The Rise and Fall of the American Textile Industry

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 2nd, 2013

History 101

Inventions and Innovation gave the United States a Burgeoning Textile Industry

The American textile industry was founded by businessmen.  And inventors and their inventions.  Not by any labor movement.  For before there could be a labor movement there first had to be industry to employ laborers.  And laborers weren’t creating these industries.  They were just selfishly waiting for others to do this so they could get a job in them one day.

We may never know which came first.  The chicken or the egg.  But we do know which came first when it comes to industries and laborers.  The mind came first then the muscle.  Rich people with a keen eye to judge a good investment.  Businessmen and entrepreneurs unafraid to take a risk.  And who will throw their body and soul into their business.  Then the non-risk taking people come along.  The laborers.  Who have no skin in the game.  Who wait until the minds come together to create something in which they can apply their labor.  And get a paycheck.

Samuel Slater built cotton mills in New England (1800ish).  Slatersville Rhode Island, the town he established, bears his name.  Francis Cabot Lowell and Paul Moody created a more efficient power loom and a spinning apparatus (early 1800s).  Elias Howe invented the sewing machine (mid 1800s).  And the lock-stitch.  Throw in a few more inventions, some improvements on past inventions and some innovation and you have a burgeoning U.S. textile industry.

The Luddites went about England smashing the Machines of the Mechanized Textile Industry

Cloth-making used to be a labor-intensive activity of highly skilled artisans.  For those who had the money to afford the costly clothing they made.  Many could not.  And made their own clothing in the home.  Women would spin fiber into yarn.  And weave the yarn into cloth.  Which was very labor intensive.  Allowing only a meager production of clothing for the family to wear.  Which meant a lot of darning for worn out clothing.  Hand-sewing patches to cover holes.  Sewing ripped seams back together.  And sewing together rips and tears.  Until the clothing was so worn that it couldn’t be darned anymore.

It is hard to fathom how important this was during early America.  A time of a mini ice age.  In the north the winters were long and they were cold.  This homemade clothing may not have been pretty.  But it could keep you from dying of exposure in those brutally cold winters.  The mechanization of the textile industry changed all of that.  Smart inventors and business owners used machines to automate the cloth-making process.  Allowing less skilled people to operate smart machines.  Producing more clothes for less.  Bringing the cost of clothing down.  So anyone could afford to buy clothing.

Of course, this did not make everyone happy.  As those machines replaced the need for highly skilled artisans.  Who demanded high prices for their craft.  Allowing only the rich to afford their wares.  They didn’t like these machines cutting into their high wages.  And did something about it.  A group of people called ‘Luddites’ went about England smashing the machines of the mechanized textile industry (1811-1817).  Hoping to force a return to the old ways of making clothing.  By skilled artisan.  Where only the rich could afford to buy clothing.

Unions have Exported Entire Industries to Emerging Economies to Escape Soaring Labor and Regulatory Costs

Just as the textile industry was modernizing and mechanizing two seamstresses formed the first all-women’s labor union in 1825.  The United Tailoresses of New York.  Protesting 16-hour workdays.  And the lack of a living wage.  Strikes followed.  The Lowell, Massachusetts, mill women’s strike in 1834.  The Manayunk, Pennsylvania, textile strike in 1834.  The Paterson, New Jersey, textile strike in 1835.  And the Llowell, Massachusetts, mill women’s strike in 1836.  In 1844 women formed and ran the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association.  Then more strikes.  The Cohoes, New York, cotton mill strike in 1882.  The Fall River, Massachusetts, textile strike in 1884.  The Augusta, Georgia, textile strike in 1886.  The Fall River, Massachusetts, textile strike in 1889.  In 1890 New York garment workers won the right to unionize.  Close their shops to nonunion workers.  And fire any nonunion workers on the payroll.  In 1900 the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union was founded.  In 1901 the United Textile Workers was founded.  Then came the New York shirtwaist strike in 1909.  Massachusetts passed the first minimum wage law for women and minors in 1912.  Then came the Lawrence, Massachusetts, textile strike in 1912.  Giving us the walking picket line.  Then the Paterson, New Jersey, textile strike in 1913.  The Amalgamated Clothing Workers union was founded in 1914.  Then the Fulton bag and cotton mill strike in 1914.  The Passaic, New Jersey, Textile Strike in 1926.  And so on.

