Friday, May 27, 2011

The Things We Do For Work

We're seeing some victories but mostly we're being creamed. Yes, a judge in Wisconsin declared Scott Walkers' attack and railroading through of an anti-worker, anti-union proposal unconstitutional. And folks are pushing back against the Ryan plan to eliminate Medicare. This is helping some Democrats in Republican districts, Kathy Hochul, NY in particular, get elected.

The creamed part has led us to sweeping anti-worker legislation ushered in under the misnomer of "pension reform," forcing public sector employees to pay for the financial meltdown with meager paychecks as financial inequality increases the rich make more money and pay less taxes than ever.

Which brings me to the topic, The Things We Do For Work, which tend to be as desperate and drastic as The Things We Do For Love, but with a more limited paddling against the current in a river just to stay in the same place and not be swept backwards, downstream.

My sister is in a situation where she is vulnerable to being swept downstream in a civil service job related to Social Services in a large Bay Area County that shall remain nameless. She was accepted for promotion to a higher level job and wound up with an anal, newly hired manager, twenty years her junior who is trying to ramp up her hard-ass boss lady title at my sister's expense. She wrote up a three month review for my sister that, although only about one quarter "needs improvement" said at the end is no uncertain terms that she may not pass her probationary period and keep her job.

Now my sister has worked, as a union-protected employee, for over five years in this county. In other words she is "vested." But there is a catch in a new probationary period. You don't necessarily get bounced back to your old job and can conceivably wind up on the street. All for the sin of taking a risk and accepting a promotion. What does this mean if it exposes you to job vulnerability that you didn't have before? It's all very scary and let's just say she is swimming as fast as she can, submitting rebuttals and getting everything in writing.

A friend of hers has another horror story of work probation in another Social Services job at the county level. Hers ends at five months before her probationary period ended. She was just simply informed that she didn't get the job and should just leave, no explanation, nada. She believes it was over a difference of opinion but will never know for sure. She wound up going back to another job that had accepted her previously but she'd turned down. They took her on at $10,000 less salary per year than was offered during her first interview. She took the job at the reduced rate even though it's a couple of hours away and requires her to rent a room during her work week and drive back for weekends. Both huge additional expenses not to mention inconveniences.

So, these are the kind of things we do for work in this so-called economic recovery as the public sector is decimated and all these new jobs that are being created seem to be at McDonald's and Starbucks for eight to ten dollars an hour. Welcome to the New Economy!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

San Jose Mayor Declares Financial Martial Law

King Chuck
San Jose City Council has voted 8-3, after a three-hour afternoon meeting, to set up a June 21 hearing in which the council will vote on formally declaring a "fiscal state of emergency'" and deciding which budget slashing measures might be taken to voters in November.

This comes in response to the Mayor of San Jose, Chuck Reed's draconian proposal to layoff employees, cut city services and make whatever changes he deems necessary to the existing contracts of public sector workers.

Reed, (a Democrat and former Air Force Officer), is following in the shady, despicable footsteps of governors Scott Walker (R, WI), Rick Snyder (R, MI), Paul LePage (R, ME), John Kasich (R, OH) and Rick Scott (R, FL), but instead of simply tampering with collective bargaining rights and the rights of democratically elected officials to govern, Reed has taken things a step further to justify the wholesale elimination of jobs and bargaining rights as well as the dismantling of crucial services.

According to California State Law: "a local emergency means conditions of disaster or extreme peril to the safety of people and property, which are likely to be beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment or facilities of a city or county."

Demonstrating another example of rampant Disaster Capitalism, Reed, who asserts that public employees have no "vested rights" and intends to cut the number of city employees from 4,200 to 1,600. His plan entails creating a mostly volunteer police and fire department, closing all community centers and all libraries except for one, curtailing health benefits freezing pension pay increases for current employees and eliminating them for future workers.  

Friday, May 20, 2011

Status, Emotions and Disclosure in the Workplace

Emotional Expressions
In October of 2010 an interesting study by Kraus, Cote and Keltner was published that correlated lower socio-economic status with an increased ability to recognize the emotions others may be experiencing. They postulated that this ability among the have-less has been developed as a survival skill in the true Darwinian sense of the term. Wealthier people are less dependent on others for their safety and well-being therefore they have not perfected the art of anticipating their needs. But working class and poorer folks' destinies are more dependent on the external world and the fickle winds of fate. They are not more compliant when confronted with those needs, just more observant.

