Sunday, September 06, 2015

Sunday morning round-up: Labor Day weekend edition

If this is Labor Day weekend (and it is) that means that we honor the hard-working people of the world by shopping at the new Wal-Mart that pays such sub-standard wages that many of its employees avail themselves of social welfare programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps).  It is true that Wal-Mart has raised its wages of late, no doubt disliking bad publicity. Cheyenne now has two Wal-Marts as well as a Wal-Mart distribution center west on I-80. A real Wal-Mart town, we are. Meanwhile, some Cheyennites prefer to take their hard-earned wages south to Fort Collins to the CostCo store at I-25 and Harmony. CostCo offers livable wages and benefits even as it offers low prices. It can be done.

I attended my union delegate assembly last week in Cheyenne. I wrote about it last week. Gov. Matt Mead addressed the assembly. He said that the next legislative session "is going to be ugly." Oil, gas and coal revenues will be way down. Despite that, he recommends funding the standard budget as is but the state will probably have no money to fund exception requests which, in the past, have been funded to upwards of an additional $600 million. That's a lot in this expansive but least-populated state in the union. He advocates dipping into the state's $2 billion rainy day fund. Stingy Republican legislators, on the other hand, may have other ideas, such as cutting state agency budgets and/or cutting state employees. Gov. Mead says that this approach causes the state to "lose talent and skill" and will cause us to "go into a death spiral" Fewer state services and fewer state employees cause losses in the private sector and this is something Wyoming may not recover from. While many Republican legislators continue to shame state employees, they might want to take a page from our governor's game plan and his new "Wyoming Grown" program. Do you really want to keep your sons and daughters in the state? Or are you just whistling Dixie?

One of the heroes of the labor movement in the West was Joe Hill. I had to wait until I was in college and watching "Woodstock" to discover Joe Hill of Utah. Joan Baez sang "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night" in front of a half-million or so people. Joe Hill was a union organizer who was framed for murder and executed by one of The Beehive State's notorious firing squads. Because he was an IWW organizer -- a Wobbly -- and branded as a Red and a troublemaker by the powers-that-be, it was easy to frame him as the bad guy. A group of poets and musicians and union organizers gathered this weekend in SLC to celebrate Hill's legacy. Denver-raised Judy Collins headed up the concert for this "true blue rebel."
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night; Alive as you or me; Says I, But Joe, you're ten years dead; I never died, says he; I never died, says he.
Grady Kirkpatrick at Wyoming Public Radio in Laramie often devotes his "Morning Music" show to a theme. Friday it was Labor Day and working people songs. He played the Stones' "The Salt of the Earth," which I haven't heard in a long time. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote the song in 1968 and the Stones featured it on the "Beggars Banquet" album. According to a Wikipedia article on "Salt of the Earth," the Stones have only performed it in concert a handful of times. It has all the qualities of an anthem, with a paean to working people and a rousing chorus, but doesn't get the crowds going quite like "Sympathy for the Devil" or "Brown Sugar." Still, it's worth remembering what the Rolling Stones, perhaps the richest rockers in creation, were thinking about in 1968: 
Say a prayer for the common foot soldier; Spare a thought for his back breaking work; Say a prayer for his wife and his children; Who burn the fires and who still till the earth.

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