The Luddites hated the machinery of the modern textile industry.  As they didn’t like the idea of replacing many highly skilled and well-paid artisans with automated machinery operated by fewer low-skilled laborers.  So they tried to smash the automated machinery.  To try and save their jobs.  Which the labor movement was happy to see go away.  For they would rather pack as many low-skilled laborers into those Dickensian factories as possible.  For the more members they had in their unions the more powerful they were.  And the more they could demand from the business owners.  They demanded a lot, too.  Higher wages, shorter hours and better working conditions.  So much so that the cost of labor rose while productivity fell.  Throwing the door open to foreign competition.

The big labor movements used their friends in government to protect their generous union contracts.  By passing pro-union legislation.  And placing tariffs on imported textile goods.  Keeping clothing prices high.  So business could earn enough to pay those generous union pay and benefits.  But this left these businesses uncompetitive in the world’s markets.  Which they wanted to sell in.  For it wasn’t only Americans that wore clothes.  Those union contracts increased labor costs so much that businesses found it hard to remain in business let alone remain profitable.  So they started leaving the United States during the 20th century.  Which is why today there is no U.S. textile industry.  Because of the high cost of labor.  And costly regulatory policies.  Where is the textile industry today?  In the emerging economies.  Where labor and regulatory costs are lower than in America.  While the standard of living for those employed in these factories are often higher than their fellow countrymen.  Which is what unions have often done in the United States.  Create good jobs in emerging economies.  By exporting entire industries from the United States to these emerging economies.  Where they can escape soaring labor and regulatory costs.

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Unable to win Union Concessions Hostess (Maker of Twinkies) goes out of Business

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 18th, 2012

Week in Review

Twinkies are no more.  Hostess, unable to get their workers to leave the picket lines and return to work, are closing Hostess down.  Putting another 18,000 or so on the unemployment rolls.  And depriving kids from hereafter the joy of that delicious crème filled snack.  The one thing they eagerly looked forward to in their lunch bags.  But not anymore (see No more Twinkies? Others could buy Hostess’ brands by Matt Krantz and Jeff Swiatek posted 11/16/2012 on USA Today).

The company, which had been in and out of bankruptcy restructuring, was already struggling from a high cost structure and sluggish consumer demand for its products. Its fate was sealed by a confluence of negative events including rising commodity costs and competitive pressures, says Erin Lash, analyst at Morningstar.

The company had warned it would file a motion in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to shut operations if enough workers didn’t end a weeklong strike by 5 p.m. ET Thursday. On Friday, it followed through on that threat…

The shutdown will result in the loss of about 18,000 jobs…

Privately held Hostess filed for Chapter 11 protection in January, its second trip through bankruptcy court in less than a decade. The company cited increasing pension and medical costs for employees as one of the drivers behind its latest filing. Hostess contends workers must make concessions for it to exit bankruptcy and improve its financial position.

The company, founded in 1930, is fighting battles beyond labor costs, however. Competition is increasing in the snack market, while Americans are increasingly conscious about healthful eating. Hostess also makes Dolly Madison, Drake’s and Nature’s Pride snacks.

The Teamsters union is urging the bakers union to hold a secret ballot on whether to continue striking. Citing its financial experts who had access to the company’s books, the Teamsters say that Hostess’ warning of liquidation is “not an empty threat or a negotiating tactic” but a certain outcome if workers keep striking.

So who’s to blame?  Labor?  Or management?  Well, supporters of labor will say it was management’s fault.  And supporters of management will say it was labor’s fault.  But what do the numbers say?

According to Bloomberg Businessweek Hostess Brands, Inc., has 10 key executives.  If they paid each a million dollars that would be $10 million in executive pay.  If each executive gave up $500,000 in pay that would save the company only $5 million.  Now if they asked each of the 18,000 workers to give up $5,000 in pay and benefits that would save the company $90 million.  Which is a lot more than $5 million.

