editing the Teacher Association newsletter, thence dabbling in negotiations, thence diving into the totally uncharted waters of Executive Director of the local Union beginning in March, 1972.
American Education Week 1970.  These youngsters would now be in their late 50s!

American Education Week 1970. These youngsters would now be in their late 50s!

"Revolution" in the Fall of 1970

“Revolution” in the Fall of 1970

Growing Pains January 1971, at what was soon to become Anoka Senior High School

Growing Pains January 1971, at what was soon to become Anoka Senior High School

There were increasing numbers of we teachers who became active back then and, truth be told, we all basically slogged along, putting one foot in front of the other, learning as we went along. So did management adapt and adjust. They had no concept of sharing power with employees – it just was something that had never been done.
We all learned, making abundant mistakes in the process.
What heartened me tonight is that this Association survived and thrived long after we departed from the scene.
Sitting in that room tonight, among a number of we “old-timers” were a large crop of present day active members of the Association, the people who make any organization work: in a real sense, a family of people who work together towards a common cause, not always agreeing on what or how to do this or that, but nonetheless getting the job done…and being respected by the other side.
Sometime in the next months there will be a 50-year anniversary of the opening of Roosevelt Junior High School. When it happens, I’ll be there with the rest of us, all well on in years, now, but nonetheless all people who contributed in our own ways to the future.
Thanks AHEM Local 7007. It was great to be there.
LeMoyne Corgard, President of AHEM, presides over the recognition of teacher leaders May 14, 2015

LeMoyne Corgard, President of AHEM, presides over the recognition of teacher leaders May 14, 2015

#1015 – Dick Bernard: A Piece of Drama on an Important Issue

Mid-week, my spouse, Cathy, read an April 6 commentary on a sneaky change in Federal Pension Protection law which interested and troubled her.
At the end of the commentary was an invitation to attend a meeting on Saturday, and so we went over, not knowing what to expect.
First, I’d recommend getting to know, an organization which keeps close tabs on actions relating to pension law. They were an integral part of the program.
The focus of the meeting, which attracted near 200 people, mostly older men and Teamster retirees, was (in my opinion) a sneaky and very dangerous amendment to another major piece of legislation passed in December, 2014. (see “New Law Allows Cuts to Retiree Pensions” at There was no debate, and thus no accountability. Too many such amendments are passed these days….
Both my wife and I, retired working people, benefit from Social Security, Pension Plans and 401-k. We come from a generation where pensions were common, and during which 401-k plans were initiated as opportunities for workers to supplement their other benefits.
What is happening today is an attack on Pension Plans, coupled with a fear campaign against future stability of Social Security, that Soc Sec is not safe, leading to a psychological reliance by younger people on the seductive but very dangerous 401-k plans, the riskiest of the retirement options for ordinary citizens…and a cash cow for those whose business is making money.
Young people are at risk if they heed the siren song of relying on individual 401-k savings accounts for their retirement, and allowing Social Security and Pensions to die.
But also, in my opinion, the real long-term victims of the 401-k scam will be the very perpetrators of anti-pension and social security. They are, in effect, strangling the very source of much of their wealth: consumable income from social security and pensions which is spent by retired middle and lower class in this country.
Saturdays meeting had something of a nostalgic cast to it: it reminded me of passionate union meetings in my past, where people expressed their opinions, no holds barred. Then they went to work for needed change.
There was one “duet” of opinions Saturday that particularly intrigued me.
Among the speakers was a retired truck driver from Ohio, 31 years a Teamster, who railed on against the Law change, and said, directly, that he was a registered Democrat, but he couldn’t see any difference between Republicans and Democrats, and he was ready to become Independent and deal with people who supported his particular agenda.

31-year truck driver; I didn't catch his name.

31-year truck driver; I didn’t catch his name.

