I come from a line of strong, independent women who stood up for themselves and others. These women pushed forward and held strong, not because they were feminists, but because they knew doing so would be beneficial to our society.
As I continue to struggle to understand the reasoning behind our current school board’s and central administration’s stance in the ongoing MAPS contract negotiations, I decided to pull out a transcript of my Grandma Marietti’s talk on public radio during the 1946 Steel Workers Union strike here in Marquette County. It’s entitled, “Mother of 13 Children Urged Strikers’ Wives to Hang Tough. ‘Stand By Your Husbands and Sons in Their Hour of Need.” Grandma agreed to speak to the wives of the striking miners and felt qualified as her husband, my grandpa, was a striker and she was a mother of 13 children at the time. (Eventually there were 17 total.)
Grandma talks about knowing the consequences of all income ceasing if a strike were to happen. She talks about how those consequences became real after more than a month-long strike. She talks of the mining companies techniques to break the strike. At one point she gives a specific example.
A mining company official spoke to a wife of a striker. “He played upon her mother’s love. How well he knew of our inherent love and devotion to our children. How well he knew the suffering mothers endure when our children’s every need cannot be met.” When I read these three sentences, an involuntary “Yes!” burst forth from my mouth. This is exactly what the school board and administration are doing even though we are not striking. They know teachers’ inherent love and devotion to our students. They know the suffering teachers endure when our students’ every need cannot be met. They are using this against us just as the mining company tried to use it to break the miners’ strike in 1946.
How? The struggle I faced when I thought of voting for or against the sinking fund millage this past Tuesday is just one example. Do I support the millage or not? Last summer I pushed for a yes vote on another request believing it would help with contract negotiations; it did not. But the sinking fund request will provide money for desperately needed repairs and upgrades. Voters, many of them MAPS teachers or family and friends of MAPS teachers, approved the request. Our devotion to our students showed, but yet there is still no contract.
The inherent pull of our classrooms as we flipped the calendar to August is another. Our professionalism and desire to meet our students’ every need fights with our need to stand strong. We want our classroom to be inviting when our students enter the first day, and even for the open house before school officially begins. We know our students need to feel safe and reducing their fears is one way. Being able to see the classroom as it will be the first day, brings a level of comfort to our students. Seeing their names on the desks, finding their lockers, seeing the teacher, knowing that same person will greet them every day with a smile and work tirelessly to meet their needs, are all reasons teachers work in the summer to set up their rooms and attend open house times. We are professionals yet we also need to be treated as professionals.
If the administration and school board are just as concerned about the students, then why are they unwilling to have a contract that preserves what we’ve had in the past? A contract that compensates us for our experience? Why do they make teachers focus our energy on fighting for a fair and equitable contract, knowing our time is much better spent focusing on our students?
Here’s Grandma Marietti’s answer: “They are only trying to break the strike through the softness of our mothers’ hearts—But mining officials forget besides having a heart, we wives also have brains. We know that our husband’s demands must be met…not our husbands’ original demand…the 18 ½ cent raise is our compromise…it is our minimum need and demand.”
MAPS teachers have softness of a mother’s heart but we also have brains. We’ve compromise. We’ve waited. Our inherent love and devotion to our students should not be used against us.