St. Patrick, whose feast day we celebrate this week with corned beef, parades and the occasional malted beverage, is the patron saint of Ireland, New York City, and the African nation of Nigeria. He is also claimed by Catholics to be the patron saint of engineers. So to all my Nigerian-Irish engineer friends, this is your day to rock. St. Patrick has your back.
Before the green stripe on Salina Street even fades, Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans and regular Joes around the world celebrate the feast of St. Joseph on March 19. Also known as St. Joseph the Worker, he was a hardworking carpenter and the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Revered for a lifetime of hard work and repressed libido, he has been held up by the church as the patron saint of workers. Also Canada.
So which saint is doing the better job this year? Given Canada’s relative prosperity vis-a-vis Nigeria (a nation that tries to hide its despair by electing a president named Goodluck), and the absence of terrorist groups abducting schoolgirls wholesale in the northern reaches of Canada, you might be tempted to give the edge to St. Joseph. However, if you look at the condition of workers in our own land, you might fairly conclude that in recent years, old St. Joe has let the working class down big time.
Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, just signed a law that his supporters like to call Right to Work, but which unions refer to as the Freeloaders Act. It essentially allows workers in a union shop to enjoy the benefits won by union members without paying union dues. Apparently in Walker’s view, which is now shared by fully half the states, freedom isn’t the only thing that is free. You can enjoy all the benefits that have been won by decades of union struggles and let your more conscientious co-workers foot the bill.
Here in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, spurned by the teachers’ unions in his last re-election juggernaut, seems determined to oppose them at every turn. He won’t fund the schools at the level the courts have judged necessary to meet a constitutional requirement while he supports the proliferation of non-union charter schools. He insists on a testing regime that parents and teachers both find onerous and ties it to teacher evaluations. In spite of overwhelming evidence that poverty is what causes so many of our kids to fail, he points the finger at teachers themselves, seeking harsher evaluations and a longer path to tenure.
You could be forgiven for seeing presidential ambitions behind both Walker’s and Cuomo’s actions.
But public-sector unions have to face their own role in the decline of working-class power. Instead of using their power to organize other workers, including those in the private sector, too many unions have substituted buying the allegiance of politicians for building grassroots support.
The bankruptcy of this strategy couldn’t be more evident. The teachers’ unions have long counted on their purchased access to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to curtail Andrew Cuomo’s eagerness to weaken workers’ rights. It only took one indictment to expose the folly of that reliance.
Workers need to learn this lesson once again: There isn’t a saint in heaven or a politician on earth who will hold your interest at heart. That’s what we have unions for.
What a Union Can Do
Last week SEIU Local 200 United announced that 30 of its members who drive school buses will receive more than $15,000 in back pay that their employer had failed to pay them. It took three years for the state Department of Labor to get them their money even after the union blew the company in. Without a union, that would never have happened.
Patrick, Patron Saint of Engineers
Perhaps all sides in the great civic debate of the future of I-81 can find common cause in this: Whether we build a tunnel or an elevated highway or run the interstate through DeWitt and make Almond Street into a boulevard, it’s going to take a lot of engineers to get it done right. We will also no doubt need lots of letters of petition to Sen. Chuck Schumer, who holds the key to the billions in federal aid the road will require. But for good measure, as the plans are being drawn up and the construction begins, what say we slip in a prayer for St. Patrick to steady the hand of all those engineers?
Pope Pius X moved the celebration of St. Joseph the Worker to May 1 in the mid-1950s, some say to counter the influence of leftists and union organizers who commemorate International Workers Day on the first of May.
Ed Griffin-Nolan is a journalist who believes we have to ask the hard questions no matter whose interests are at stake. Sanity Fair is his weekly take on life, politics and society.