I’ve heard his type before: blame, broad-brush, and retreat into a single issue which becomes their sole priority. Lots of working stiffs buy his same line, unfortunately, at their peril.
In fact, I was recalling, as I listened to him, that it was the Teamsters and their individual members, as much as any single entity, who led to Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, and de facto enabled anti-labor initiatives which continue. Back then, they were living the pretty good life, and didn’t think that they needed a united labor voice. It has been a bad time for unions ever since.
But I was not the only one listening to his rant against Democrats and Republicans in Washington.
Someone rose in the back, and it turned out to be Minnesota’s 8th District DFL Congressman Rick Nolan, who was as passionate as I’ve ever seen a public official about an issue.
He was angry at the broad brush labeling of all of Congress by the retired Teamster guy, and he made his case with all of us. People were listening.
I tried to get a good photo, but he was so animated that it was impossible. Here’s as close as I could get.
MN Cong Rick Nolan April 11, 2015.

MN Cong Rick Nolan April 11, 2015.

Overall, there was lots of good advice given on Saturday, about the need for workers to get off their duffs, learn about the issues, and get organized.
But there is also a need to get rid of all sorts of naive notions about how decision making takes place in a society such as ours.
If we are uninvolved, we collectively will get exactly what we deserve.
Part of the audience April 11

Part of the audience April 11

I’m glad I went to the meeting today; glad that Cathy called the commentary to my attention.
Now I’ve called your attention to it.
Time to get to work.
Here’s a photo of the organizing committee which brought us together on Saturday. They are the face of Teamsters. Thank you, to them.
April 11, 2015

April 11, 2015

Keynote speaker, Karen Friedman, Executive Vice-President and Policy Director of Pension Rights Center.

Keynote speaker, Karen Friedman, Executive Vice-President and Policy Director of Pension Rights Center.

from Norm Hanson:
I enjoyed reading your blog regarding the attack on many current pension and security plans by uninformed people and/or people who buy into the rhetoric about the “beauty” of going to 401K plans and other plans tied to the stock market. Most of us are like you in that we depend upon Social Security, private or public pensions, investments and, of course, our good looks, to live during our senior years.
It always amazes me that some of the most outspoken proponents for such changes…or as you correctly noted, support for Reagan several years ago…are the folks most likely to be hurt by such changes…or by the election of Reagan…I just never have been able to get a handle on why that is so often so.
I know that in some cases there is s social issue hook such as pro-life/pro-choice, patriotism as they define it, fear of the changes taking place around them and hoping for a return to the good old days that probably never actually existed other than in their nostalgic minds and so on.
They openly support such changes…or Reagan…for such reasons even though those changes…or Reagan…can and do hurt them as much or more so than anyone else.
I am soon 75, and more by happenstance than intent I inherited the wisdom of elders, and later, colleagues, to achieve what I do not take for granted today: Social Security, a Pension, and a 401-k.
Of course, like all workers in our country, I paid into Social Security my entire career, with employer participation. Social Security was and is a “savings account” for future needs. The system was painless and worked extremely well for those who needed its benefits (not only people who retired at age 62, but those whose retirement came early due to disability, etc.)
Social Security is insurance, and has been since its founding. Those who were covered paid their premiums, like regular insurance.
From time to time its flaws have been corrected. It has always been there (in my lifetime) and it will always be there unless its future beneficiaries don’t insist on its being protected for them, later. (If one reads further about the Law above described, and other similar pieces of legislation, there seems always to be a clever exception added to such laws, for people who are already receiving the benefits. The exception says in one way or another, “you older folks don’t have to worry. This only applies to future recipients.” It is seductive and it is extremely dangerous.)
I also have a Pension, a private plan, which some of my colleagues had the foresight to lobby for early in my own career as a union staff member. I don’t recall thinking much about the issue at the time, which was in the early 1970s when I was in my 30s. Pension benefits are not freebies. They were paid for by reallocation and deferral of wages earned at the time. They were, in effect, a savings account for every member. In recent years they have been re-framed as unearned entitlements by their enemies. They were earned benefits.
About the same time as my Pension, we received an option for additional personal Savings, the 401-k. The plan I was in, and other plans, varied a bit, but in their essence they all worked the same. They were a system of deferred income, to be open for withdrawal after retirement or for certain specific reasons. Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) were in the same family.
For us, personally, the Social Security and the Pension are our income foundation. We are very fortunate to also have moderate 401-k’s, but such a vehicle would not, I can absolutely assure young people, work long term. It is far too risky, and too tempting to not contribute to when something like a vacation, or a new car, looks too tempting.
Caveat emptor.