Another fact they discovered is that what they termed "lower-class" individuals are more expressive to begin with than those of higher economic status, something I have frequently observed in various job environments.
When I worked in a factory making wind chimes for piecework pay my co-workers and I would listen to the radio, sing to it and chat about our lives as our fingers moved as quickly as possible tying ceramic pieces with string. When I was a drafting technician the guys didn't talk much, but the women who worked in the office would talk about everything from sex to laundry detergent.

After I got my master's degree at UC Berkeley I entered a "professional" employment world fraught with treachery. Talking too much about personal life or politics was considered not only gauche but dangerous. What people know can be used as ammunition to throw someone off the job ladder we were all supposed to want to climb to the top. The safest topics for conversation consist of those that are specifically job-related. My boss explicitly told me that If things were rocky back home I had to put it all aside and show the world that stiff upper lip.

An article today on Alternet: The Big Squeeze: How Americans are Being Crushed by Financial Insecurity and Doubt illustrates this mentality perfectly. It concludes with the following quote:

"We shouldn’t lose sight of the more invisible, but mounting, resistance of the moral underground. As it grows, it may undermine one of the great social fictions grounding American capitalism: That one leaves one’s morals and politics at the office, factory or store door when one enters the job site. This fiction is based on the well-propagated notion that when one sells one’s labor power one leaves one’s personal beliefs and values at home.  This social fiction is crumbling under the pressure of the Big Squeeze."

The enforced stoicism that makes for such an uncomfortable workplace is giving way to a new reality, one that recognizes the players as human beings and relies upon a new moral imperative to look out for them. This is a significant shift especially for those of us who come from a background full of animated, expressive people who have historically relied on one another to survive. It may help us build a movement to enable us to eke out a future in the bleak landscape of New America. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dentists and Mormons

"Drill, Baby, Drill!"
I had an abscessed tooth extracted a couple of years ago (it's in the back) and I haven't had an implant put in because my insurance doesn't pay for it and it costs around $5,000 buckolas. My insurance is going to start paying 50% on implants in July so I'm going to spring for it. The dentist who performed the extraction seemed like a nice, easygoing fellow, so I was planning to request him to be my implant surgeon as well. But when I researched his credendentials online and found out he graduated from Brigham Young University.

As a lesbian, I am quite wary of Mormons. I know there are some queer ones and I have nothing against them but their church helped finance the Proposition 8 campaign here in California rescinding our right to marry the person of our choosing. And yes, I don't like fundamentalists of any other religious persuasion either.

I have a gay male friend who assiduously avoids any medical practitioners that are in any way connected to the Mormon persuasion by conducting a self-administered questionnaire before making an appointment. It was too late for that for me, I was not that vigillant. So I had to settle for a little chat with the surgical assistant to the four dentists who work out of that office.

She seemed shocked that I asked her about homophobia at all. I suppose this question has never come up before. This dentist's relationship to Brigham Young was a long time ago, she said and added that she had never to have witnessed anti-gay behaviour coming from that doctor. I explained to her how important it is for non-traditional people to recieve medical or dental care, untainted by personal prejudices.
She either understood what I was saying or wrote me off as a crazy person, but when I called back the other day to make an appointment for an evaluation, I was only offered appointments with the other three doctors. The Mormon had been taken off the list.

Perhaps they were placating me, or maybe I dodged a bullet. The last homophobic practitioner I went to was a male gynecologist who performed a sugical procedure called an endometrial ablation. It wasn't a pleasant experience physically or emotionally. I knew the next time I found myself seeking medical care I didn't want it to be a date with destiny or Josef Mengele!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Money Between Friends

I had a falling out with a friend over money. Not lending it, borrowing it or spending it. Just about having it or not having it. According to the American Psychological Association, 76% of Americans are stressed out about money. That includes those who have it as well as those who don't. And everyone in between.

We both have places to live that we own, enough food to eat, Enough left over to buy cars and computers. It's true that she has an inheritance of undisclosable proportions and I do not. But I am ordinarily not an envious person, I have a job, a promised pension, in short I am doing fine.Yet sometimes I panic in a way that isn't really rational. It has more to do with past wounding; a host of experiences that my friend has nothing to do with.

Financial security is a totally random and subjective idea. I know people with a million dollars worth of savings and assets who are terrified and feel totally broke. I also know folks who live hand to mouth and haven't a care in the world in this regard, people who believe that the universe will provide.

No matter how the chips fall people tend to come unglued when it comes to money. It is a trigger for all sorts of feelings because of, not only what it buys but what it represents, freedom from wage slavery, all kinds of travel but most significantly, freedom from fear.

Many people are very secretive about their financial situations. I've had friends who seem like they would rather die than tell me how much they earn. The friends who speak quite freely tend to be ones in situations most similar to mine.