These numbers are just to illustrate the realities of a company with 18,000 workers.  And why management fights so hard to win concessions from these workers.  A little bit from each of them can save a lot of money.  Whereas a lot from the executives will save little money by comparison.  Which is something the Teamsters understood when they reviewed their books.  And why they were willing to lose a little of their pay and benefits.  Because losing a little is better than losing it all.  Like they will now.

Once upon a time people had the decency to die shortly after retiring.  Something actuaries took notice of when calculating the costs of defined benefit pensions.  And retiree medical costs.  So when companies started offering them they were able to fund them.  Then people started living longer into retirement.  Much longer than they were supposed to.  Longer than the actuaries ever thought possible when they first set up these programs.  They were living longer.  And because they were living longer they had a lot more time to come done with a whole bunch of health ailments.  Consuming a lot of health care benefits during a long retirement.   That cost an enormous amount of money.

Companies simply can’t afford these costs anymore.  Which is why most businesses in the private sector economy have gone to defined contribution retirement plans.  Like 401(k)s.  Only public sector workers and unionized workers enjoy pensions these days.  But even the unions are finding it hard to keep them.  As these costs are bankrupting the businesses they work for.  Like Hostess.  For if they have 18,000 workers now and have been around since 1930 their pensions and medical costs will be greater than their current labor costs.  Which was just too much in a competitive market place.  As there were other delicious snacks to buy out there.  Which prevented them from charging $25 for a pack of Hostess Twinkies.  So they had to cut costs.  And with 18,000 workers those costs had to come from them.  Because there are no other costs large enough to cut to make a difference.

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FT136: “Unions only represent those who pay union dues.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 21st, 2012

Fundamental Truth

The Cost of Teachers’ Salaries, Health Care and Pensions are so Costly that there is Little Left to Spend on the Children

The Chicago public school teachers’ strike is over.  And the teachers got enough of what they wanted to go back to the classroom.  Or else they wouldn’t be going back to the classroom.  Which proves the benefit of belonging to a union.  In exchange for those union dues they get a lot of political muscle.  Which they greatly leverage by having children out of the classrooms.  Suffering.  For the kids are losing out on their education.  Worse, parents are stuck with their kids longer.  And must wait longer before they get their break from having their kids home all day long.

And speaking of the children one thing you didn’t hear in the list of demands was more supplies for the classroom.  Despite good teachers everywhere dipping into their own pockets to pay for classroom supplies.  Why?  Because the cost of teachers’ salaries, health care and pensions are so costly that there is little left to spend on the children.  And that pay and those benefits are pretty generous.  Especially considering with all the time off teachers get they’re technically working part-time jobs (30 hours a week or less).  With about two and half months off during the summer and the breaks during the school year teachers work about 9 months out of the year.  Which comes to about 1,548 hours a year.  Compared to the 1,560 hours (30 hours X 52 weeks) a year a part-time worker can work.  With far fewer benefits.

But yet it’s always about the children.  Higher pay and benefits for teachers benefit the children.  At least that’s what they tell us.  The ability to retire with nearly their full salary.  And free health care until Medicare kicks in.  All paid by the taxpayers.  That’s what’s important to maintain.  So the children get a quality education.  By having their teachers live a higher quality life and retirement than these children’s parents.  Who are paying for both their own quality of life and retirement.  As well as their kids’ teachers.

Big Cities set up Generous Public Sector Pay and Benefits based on an ever Expanding Population Growth Rate

Whenever a city is having trouble paying their bills they always threaten to lay off police officers and firefighters.  As if that is the only expense a city has.  They never talk about cutting back on their health care plans or their pension plans for all city workers.  Like everyone working in the private sector has gone through.  How many times have you been told by your employer that they cannot make a contribution to your 401(k) retirement plan this year because business was down?  It happens a lot.  And that’s the retirement plan most people have today.  It’s mostly what you put away for your retirement.  Pensions in the private sector are long gone.  Only those unionized sectors with enough political clout still enjoy generous pension plans.