#965 – Dick Bernard: The Minnesota Orchestral Association Annual Meeting

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A brass quintet of orchestra members expertly closed out the public meeting.

A brass quintet of orchestra members expertly closed out the public meeting.

Pre-note, side comment, and recommendation: In light of current events it seems almost superfluous to write about a meeting of the Board of the Minnesota Orchestra. There is a great deal happening on the national scene, most recently the non-indictment of the policeman involved in the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Ferguson, Mo and spreading unrest around injustice. And all signs suggest that the U.S. Congress will be even more dysfunctional and confrontational with President Obama in 2015 than it is now, attempting its own power play with no good ahead for our country.
We are a country at war within ourselves. Still, a few words about an Orchestra organization trying to heal after one of the worst lockouts in American labor history seems worthy of some time.
On the national scene, the best daily source I have found, (6 days a week), summarizing major contemporary national and international issues of the previous day and offering intelligent comment, is a blog called Just Above Sunset, published by a retired guy in Los Angeles, Alan, whose brief bio is at the end of each post. Today’s post is about the Eric Garner situation. Here, here, here and here are links to a couple of others. Subscription is free. It silently finds its way to my e-mail at about 2 a.m. most days. My personal bias is clearly articulated at right on this blog.
Personally, I’ve never been a quitter, though sometimes, like now, I feel whipped as an ordinary citizen. It is not a constructive attitute.
It was good to listen in on the Orchestra Board meeting Tuesday night, and maybe there is some hope. But as with everything, its up to me, and to you, to get anything useful accomplished.
The Minnesota Orchestral Association Annual Meeting Dec. 2, 2014.
Tuesday night I dropped in on the public meeting of the Minnesota Orchestral Association Board at Orchestra Hall. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a good summary of the one hour session which, apparently, included about 150 of us, only a couple who asked questions.
I came to listen, and took the photo at beginning of this post of a brass quintet of Orchestra members. For those interested, here is most of the 2014 Annual Report: MN Orch Ann Report 2014001
At Tuesday’s meeting, you would have to have been an “inside baseball” type to gather that between October, 2012, and February, 2014, there had been a bitter and near fatal dispute between the Orchestral Association and its Musicians, and ultimately, Music Director Osmo Vanska, with the Audience as unseen bit players off on the side somewhere, though I would guess that everyone of us in the room knew full-well what had transpired over that long period of time.
My “filing cabinet” of that dispute is here.
We are one of those ordinary people with more-than-ordinary interest in the short and long-term success of the Orchestra. For example, after the meeting, I met my daughter and 14 year old grandson, Ted, in the lobby. He’s a music guy at his high school, especially interested in Jazz, and I wanted them to have a chance to see Wynton Marsalis and Ensemble from Lincoln Center that same day, best tickets available. It will likely be a long-time memory for Ted.
My guess is that we’ll lay out about $1000 for assorted things at Orchestra Hall this first full season back – for us, it is affordable, but noticeable in our circumstances. There are endless other entreaties for contributions from other worthy agencies. The well is only so deep.
As I sat, listening Tuesday afternoon, I kept thinking that the real dilemma for the Orchestral Association Board is to truly come to understand who we in the seats, the audience, really are, and how we can best participate in the Orchestra’s long-term success.
And it will be a difficult task.

