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Helping workers

My dad was a union man, and I’ve been a union man most of my working life.

For a while, I was a Newspaper Guild unit officer, and I sat on bargaining committees and trial boards and helped members file and prosecute grievances. Even now, I’m a voluntary member of the California Faculty Association.

Unions provide a system of what one of my former economics professors called “industrial jurisprudence,” a system for resolving conflicts that generally is superior to torchlight parades and stone throwing.

Membership has meant that over the years I have had to put up with my unions’ political endorsements, wrongheaded stands on social issues and sallies in to areas that had nothing to do with workers’ rights. It has been annoying, but bearable.

However, now I have to watch California’s unions fight workers’ compensation reform, and that’s way beyond annoying.

The evening news has been treating us to images of injured workers – some with crutches, some with walkers – marching outside California’s Capitol building, to convey the message that reform would mean disaster for these unfortunates.

The fact is, the present system is a disaster – not just for employers, but for workers.

We’ve heard how California is losing jobs to states with more equitable workers’ comp systems. This is most easily understood on a small scale.

We have a friend who is a general contractor, and he put an addition on our house, employing two, hard-working young men.

Now he works alone because his workers’ compensation premiums were climbing above 50 percent of his payroll. As a small operator, he literally couldn’t afford to have employees – not if he wanted to make a profit and build a better life for his wife and children.

As for the two young guys: They’re picking up jobs where and when they can, hoping to latch onto something stable.

One can understand why unions would want to protect the benefits of the legitimately disabled. What is incomprehensible is their zeal for protecting trial lawyers and insurance company executives.

Multiculturalism: Now we are learning that trying to be sensitive to cultural differences can be insensitive.

California’s Board of Education is making publisher McGraw-Hill revise teachers’ guides for its English language development program, due to statements like the following:

From examples such as these, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, concluded teachers might stop calling on Islamic or African girls to protect them from embarrassment.

Further, she said, the statement about hostility could cause teachers unfairly to expect antisocial behavior by immigrants.

McGraw-Hill, showing both political correctness and a desire to keep a big, state contract, apologized.

File under: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Then, in Hayward, a school-board member, noting that parents had taken kids out of class to protest the repeal of drivers’ licenses for illegal aliens, suggested those parents be billed to make up the tens of thousands of dollars lost in daily attendance disbursals.

Hispanic activists demanded he apologize for being insensitive to Latinos. He apologized.

Which brings us (at last) to a New York Times op-ed piece by Emmanuel Dongala, who wrote of the Rwandan genocide:

In Africa, the genocide happened in Rwanda, but it could have taken place in any of the many pseudo-nation states that are the legacy of colonialism – states in which the people are more loyal to their ethnic communities than to a faraway central government.

The manipulation of ethnicity by politicians has given ethnicity an importance it does not intrinsically have. Thus, leaders are perceived as representing their ethnic group, and elections are perceived as a contest between rival ethnic groups.

Sounds like Los Angeles, New York or Miami.

Meanwhile, in Rwanda, the government has “banned” ethnicity. That is, it is removing ethnic references from official documents, saying, “We are all Rwandans,” and made it a crime even to cite one’s tribal heritage.

I wouldn’t suggest the United States go quite that far, but far too many “multiculturalists” in reality are Balkanizers or – if you will – tribalizers.