As I was working at the library reference desk, contemplating these ramifications, a ghost from my past suddenly appeared in the flesh. She had been lovers with an old roommate of mine in the early eighties. She looked older, still attractive but disheveled and totally down and out. Her speech was badly slurred and she was carrying a large duffel bag. She didn't seem to recognize me at all as she crouched down on the marble floor and began unpacking the clothes in her sack, spreading them around her. "The security guards keep hassling me," was what I think she said. I flashed back to her young, wild self. The one who drank and danced till dawn and shot up a bit too.My mind drifted back to the time that her roommates planted drug paraphenalia openly in her apartment the day her probation officer was scheduled to come for a visit. Now, I've had some crappy roommates myself, but never ones who wanted to see me in jail. She told this story in her expansive forthright manner, the way she would tell any other. She'd had a tough life and survived its turbulence the best she could. It's all any of us can do.

The guard escorted her to the security gate and out into the beautiful, spring afternoon as a crowd of people descended into the atrium needing books, information and basically just a bit of attention. Some people have greater of lesser success challenging its parameter but one truth is incontrovertible. Just as Cyndi Lauper astutely observed, "Money changes everything."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Writing: Safety in Ending Silence

Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde the lesbian poet and writer once said, "Your silence will not protect you," I've ruminated over the meaning of this phrase at various points in my life when my big mouth did not provide much protection either! But the benefit of speaking out far outweighs the risks. Exposure of all that lies beneath is an absolute necessity for writers.Writing is like sculpting, as the rock is chipped away and negative space is removed, the truth begins to take shape. Something new emerges, an unseen form arises, something recognizable by all who previously saw only a block of dense rock.

Exposing Anti-Feline Prejudice
Think about a cat. Now imagine a neighborhood bully pulls that cat's tail. If the cat could talk, she might call animal control and describe the boy and tell them that the bully pulled her tail really hard and she didn't like it one bit. If the same cat could both talk and write, she might go around the neighborhood finding out more about the bully and write a blog post saying that not only did little Jeremy pull my tail, the exact same thing happened to Smokey, Puff and Snowball within the last few months. Maybe Jeremy also uses a slur like "stupid pussy" regularly during his attacks. The kitty caucus may now have grounds for a class action lawsuit.

So all you cool cats out there, continue writing, filming, talking and generally sculpting our world. Keep us safe from the bullies whose goal is to scare us into submission and silence!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Labor and the Left in SF: Refusing to Mingle

I marched for workers on May Day in San Francisco. The march was morale-building, energizing, an extremely SF-style event. Mission Street brimming with thousands of foks. (I won't get into the estimating racket here but 3-7,000 probably covers it). Immigrants rights, all kinds of civil rights, queer immigration rights, Arizona boycotts, Gray Panthers, Code Pink and of course, worker's rights. Individual members of unions were there with some renegade signs, but the split between labor and the left in the Golden State was evident. SEIU held separate events and will hold a rally of its own on the SF Embacadero today, Tuesday May 3rd.

This isn't a lovers' quarrel, this spat between organized labor and the organized left. It's more like a gaping abyss, a great divide. In Wisconsin, the two groups, labor and the left actually came together and it was inspiring to see cops and firefighters in the same room as avowed socialists, pulling together for the same end.

Here in San Francisco California it's kind of a warriors versus worriers situation. Leftists want big change, but have a bad reputation for being insular and dogmatic. There is some truth to this. But the left is way ahead of labor on the analysis part of the big picture. You can't have rights for working people without considering the ways that society oppresses everyone. The Latin origin of the word radical means "at the root." And deep rooted change is what we need. An end to severe economic disparities, civil rights for all people, freedom of speech and the press and the whole laundry list of causes that shape societal attitudes and cause the repression of some individuals.

But the labor movement is worried. Part of that worry is because it isn't the thirties anymore. Labor has gotten far too complicit with management, forcing workers to take all sorts of concessions to pacify and pander to the bosses instead of focusing on improving the quality of life for their members. They are also worried about aligning themselves with the "wrong" people. Many union big-wigs rely on the status quo for their paychecks. Still, the public face of labor is changing. It isn't as straight, white and male as it used to be. In spite of that it still keeps one foot in the McCarthy era. The "Red Scare," is part of what prevents them from uniting with another despised segment of the population, radicals and leftists.

So much is at stake now. If we're going to win this struggle we're going to have to unite and find some common ground. It will take more than the unions' "working families" rhetoric to bring people together. Fighting bigotry is an essential component of our struggle. If organized labor won't come out for these issues we will just have to come to them. So move over boys. Ready or not, here we come!