Those who are the Orchestral Association Board are, I would guess, from a very comfortable economic class, well connected in the upper echelons of business and society, and influential in their circles. Indeed, this is a main reason they are appointed to this board: they not only have a passion for the music, but have both money and access to other important sources of money and power. The rest of us (once well described to me by head of a major twin cities Charity as “the poor ones”) don’t bring enough “value added” to effectively serve on such a Board, much less be listened to.
So, the only “power” the general audience possesses is whether we enter the doors or not, and keep this magnificent institution, this legacy of past benefactors, in business. It behooves the people on the Board to know us very, very well, and to talk with and about us as equals – not an easy task.
“During the meeting, a point was made of some “anonymous” donor who contributed $10,000,000 in the last few months to the Orchestra Endowment. Simply stated, that is 10,000 times our paltry $1000.
The big money is very important, granted, but it is people like ourselves who must fill the seats long term, and who must choose where to spend our discretionary income (if we’re lucky enough to have that).
The way this Orchestra (and most similar large cultural institutions everywhere) are structured, the sole responsibility for understanding the common folks in the seats rests with the uncommon folks who sit on the Orchestra Board and cannot really understand less privileged realities. And that $10,000,000 donor on any given night can occupy only a single seat as can I….
Put another way: Money most certainly talks, but that doesn’t mean it understands; to paraphrase the liquor ad, “with great privilege comes great responsibility”….
Understanding those of us come to the hall will help bring long term success. Without such understanding, long term recovery will be difficult.

Grandson Ted at right, Grandson and Ted/s cousin, baseball guy Parker, at center, Nov 29, 2014.  Both Ted and Parker's Moms were good at piano.

Grandson Ted at right, Grandson and Ted/s cousin, baseball guy Parker, at center, Nov 29, 2014. Both Ted and Parker’s Moms were good at piano.

#885 – Dick Bernard: Reflecting Union

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blurriness in closeups is free of charge…teachers are animated, hard to catch quiet!)

Part of the large crowd May 13

Part of the large crowd May 13

Tuesday night found me in Andover MN, across the table from Robbyn, a lady whose name tag identified her as teaching at Roosevelt Middle School in Blaine.
The name tag brought me face-to-face with my own history: then-Roosevelt Junior High School opened nearly 50 years ago, August, 1965, and I was one of the faculty, then beginning my third year in teaching, who opened that building.
I’ve known that fact for all those intervening years, of course, but it was the name tag that made the difference.
Robbyn and I were among what appeared to be well over 100 present and former leaders of Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota (AHEM) gathered for what I think was the 15th annual year end celebration of a school year about to completed, with all the ups and downs one can expect in a huge school district, geographic and otherwise: the largest school district in Minnesota.
MC was President AHEM President Julie Blaha, using her best “lunchroom supervisor voice” (the PA system was down for a bit) to review the past year, like all years, significant in many and sundry ways.
Julie Blaha May 13, 2014

Julie Blaha May 13, 2014

The whole concept, “Union”, has been abundantly kicked around in recent years generally by the old trick of labelling: pick what seems to be a bad example, publicize the daylights out of it, then expand it to cover everyone: “they’re all alike”.
Of course,Unions are simply groups of people working together to represent their interests. They are not ‘cookie cutter’ models. In the teacher union context, I have watched our Union evolve over more than 50 years. Any teacher Union (we always called ourself “Association” – same difference) is a conglomeration of differing priorities and concerns: men, women, elementary, secondary, coaches, special education on and on and on.
In a teachers union, there is considerable negotiations to simply get to Negotiations.
When I began teaching in 1963, the heavy predominance of teachers was female, but the informal leadership was most always male; and the ones in charge were the Superintendent and School Board. The hierarchy was firm and defined. The change began about the early 1970s in Minnesota, and there were some years of getting accustomed to new realities on all “sides”.
Among 26 Special Guests on Tuesday, 15 were women; all six receiving Special Recognition were women; the outgoing (in all ways) President for the last four years is a woman; she succeeded another woman; her successor next year is a male…. The Union State President, in attendance: a woman. These days, in this very large Union, it appears that things like gender or grade level or position on the pyramid no longer make a difference.
They certainly used to, back in the good old days.
It’s a very, very good change.
There was pride in that banquet room on Tuesday. You could feel it. These were folks who had dealt with the struggles of professional work life in a complex suburban school district and had survived.
Two leaders, Bill Davids and Suzanne Quinn-McDonald, received Lifetime Achievement Awards. To be honored by your peers is the greatest honor.
Suzanne Quinn-McDonald