Recessions reduce tax dollars flowing into city coffers.  But that’s only part of the problem.  The bigger problem they have is a flat population growth rate.  All these big cities set up generous public sector pay and benefits based on an ever expanding population growth rate.  But that growth rate flattened out in the Sixties and Seventies.  Thanks to widespread use of birth control and, to a lesser extent, abortion.  Women stopped having a lot of babies.  Which means there are a larger number of people retiring than there are entering the workforce to replace them.  So you have a higher growth rate of those consuming taxes.  While you have a lower growth rate of those paying taxes.  Which means cities will pay more out than they collect unless they raise tax rates.  Which they often try to do.  While threatening to lay off police officers and firefighters if voters don’t approve a new millage.

Things can be especially hard for some city workers because of that flat population growth rate.  Not to pick on the firefighters but look at a typical firehouse.  Say a firehouse with one engine/ladder truck and one rescue squad.  That’s about 6 firefighters.  If a city has 30 firehouses that’s 180 firefighters.  If they are 24 hours on duty and 24 hours off that brings it up to 360 firefighters.  If a firefighter academy graduates 100 new firefighters a year that’s about a third of all firefighters.  Now unless each firefighter only works 3 years there will always be more firefighters than open positions.  New building technologies and fire alarm/suppression systems have greatly reduced the number of building fires.  All of this on top of a flat population growth rate makes it very difficult for anyone wanting to be a firefighter these days.  Making matters worse a lot of the old cities are actually seeing population decreases.  Which cities respond to by closing firehouses.  Which reduces the number of firefighters.  Making it even harder for aspiring firefighters.

A Union Represents those who pay Union Dues—not Children, Taxpayers or Patients

Cities collect property taxes to pay for the services they provide.  As well as other taxes and fees.  From that pot of money they collect they divide it between the various departments they have.  Such as for education.  From that money educators have to pay all their bills.  From classroom supplies.  To teachers’ salaries, health care and pensions.  They can only spend this money once.  So if they give more to the teachers there is less for the classroom.  So when teachers strike and say it’s for the children it is probably not for the children.  For the children pay no union dues.  As unions don’t represent the children anymore than they represent the taxpayers.  They represent the teachers.  Because they pay the union dues.  And it is their job to get as much of that money spent on education to the teachers as possible.

There are some moves to unionize nurses and other health care workers.  In fact, that will happen under Obamacare as health care workers will all become government workers.  And eligible to join public sector unions.  Which is why all the unions were so adamantly for Obamacare even though many of them have gotten waivers to opt out.  Because it will swell the ranks of the public sector unions.  While greatly increasing the cost of health care.  And hurt the quality of our health care system.  For if we pay nurses like government bureaucrats we will shift more health care money to these new public sector workers while leaving less to spend on patients.

It is remarkable how selfless all public sector workers are.  For they never want more taxpayer money for their own selfish needs.  It’s always for the children.  The safety of our citizens.  And when Obamacare fully kicks in, the quality of health care our patients receive.  It’s just a coincidence that while protecting the children, the taxpayers and our patients that they benefit, too.  Funny how that works.  Which is what happens when you belong to a union and pay dues.  For a union represents those who pay union dues.  Not children, taxpayers or patients.

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Chicago Teachers strike for More Compensation and Less Accountability

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 15th, 2012

Week in Review

The Chicago teachers went on strike.  And you can boil down what they want into 5 things.  With teacher evaluations and compensation probably being the most contentious (see Chicago Teachers Go on Strike: 5 Things They’re Fighting For by Madison Gray posted 9/10/2012 on Time NewsFeed).

Teachers are striking over an evaluation that union leaders say is not fair. The teachers union is seeking to downplay the weight of how well students perform in the outcome of their biennial evaluations. The evaluation system, CPS says, was created in collaboration with teachers and agreed upon in March…

Teachers wanted a significant raise in the first year of a new contract because of a longer school day proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. CPS says it offered them a 16% increase over four years, plus “step increases” for performance and to give incentives for more experienced teachers. The teachers themselves wanted to keep the former system of granting raises based on experience. The average salary for a Chicago public school teacher is $76,000, according to the district.

