Thursday, April 15, 2010

Big victory for teachers' union in Florida, and a labor party in N.C.

Who says unions are finished? Don't let the mainstream media fool you into thinking every Southerner is a Tea Partyer and that unions are the thing of the past. Let's look at the evidence:

The Florida teachers' union won a huge victory today when Gov. Charlie Crist revealed that he plans to veto a Republican-backed bill that was nothing more than a union-busting effort by the Chambers of Commerce types as well as former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Pressured by 120,000 e-mailed letters and other protest letters and messages, Crist, a Republican, said the bill had too many flaws to allow to become law. No joke!

Under the bill, Florida public school teachers would lose tenure, go on an initial five-year probation status, and then be limited to one-year contracts. The pay for half of them would depend on student test scores. I guess Republicans' constant fretting about inflation doesn't extend to grade inflation.

The naked truth about the bill is that Florida Republicans want to destroy one of the last bastions of worker solidarity in the state--the teachers' union.

Make no mistake, however. Crist is in big trouble with his party's right-wing and the Tea Party set. He was already in trouble, but now he's in the bull's eye. He actually supported the bill, but teachers and other believers in good education as well as teachers' rights showed that worker solidarity still means something in this country.

Now let's shift to North Carolina.

The South's most "progressive" (according to pundits who keep thinking Terry Sanford rather than Jesse Helms) yet most anti-union state (usually claiming the lowest union membership rate--somewhere around 3 percent) is now the staging ground for a new third party, North Carolina First. The major backer for the party is the Service Employees International Union, SEIU, the largest and most rapidly growing union in the country.

Sick and tired of conservative Southern Democrats who vote Republican yet enjoy the benefits of their party's control of the White House and both houses of Congress, the SEIU targeted North Carolina as a good testing ground for something that could spread to other states. Labor dissatisfaction with Blue Dogs, Boll Weevils, and Wolves in Sheep's Clothing Democrats was seen recently in the decision of major unions to support the primary opponent of U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.

It's long overdue, and shows a new willingness by organized labor to challenge the Democratic Party, which, let's face it, too often feeds at the same corporate trough as Republicans. There's a genuine fear that President Obama is being increasingly compromised by feeding at that same trough.

The SEIU is much in the news these days with SEIU President Andy Stern's announcement that he is stepping down from leadership of the 1.9 million-member union. Stern, a lightning rod for controversy and criticism that he is too friendly with the very corporate types who want to destroy unions, is a favorite of the White House, having been the most visible labor guy in the Obama circle since the president's election.

Speculation about his successor--Who will it be?--is the talk of the labor world this week.

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