Suzanne Quinn-McDonald

Bill Davids (Julie Blaha in background)

Bill Davids (Julie Blaha in background)

Then there’s some of we “old duffers”, leaders from the past, all of us who helped the Union along beginning in the early 1960s. Maybe “over the hill”, but not yet under it….
Dick Bernard, Lyle Root and Bob Marcotte, AHEA union leaders from 'back in the day', over 40 years ago.  May 13, 2014

Dick Bernard, Lyle Root and Bob Marcotte, AHEA union leaders from ‘back in the day’, over 40 years ago. May 13, 2014


#882 – Dick Bernard: Jim Oberstar, Congressman, Citizen

Jim Oberstar May 21, 2011

Jim Oberstar May 21, 2011

Those of us in Minnesota know that Jim Oberstar died May 3, 2014, and if we’re interested in politics, we know a lot about this veteran of the United States Congress from Minnesota 8th Congressional District who was defeated by a Tea Party upstart in the 2010 election, and then retired.
Here’s the biographical sketch of Mr. Oberstar, who served 18 terms in Congress, beginning 1975, and before that was an aide to long-time Cong. John Blatnik.
It is common to rail against “Washington”, as Mr. Oberstars opponent did, successfully, in 2010. The new representative served a single term in Congress, and was defeated in his reelection bid.
There is a great deal of good in “Washington”, and Jim Oberstar exemplified that positive quality, so missing in Congress these days.
I lived in Hibbing from 1983-1991, representing Minnesota Iron Range teachers, and I had infrequent but always positive occasions to meet with Cong. Oberstar. Oberstar was himself a “Ranger”, as fluent in French as he was in English; a recognized expert among his Congressional colleagues especially on Transportation issues. He was caught in the “throw the bums out” hysteria of 2010. He may have taken his reelection too much for granted, or maybe he was ready to retire anyway – he was already in his mid-70s.
May 21, 2011, just a few months after he was retired, I was privileged to be with a group of Democrats in the DFL Senior Caucus at our annual meeting.
Oberstar graciously accepted the invitation to speak to our group, and gave a powerful and persuasive defense of Social Security, a topic of real interest to us.
The photo at the beginning, and those below, are some photos I took at that meeting.
There were lots of good reasons why he shouldn’t be bothered coming to speak to our group, but no matter, he was there, and he was prepared as he would have been for any hearing in Washington.
We all have benefitted from the likes of Representative Oberstar. May the more positive tone of the past return….
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All by Dick Bernard, May 21, 2011, Maplewood MN.
Jim Oberstar May 21, 2011

Jim Oberstar May 21, 2011

Dwayne King, John Martin, May 21, 2011

Dwayne King, John Martin, May 21, 2011

May 21, 2011

May 21, 2011

#853 – Dick Bernard: An Opportunity to Talk With (not At, or Down to) Public Education, past, present, future

This morning, while waiting for my car to be serviced, I noted the Business Section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Leafing through it I came across an article by Chuck Slocum, about two personages involved in Public Education policy in Minnesota in the early 1980s. The article is headlined: Minnesota Education Duo: 3M CEO Lew Lehr and [then Minnesota Governor] Rudy Perpich.
Back home, my wife, a retired 3Mer, noted the article, and I said I’d already read it. “Interesting article”, she said.
Indeed. Interesting.
I know Mr. Slocum, not as well as I’d like to, and he’ll be specifically noticed by myself when I publish this blog, as will all of the people I can identify within public education, including the “education establishment” and retired, not only in Minnesota.
My career was in MN public education – primarily as teacher union staff (MEA, now Education Minnesota).
Mr. Slocum references a 1984 Study by the Minnesota Business Partnership (MBP): “Educating Students for the 21st Century”. My file copy of this now near-30 year old report can be read in its entirety here: MBP 1984 Education001 (Here is one page that I missed making the aforementioned pdf: MBP 1984 58 businesses002)
I first heard reference to this Study at a meeting of MEA Staff about November of 1984, and was last involved with it in about August of 1985.
In 2005 I dusted off the report, sent copies of it to the Minnesota Public Education establishment of the time, and urged them, as I am again urging them, and MBP et al, “that this might be an excellent opportunity to review the [now 30] years since the MBP report, and perhaps even get into dialogue about what happened, and didn’t happen, and why. (There were lots of dreams, and my suggestion was to look at the reality of what happened in the intervening years.)
From 1984 to today, and indeed before 1984, it has been my observation that the establishment, in this case, Big Business, and Public Education leaders, are better at declarations and positioning than dialogue, and as a result, fences go up, rather than walls come down about how best to do public education which is, after all, about children and their future in our society.