That average salary excludes health care and pension benefits.  According to Heritage, that comes to about 51% of their salary.  Or an additional $38,760 in compensation.  So the average Chicago teacher compensation is about $114,760.  Which appears pretty generous.  Especially when considering the median household income in Chicago is $46,350.  And the ‘pension’ added on top of that is typically 4% in 401(k) contributions adding another $1,854 in compensation.  While retirees have to wait until they’re 65 or so to live on their 40(k) savings it’s not quite the same for the Chicago teacher (see Chicago Teachers’ Retirement Benefits Are Extravagant by Jason Richwine posted 9/13/2012 on The Foundry).

A Chicago teacher who retired in 2011 after 30 or more years of service time could expect an annual pension payment of $77,496. For context, the average Social Security benefit—which requires a much higher employee contribution into the system—would likely be in the range of $25,000 to $30,000 per year for a worker with a similar salary history…

Chicago teachers also enjoy a benefit that is rare in the private sector—retiree health coverage, which allows teachers who retire (often in their 50s) to maintain their health insurance until Medicare kicks in at 65.

And, of course, this generous compensation comes with having their summers off.  With holidays and breaks a teacher only works about 9 months out of the year.  Doing the math that’s 8 hours a day for 5 days a week for 9 months comes to about 1,548 working hours.  Which is less than the definition of a part-time job of 30 hours a week or less.  Running these numbers the maximum number of hours a part-time worker can work before we consider them a full-time worker is 1,560 hours.  Or about 12 hours more than a teacher works in a year.  So current teacher pay and benefits are pretty generous for a part-time job.  There are many people working full time that don’t get anywhere near these kind of numbers.

For this kind of money you’d think that the Chicago Public School system is producing some of the best high school graduates in the nation.  But with a graduation rate of 40% that can’t be true.  So the people of Chicago are paying about the highest cost in public school education to see 60% of their children drop out of high school.  Perhaps this is the reason why they want to drop teacher evaluations.  For I know if I was only 40% good in my job I wouldn’t have a job any more.  Which would really smart for these teachers.  For they will find no part-time jobs that compensate as generously as their teaching jobs.  Which clearly answers the question why teachers have to purchase teaching supplies for their classrooms out of their own pockets.  For the teachers don’t leave much money in the district to pay for things like teaching supplies.

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Argentine Truckers go on Strike, Demand a 30% Pay Raise to offset 25% Inflation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 23rd, 2012

Week in Review

If you want to understand what’s happening in Argentina listen to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita.  It’ll give you a little bit of the flavor of the current political picture there.  A populist president.  High inflation.  High taxes.  Strong unions.  Class warfare.  And there are some who even compare Cristina Elisabet Fernández de Kirchner, Argentine president, to Eva Perón herself.  A comparison she’s not overly pleased with.  But she doesn’t mind when people compare her to the strong defiant side of Eva Perón. 

But there are reasons for these comparisons.  For her political party, the Justicialist Party, was founded by Juan and Eva Perón.  And her policies are not that far away from their policies.  Which is basically a welfare state that taxes the rich to pay for it.  And prints a lot of money.  Hence the high inflation.  Which causes a bit of a problem.  To survive during high inflation means wages have to rise just as fast.  So they can pay those high taxes.  And afford the high prices that result from inflation.  Which isn’t apparently happening for the truckers (see Argentina deploys military police in fuel strike by Hilary Burke and Jorge Otaola posted 6/20/2012 on Reuters).

Argentina’s government sent military police to take control of fuel plants and get trucks back on the road on Wednesday, the first day of a truckers’ pay strike that could cause widespread shortages in Latin America’s third-biggest economy…

Labor disputes are common in Argentina due to double-digit inflation, but the Labor Ministry normally intervenes to avoid major disruption to the economy. In this case, the truckers flouted the ministry’s order for compulsory conciliation…

Pablo Moyano’s [head of the truckers' union] father, Hugo, used to be a close ally of the president’s but their strategic alliance has all but collapsed, increasing the threat of labor unrest as inflation seen at roughly 25 percent fuels wage demands while economic growth slows sharply…

The truckers, who have threatened to stage a series of protests, want a 30-percent pay rise as well as lower taxes.

