Have you ever been in that weird and uncomfortable place between feeling social and anti-social? Like, you want to go and hang out with friends, but you don’t actually want to feel the obligation to contribute to the conversation that comes with hanging out with your actual friends? Or maybe you just don’t want to change out of your bathrobe? Or maybe you do genuinely want to hang out with your friends, but you hate talking on the phone (especially in public), and you’re stuck on a commuter train for the next hour and ten minutes?
To those among you who sometimes find yourselves is such situations, I have two words for you: Tank Riot (which is a podcast).
It’s not balanced, it’s not full of expertise, it’s not sober (some episodes are less sober than others). It’s just three smart and geeky and very funny boomer/gen-x —
two ONE boomer s: Sputnik and Tor; and one TWO gen-x: Viktor AND TOR — guys from Madison Wisconsin enjoying each others’ company, talking for an hour or two or however long they want to every couple of weeks about a topic they’re interested in. And, thanks at least in part to their pseudonymity, they don’t mince words or opinions. It’s a conversation among friends. And you get to participate in it. And feel absolutely no pressure to contribute (you can if you want… I’ve e-mailed them and had a thoughtful e-mail back). And you can do it while on the fucking commuter train.
Anyway, today’s episode is about what’s been going on in Madison. Viktor, Sputnik and Tor are all Wisconsin state workers. All three are very very involved in the protests. And as I tweeted an hour or two ago, their hour and fourty five minutes is the most human piece of public commentary you’ll find on a substantial issue in America today. You guys should listen to it.
(Other good episodes: Emma Goldman; Ronald Reagan; Henry Ford).
To Sputnik: Sorry to hear about the ICU visits. Hope you’re better now, and that you never die.
On what’s been going on in Madison and, in particular, on teacher’s unions, I’ve got to admit to long being a bit hostile to teachers’ unions. I went to high school in British Columbia right at the end of almost two decades of the super pro-labour New Democratic Party’s corrupt ownership of the provincial capital.
My town’s teacher’s union was so powerful that repeated and credible allegations of sexual impropriety towards children was seen as an uphill fight barely worth bringing. Mr. Mercier was finally convicted in 2002, about six years after he subbed at my elementary school and took up regularly “supervising” the ten-year-old girls in the change rooms. While that’s the most extreme seed of my hostility, generally, the system was profoundly anti-meritocratic, resulting in a huge proportion of my teachers (especially science teachers — with one exception, all young-earth creationists) being terrible and absolutely secure in their jobs. And the good ones had to actually go against the union, the one thing that could seriously put their job at risk, to do things like host movie nights and field trips and other extra-curricular events that actually got my largely working-class classmates and I excited about learning things.
In 2005 (the year a 1-minute Google search turns up data for), teachers in BC made an average of 64k per year. Not a fortune, but a comfortable living. More than I make right now in the private sector (five years and a 25%+ increase in Canada’s GDP per capita later). And let’s be honest, being a teacher can be an awesome and fulfilling (while admittedly very demanding) job. And because pay was so good, and the province was funding so many other sometimes awesome, sometimes not so awesome programs, the province couldn’t afford that many teachers. So class sizes were big, and employment prospects coming out of teachers’ college were grim. All in all, an ugly situation.
This is all by way of saying that when my grade 12 chemistry teacher explained to me that we weren’t going to be doing labs (which I was going to be expected to have done come the provincial standardized exam) because the union was being asked to make concessions in response to a provincial economic downturn, and this was how they were going to protest, I was pretty lastingly pissed off. Since then, labour has been the chink in my lefty armour.
But not all economic climates are like BC’s circa 2001 (notably the economic climate in America right now). And not all unions are like the Mission Teachers Union circa 2001 (notably the unions being attacked by Scott Walker, who have been laudably reasonable at the bargaining table, accepting pay and benefit cuts not quite as significant as the percentage by which banker bonuses have increased since the economic crisis started, but still substantial). And class sizes are going to go up to 50 or 60 students. That’s insane.
So to repost a plea we made last week: Click here and buy the protesters in Madison a pizza or two. And listen to this week’s Tank Riot! And, honestly, workers of the world unite.
CORRECTION: Tor has informed B&S that he is in fact a proud gen-x-er. Let any previous statements to the contrary be stricken from the record.