A little personal history:
Back in 1984, as Mr. Slocum might similarly recall, the process went like this, for me.
We learned about this report at a Union staff meeting. It had been published, and we were immediately put into a reactive mode against it.
I personally challenged our knee-jerk reaction at the union staff meeting in question, and afterwards called the Business Partnership and asked if I could have 50 copies of the report to take home to my Iron Range locals.
The answer was yes, and I recall going to the MBP office in the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis to pick up the box of reports. Mr. Slocum came out of his office; I took the reports home, and gave them to my teacher leaders, who were far less than pleased with the indictment they felt against their work with students. Over the coming months there were some tiny and unsuccessful attempts at dialogue, including at the then-MEA Summer Leadership Conference in the summer of 1985.
But these attempts were perfunctory.
You don’t do dialogue past monologues, unilateral declarations, or fighting issues in the newspaper.
As stated, 20 years later, I tried again to encourage dialogue. I didn’t hear a thing from anybody.
Most recently, four years ago, by accident, I happened across an MBP official at a meeting. He and I had tried to facilitate a conversation about the MBP Report at a teacher meeting back in 1985. I was glad he came to the gathering at a Minneapolis hotel; but it wasn’t the time for a civil conversation. The bitterness of the teachers was too close to the surface.
It happened that in the 2010 conversation, conversation quickly turned to the latest clearly business centered initiative, to get rid of “bad” teachers, and essentially gut seniority and disempower unions. There was a petition going around….
The beat continues.
Mr. Slocum, in a conversation in recent years, said he and MBP were “proud” of what they did in 1984. And perhaps the pride was justified.
But it all fell apart because it was a talking down to, rather than dialoguing with, the institution they were criticizing.
Maybe they’re still proud.
I hope the folks talk….
We have eight grandkids in Minnesota public schools.
Not long ago one of them, a 9th grade boy, said he couldn’t read handwriting.
This led to a realization that kids weren’t taught cursive handwriting any more. This puzzled me. I still handwrite letters I think are most “important”.
Very recently I was visiting with a middle school administrator who affirmed that they don’t teach much handwriting any more. The reasons given: computer keyboards are the way to communicate, but even more important, the dominance of testing, which makes subjects like handwriting a frill.
This troubles me….

#846 – Dick Bernard: Why "I Breathe Union". The invisible but real long-term consequences for America symbolized by the VW vote.