This is the same problem all welfare states have.  High public spending requires high taxes.  High taxes reduce economic activity.  With less economic activity to tax there is less tax revenue.  So states turn to borrowing (often giving themselves excessive debt that leads to debt crises like currently in Europe).  And printing money which unleashes inflation.  Increasing prices.  Making it harder and harder for the people to make ends meet.  Which is why these truckers are on strike.

They’re asking for a 30% pay raise.  Which sounds outrageous.  But when inflation is at 25% they are only asking for a net 5% raise.  Which isn’t all that unreasonable.  But their pay raise won’t fix the economy.  Higher wages will only increase prices further.  Requiring further demands for higher wages.  Which is the viscous cycle of high inflation.  Wages chase prices.  And higher wages increase prices.

Unless they enact a little austerity things aren’t likely to improve.  Perhaps this is the reason President Kirchner is bringing up the issue of sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.  To distract from her poor economy.  Much like the ruling junta did when they invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982 to distract their people away from an even worse economy.  But there’s another thing in play today.  The possibility of oil in the waters around the Falklands.  Which is something else they could nationalize.  And pour that oil revenue into their government coffers.  Give more stuff to the people.  And be even more popular.  As long as the oil lasts.  If there is oil.  And if there isn’t, nothing changes.  Except things will probably be worse on the Falklands once they start living under that Argentine inflation.

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Britons respond to Possible Strike with Panic Gas Buying, some Topping their Tanks as much as Two-Thirds Full

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 31st, 2012

Week in Review

Gasoline haulers just TALK about a strike and it causes a panic of gasoline buying (see Fuel Strike: Unleaded Petrol Sales Rise 172% posted 3/30/2012 on Sky News).

Ministers have held crisis talks with haulage bosses after panic-buying saw sales of unleaded petrol shoot up by 172%…

Meanwhile, the Government discussed contingency plans with company bosses to try to mitigate the effects of any walkout by tanker drivers.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey – who has advised drivers who usually only fill their tanks by one-third should consider upping this to two-thirds – lead the talks…

The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents around 5,500 garages, blamed advice from the Government on keeping tanks topped up, including the much-criticised call by cabinet office minister Francis Maude to fill up jerry cans.

This is what President Obama and his energy secretary Steven Chu want for the U.S.  High gasoline prices.  And less of it.  Which is what their policies will do.  They’ve stopped drilling in the Gulf.  They won’t open up new federal lands to oil exploration.  And they said ‘no’ to the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.  All of these things would have helped bring the cost of gasoline down.  But they said ‘no’ to lower gasoline prices.  By saying ‘no’ to increasing oil supplies.  Instead they want to be able to tell Americans to only fill their tanks up to one-third full.  Banish the idiom “fill ‘er up” from the American lexicon.  And make you pay European prices for what little they would like you to have.

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LESSONS LEARNED #26: “If we need Big Government to protect us from ourselves, then our public schools can’t be the best place to learn.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 12th, 2010

WE ARE WHAT they teach us.  And here is a little of what our teachers taught us.  And a little of what we learned by observation.

WHEN I WAS in grade school, our teachers went on strike.  It was great.  Another week or so of summer vacation.  But I saw a curious thing.  Some of my classmates were carrying picket signs.  And there they were, walking with the teachers.  I could not understand why anyone would want to help to end an extended summer vacation.  That’s all I knew about a teacher’s strike.  I had no idea why they didn’t want to go back to work.  I just knew it meant I didn’t have to go back to school yet.

The signs my fellow students carried said something about making our schools better.  As kids typically don’t like being in school, I couldn’t imagine they thought much about improving the educational system.  Other than greatly shortening the school day.  And school year.  But giving a pay raise to our teachers?  Giving them more benefits?  How, exactly, was that going to make school better?  I mean, if they got more pay and benefits, our education would get worse, not better.  They would just transfer money from the classroom to the teachers.  Unless the city raised property taxes to replace the classroom money that was given to the teachers.  And that would only increase the household costs of these kids’ parents.  Meaning less presents at Christmas.  Couldn’t these kids see the folly of their ways?

