Give us bread, but give us roses!


Thanks to everyone who made it out to the Labor Coalition’s screening of the movie Bread and Roses yesterday, about the Janitors for Justice campaign in L.A. The movie’s title (and the title of today’s post) comes from a poem published in The American Magazine by James Oppenheim and became commonly known and associated with the 1912 Lawrence, Massachusetts strike at a textile mile that united immigrant workers in their fight for fair wages and dignified conditions. This strike was led mainly by women and after three months they won pay increases, time-and-a-quarter pay for overtime, and a promise of no discrimination against strikers. The cry of “give us bread, but give us roses too” is about wanting to have more than just the things we need to survive — bread — but being able to have more — roses — too. If you missed the film, you might try finding it on Netflix or through the library, because it was quite powerful.

There’s a lot of news items I looked at this morning to link everyone to but I decided to just highlight one. This particular one made me so angry I wasn’t entirely sure where to start, except with perhaps that this isn’t a news item but an editorial:

Voice of The Southern: Good leaders play above the fields of messy emotions

This is an editorial by the staff of the Southern that praises Rita Cheng’s leadership and calls the faculty and staff need for partnership and respect unhealthy, comparing it to “an attempt by inmates to run an asylum.”

This is the kind of leadership the Southern seems to think a university needs? This is the kind of place that the Southern’s staff wants educating students? One where the collective bargaining rights of the employees are completely gone? A place where speaking up against injustice and exploitation is considered insane?

Well, I can say that’s not a place I want to work at. I imagine it’s a place most people don’t want to work at. I’m pretty sure that’s the type of school students don’t want to be at either. I want to work at a place where I have bread and roses too and, as far as I can see, Cheng and her administration has been completely uninterested in making sure anyone who is not an administrator is getting either.

I refuse to remain silent in an place where things are unfair to quality, hard working people. There is no power in silence. Now is the time to make ourselves heard.


10 thoughts on “Give us bread, but give us roses!

    • Sarah, most university professors don’t make upwards of six figure salaries and there are plenty of people at the university who are subsisting on poverty wages — or less.

  1. OK, I like how you compare university professors, who make upwards of $75,000 with factory workers. Is that better? LOL.

    And there are plenty of professors who make upwards of six figures…I see ’em all the time at your “protests.”

    I don’t believe there are any full time professors subsisting on poverty wages. Puh-leeze.

    • Full time professors? No, probably not. Non-tenure track faculty, maybe, civil service employees, certainly, graduate assistants, definitely. Graduate assistants make up 1700 of the employees at SIUC alone and the wages for us run around $10,000 annually (at the high end), well below the poverty threshold for one person in 2010 (which, according to the Census Bureau is $11,344 for people 65 years old and under).

      But money isn’t even the most problematic issue. It’s the way the administration seems unwilling to allow any voices but their own, which completely demolishes the principles of collective bargaining. They refuse to allow anyone outside of Anthony Hall to have a voice in their own workplace — the administration wants to dismantle any notions of partnership and working with their employees in favor of being able to dictate everything. Destroying our collective bargaining rights is not the way to create a fair workplace with employees who are dedicated to quality education.

  2. Wait…grad assistants get free tuition. Plus a stipend. It’s a part time job….the rest of the time grad assistants are students.

    Oh, and your collective bargaining rights have not been destroyed. Gimme a break!

    Try getting a job in the real world, maybe in a real factory…bosses do generally get to dictate.

    Sorry to be contrary…but you folks got some real PR problems.

    • Sarah, we can argue day in and day out about the money issues at the university! The truth is that’s not the important thing because collective bargaining is at stake and that’s not something really up for debate. Any workplace that says it believes in “negotiation” and “collective bargaining” and then proceeds to dictate the terms of conditions of employment — the way the SIUC administration has done the last year by imposing terms and conditions on three unions and vetoing every proposal on the table for the fourth — is either deluded or doing a really bad job of PR themselves. The administration wants the power to control the workplace — and that means everything from safety, to wages, to benefits, and down to issues of job security. All of those things are included in the collective bargaining process and the SIUC administration has done a pretty bad job of negotiating about every one of them. That is the beginning of the end of collective bargaining and the employee having a stake, having a voice, in the university.

  3. Hi Sarah, Most workers in the United States today no longer work in factories. They work in service and information based occupations. SIUC is not all that different from other contemporary work places today. The four unions on campus represent a wide range of workers–some are teachers who make a decent (although by no means lavish) living, but lots are student service providers, office workers, and graduate assistants who live paycheck to paycheck. Meanwhile, top-level administrators garner enormous salaries. This IS the real world, and the people you are mocking are not as different from you as you think they are.

    Those of us fighting for the future of collective bargaining on this campus (and make no mistake: they are absolutely under attack) believe that transparency and accountability are necessary checks on administrative power. Given the abuses of power taking place here and elsewhere, this is entirely reasonable. And it’s an issue of self-respect, not one of self-pity. We have no interest in throwing ourselves a pity party or complaining about our problems–it’s the administration that does that every time it cries “poverty” as a reason for failing to negotiate with the unions. Furloughing workers at the same time the athletic budget goes up by over 100%? To borrow your formulation: Puh-leeze. Who are they fooling?

    If you are genuinely sorry to be contrary, then why don’t you give us some constructive criticism about how to better communicate with the public? We need your support not your ridicule. The editorial in today’s SI is frightening; it should make every working person in the region’s skin crawl.

  4. Pingback: Solidarity Forever « SIUC Unions United

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