After workers at the Chattanooga TN VW plant barely voted down the United Auto Workers a few days, I sent a message to my own mailing list. Part of that Feb. 17 message was this: “The vote doesn’t surprise me at all”. (The remainder of that message is at the end of this post; a link to a longer discussion of this issue can be found here.)
Most of my career I was Union staff: my full-time job was representing workers (in my case, public school teachers). One would be hard-pressed to find anyone more certain of the value to society of organized Labor Unions than myself. I do “breathe union”*.
Nonetheless, in my opinion, the workers in that Chattanooga plant, as a collection of individuals, made a very bad group decision. It was their individual decision: more “no” than “yes”. They need to own it and build from it. It can, some day, be reversed. A majority of the workers chose to lose for reasons known to each one of them, personally, including those who chose not to vote at all.
They represent the inherent weakness of our reverence for individualism in our society: while we insist on marching to our own individual drummers, we are ever more separated into balkanized special interests, including our own.
It would be one thing if all individuals were created equal, but this is not so in our society, where some individuals are in a position to do much more damage than others. The greater the gap between the haves and those who have less, the greater the problem, for everyone, including the rich. As a few rocket up in wealth and perceived “power”; the rest spiral down.
Workers in particular need to relearn the value of sticking together for the greater good. It will again be a long, hard, but essential process.
(There is an interesting distinction between the words “choice” and “decide”: Decide has the same root as suicide, etc. Choice gives other options…. Someone who commits a homicide (a decision) has at least a short term feeling of satisfaction, of having done the right thing (in his or her mind). But it is a decision with consequences.)
There is a reason the Power Establishment wants to keep unions away from the bargaining table. A good union, with members who understand and appreciate the principles of working together, tends to increase wages and benefits which, in the long term, benefit everyone directly. Unions made the middle class, which in turn made the prosperity we have enjoyed in this country.
By far the biggest losers long term when organized labor is defeated is everyone of us, including the Senator Corker’s and their ilk who try to cover their collective rear-ends in the novel ways they try to use words to mask their stupidity.
The argument that lower wages and benefits in some way help our consumer economy thrive has never made sense to me. The workers in Chattanooga retained their rights to earn lower wages, essentially without rights (a hallmark of “right to work” laws). Their “no” vote makes for something of a pyrrhic “victory” by their enemies. Their loss translates into less money for the local economy, and less (rather than greater) security for everyone.
The last chapter relating to this decision is yet to be written. At some point, the people who make this country, the workers who earn the money to spend, will take stock and enough of them will decide that they need to rise up and take action, one town, one place at a time. The revolution will be a quiet one, largely out of the public eye, but it will happen.
For me, it can’t happen too soon. For the anti-union folks who try to keep workers down, this radical development, this quiet revolution, will be a blessing, not a curse….
There is a lot of chatter about the defeat of the unionizing effort at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, especially since the company was not against the union – in fact, tacitly favored it. The big opposition was from politics and business, it seemed, and, of course, the majority of potential members who voted no.
I’m an old union organizer guy.
The vote doesn’t surprise me at all.
We are a society of individualists, and belonging to a union is a group activity, and of course, there are dues. The most virulently anti-union guy I’ve come across in my own family network was – it turns out – a retired Union guy, and his wife as well (meat-cutter and teacher in Iowa). Why? You can name the excuses he has for hating unions now, when he benefited directly from one for his entire career as a rank-and-file member, and benefits now in retirement….
But, of course, the big losers are business. Higher Wages are synonymous with Union; higher wages are also synonymous with more money to spent in the local economy. Higher wages have a tendency to ripple up to other sectors, with the same positive effect.
So, why is business against higher wages? You can name the excuses.
And the politicians fear monger against “union bosses”, and make “union” a synonym for “Detroit” (which itself is more a reflection of management lack of foresight than anything else).
Don’t just blame the UAW for lousy organizing, or the “no” voters for being stupid.
In my retirement, in volunteer organizations dedicated to peace and justice, I see the same short term thinking as exhibited by a majority in the VW election. People like to be free agents because they don’t have to compromise, which is the nature of organizations, like unions.
So, in one particular alliance of 75 organizations I’m very familiar with, there is long standing and thus far successful resistance to change the alliance to an organization which will have far more power than the sum of its parts. I doubt it will ever cross the bar into being an organization.
Rather than share resources, and help each other, and compromise a bit on very similar ideals, for the greater good, the choice, rather, is to compete for already scarce resources, and everyone gets weaker and weaker.
It makes no sense at all, but it is how the world (at least in the present day U.S.) works, I guess.
I’d like to hear your thoughts.
from Bruce F, Feb. 20:
The ideology of American Exceptionalism, in my opinion, had a lot to do with what happened in TN. To be truly exceptional, one must be a free, independent, autonomous individual. That is how the work force in “right to work” states see themselves. They are essentially independent contractors unconnected to & in competition with other workers. They are able to sell their labor to the lowest bidder if they chose because they are free, independent, and exceptional. I think they feel they’ve fought and won this battle of the continuing battle to separate the American frontier from evil European influence that America had separated itself from in the 18th century. The irony is sad.
The struggle for worker rights is important & shouldn’t be marginalized, but the larger issue of VW’s, as the world’s second largest auto manufacturer, connection to the auto/fossil fuel complex is pushed aside in this story. If you want to separate labor from larger existential issues use jobs as a wedge. This was evident to me last April at the State Department’s only public hearing on the KeystonePL in Grand Island, NE, where organized labor was out in force in support of the pipeline, which was based on jobs that would be created.
from Fred H. Feb 21: Nice job with this piece. I just saw Illinois Gov. Mike Quinn (think I have that right) get into an edgy discussion on the auto worker organizing vote with the Tennessee Gov. on tonight’s News Hour. Quinn roasted the Volunteers Gov. on the vote and the minimum wage issue as well.
Your wrote about the veneration of the individual by some in our society. These are folks who no longer trust government to do anything (unless they’re in need of its assistance and except for government programs that benefit them). To me, idealizing the individual, their aspirations and goals whatever they might be, creates a class of iconoclasts that “stand their own ground” on any issue they stake out. No compromise, no prisoners. There was a time when such thinking was the rage with Alaskan hermits and Idaho loners who created their own isolated two-acre empires and reserved meaningful interactions for squirrel and mushrooms. Now such folk seem to some to be just the right kind of people to be running the country.
* – The writer of this post:
* My opinion is no more or less relevant than any other. It seems relevant, though, in this case, to at least qualify myself as one who has knowledge of things relating to Unions.
Behind me every minute of every day that I sit at this computer is an honor I received in May, 2001:

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Text: AHEM [Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota] Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Dick Bernard to Honor Outstanding Union Leadership 2001
I did not expect to receive such an Award, which I received the year after I retired. Bob Marcotte, another long-time Union leader in the same local, and myself, were the first recipients of this Award, which is now given annually to a union activist by the Union in the largest school district in Minnesota.
I’m proud of this Award.
I began teaching in 1963, in those good old days before things like collective bargaining and such came to public education. Yes, there was “bargaining”, in the sense that a teacher committee could (as sometimes referred to) “bring and beg” requests for a raise. It was my parents lot in life as teachers for their entire careers, which spanned from 1929-72: all single year contracts “at will” to renew or non-renew as the School Board saw fit.
The road to that Award of mine began in the spring of 1968 when I made a decision based on an observation: my teaching colleague, local Teacher’s Association President Ron Swanson, was carrying a cardboard box full of Association files, and in addition was complaining of severe migraine headaches. It was at that moment that I, a young member, single parent of a four year old, decided that I needed to help out in some way, and so it went for over 30 years, most of that as Teacher Union staff. As the saying goes, “been there, done that”. (As an aside, at that time, I was driving the first new car I’d ever owned, a plain-Jane 1965 imported Volkswagen which I purchased, then, for about $1500. It served me well.)

Today’s unions deal more with an entitled generation who have been led to believe they are above things like organizing into groups. There has to be more person-to-person “scratch” organizing than what we became too accustomed to in past years.
There is something to be learned from the past.

1. The organization which gave me the Award in 2001 is part of the organization which is the largest single union in the Minnesota AFL-CIO, Education Minnesota.
2. By coincidence, the beginning of my staff career in the Union in 1972 coincided with the first collectively bargained teacher contract under the Minnesota Public Employment Relations Act (PELRA). The original Act, which remains in effect to this day, included a specific provision for “Meet and Confer” which seems, on reflection, to be quite similar to the Volkswagen Labor-Management Council. “Meet and Confer” gave no decision making rights to the union or employees, but was, and continues, to be an excellent forum to discuss and seek resolution to problems.
The bi-partisan group of legislators and Governors who created PELRA in 1971 knew what they were doing, then.
3. An excellent contemporary “primer” on the psychological underpinnings of keeping people down in a subordinate position is the recent movie, “Twelve Years a Slave”, about a free New York Negro who was kidnapped and sold into slavery 1841-53. The film is based on his own accounting of his experience as a slave in Louisiana (more about that, here).
As we all know, from life, “slavery” manifests in many ways, in many contexts, and can afflict us all.