Of course they couldn’t.  They were just useful pawns.  They hadn’t the foggiest idea why teachers go on strike.  The teachers told them what to say.  What to think.  And they lied to these kids.  They weren’t striking because they wanted more money and better benefits.  Which they were.  No.  They told these innocent children that they were striking so they could have a better art department.  A better music department.  Better field trips.  That’s why these teachers were on the picket lines.  For the children.  And that every time there were cuts in the classroom, it was because of the greed of their parents who didn’t approve a millage.  Or who bitched about rising property taxes.  It was never their OWN greed.  Never that.

WE HAD A mock election when I was in 7th grade.  It was an ‘exercise in democracy’.  I remember voting for the Democrat candidate.  I don’t know why.  I knew nothing about politics.  I had only recently quit playing with my toy cars.  I was still reading The Hardy Boys mystery novels.  And thinking about the pretty girls in class.  What I don’t remember was spending much time thinking about the presidential election.  But there I was, voting for the Democrat candidate.  Who won in our little mock election.  But how did I, as well as my fellow students, know enough about politics to vote for the Democrat candidate?

Obviously, they taught us what to think.  That the Democrat candidate was the better candidate.  Because he was for the working man.  And cared about the little people.  That the Democrats cared about education.  Not profits.  All these touchy feely things.  Which was about all a kid could understand.  A kid can’t understand monetary or fiscal policy.  The intricacies of foreign policy.  They don’t have a clue about those things.  But kids do know that they should play nice.  And that’s what the Democrats are all about.  Playing nice.  And providing political muscle for the teachers’ unions in exchange for votes.  And obedient little minds of mush that will one day become voters.

I HAD A speech/debate class in high school.  Our teacher used the latest in progressive teaching methods.  A lot of touchy feely stuff.  Feel more than think.  We often did these exercises where the class as a whole debated the pros and cons of a particular position.  One day we went through a list of five or so.  I found the last one interesting.  It was about a ‘death ray’.

I had recently watched a program about nuclear weapons.  I learned that the size of their warheads was a function of the accuracy of the weapons.  They needed a big radius of destruction to guarantee the destruction of the target.  This is true for all weapon systems, conventional or nuclear.  The less accurate they are, the bigger the destructive force required.  (Whereas smart weapons today can have smaller warheads because they can be steered onto target.)  The more accurate the weapon, the less destructive it can be.  The less collateral damage there would be.  Less civilian dead.  The lesson described the ‘death ray’ as a weapon of pinpoint accuracy.  Based on what I just recently learned, I thought that it would be very interesting to discuss the pros of such a weapon.

When we finished discussing the position before the ‘death ray’, he said something like it was obvious that no one would argue for such a weapon system.  So there was no point in discussing it.  And then, as an afterthought, he said “unless someone does” with a condescending smirk.  I raised my hand.  I began to make some positive points.  He cut me off.  There was to be no discussion in favor of any weapon system in his class.  Turns out he was anti-war.  Free speech was one thing but not when you disagree with the program.

TWO BOOKS THAT that stand out from high school that were required reading are The Grapes of Wrath and Johnny Got His Gun.  You couldn’t find a couple of more depressing books if you tried.  The Grapes of Wrath was about the plight of a family who lost the farm during the dust bowl of the Great Depression.  In it you learned that bankers were evil.  Rich people were evil.  That Big Business was evil and exploited the poor.  Whereas poor people were virtuous.  And only poor people helped other poor people.  That Big Government was good and helped the poor people.  That FDR’s New Deal was good and helped the poor people.  That unions are good and protect those who Big Business exploits.  You get the picture?  Democrats good.  Republicans bad.  Because the Democrats take care of the little guy.  And evil bankers and fat cats are all Republicans.  Or so we were taught.

Johnny Got His Gun is an anti-war book.  It’s about a U.S. veteran of World War I.  Joe Bonham.  He lost about every part of the human body you could.  And yet they kept him alive.  I read it in the 10th grade.  Young and impressionable, I saw the folly of war.  War hurt good, young men like poor Joe Bonham.  (Incidentally, the name ‘Bonham’?  It’s from the French ‘bon homme’, good man.)  A pity only the anti-war crowd read it.  Apparently no one read it in Germany or Italy or the Soviet Union.  Maybe if their citizens did read it World War II would not have broken out.  Thankfully for the free world, though, men did serve in the armed forces despite what happened to poor Joe Bonham.  And they saved liberty.  And the burning of books did not spread further.  And books like this, because of men who did pick up a gun, remain in the public school curriculum.

Of course, you know why they (the public school teachers) are anti-war, don’t you?  It’s simple.  Any money spent on the military is money not spent on them.

I HAD AN electronics teacher in high school who was really cool.  He let us drink coffee in class (or, should I say, cream and sugar with some coffee).  He’d send a student across the street to buy donuts to eat with our coffee.  And he taught us how to build little black boxes that could unscramble scrambled television.  He was also a pretty good teacher.  A PNP transistor symbol?  The arrow was P-N (peein’) on the base.  (An NPN transistor symbol pointed away from the base.)  The resistor color code?  Bad boys rape our young girls but Violet gives willingly.  The whore.  (Hey, this stuff was funny when you’re only 16 years old.)  He even set up an interview for me at an electronic repair shop.  He liked being a teacher.  But he enjoyed doing concrete flatwork, too.  One of those things he did to pay the bills while in college.  And kept doing after college.  And that’s what he did during the summer, the peak of the construction season.  And made good money doing it.

MY MOM WORKED as a volunteer at my grade school.  She got to know the teachers pretty well.  She even went to their homes.  One lived not too far away from us.  I went with her once or twice.  Talk about surreal.  Seeing your teacher outside the school.  Acting so un-teacher-like.  Wearing something she doesn’t wear to school.  Having fun.  Laughing and joking.  And seeing her being a mom to her own kids.  That was weird.  We treated her politely and with respect in school.  Her kids whined “maaaa” at home just like I did when I was at home.  My teacher was just a normal person.  Human, almost.

But what really struck me then was that though they lived in the same general area as we did, they had more.  Bigger house.  With nicer stuff.  A newer car in the driveway.  More presents under their Christmas tree.  And in bigger boxes.  It was a ‘blue-collar’ neighborhood.  Her husband was a ‘blue-collar’ worker.  Just like my dad.  But my mom volunteered.  My teacher was, well, a teacher.  The ultimate second income in a two income family.  Good pay and benefits.  And no child care to worry about.  Teachers are off when their kids are off.  Holidays.  Breaks.  Snow days.  And, of course, summer vacation.  It just didn’t get better for a working mom.

IT IS INTERESTING that people become more conservative with age.  They may start out Democrat.  But after working awhile or raising a family, they often become Republican.  Not all of them.  But a lot.  The net number of people changing from Democrat to Republican far exceeds those changing from Republican to Democrat.  If there are any.  Other than for political reasons (in a desperate attempt to get reelected by switching parties).  That’s why the Democrats depend on the youth vote.  Because the youth vote is an uninformed voted.  They haven’t been deprogrammed yet.  They still toe the party line.  Because they don’t know any better.  Yet.

As we work and live in the real world, though, away from the insulated life of home or the college campus, things change.  We get older.  And wiser.  Less naive.  Less idealistic.  Less ignorant.  That’s why there is a net change from Democrat to Republican.  We grow up.  And start thinking for ourselves.  And try as they might during our public school indoctrination, we stop being sheep.  Eventually.  We strop bleating their mantra.  ‘Big Government good.  Private sector bad’.  Why?  Because we see that public school teachers and government workers live a lot better than we do.  This privileged few, this ruling elite, continue to take from us and respond with condescending arrogance when we complain.  Angry that we don’t mind our place in the lower strata of society.  Where we belong.

And they are nervous.  They can only maintain their elite status as long as we pay for it.  The more we learn, though, the less we are willing to support this aristocracy.  And they know it.  So they try to keep us dumbed down.  For an educated constituency is the greatest threat to Big Government.  And the public school system.  This self-proclaimed aristocracy.

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