Dick Meister

Dick Meister: The artistry of silence in film

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Dick Meister is a long-time San Francisco writer. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.

I didn't get much sleep last night. I was kept awake thinking of a film – "The Artist" – I had just seen. It stands out, even in the harsh light of day, as one of the very best of the many movies, silent and sound movies alike, that I've watched over the past 60 years. (Read the Guardian's take on the film here.)

Although the widely-acclaimed movie was made this year, "The Artist" is a silent film, except for an excellent music soundtrack that sounds like the live orchestral music that accompanied major silent films. That practice ended, of course, with the coming of talkies.

That's the movie's major theme, the end of the silents – a theme it handles even better than other excellent films covering the topic, such as "Singin' in the Rain." I won't go beyond noting the theme, for fear of disclosing the plot, but, believe me, it's a very well-plotted and well-acted theme. Read more »

Dick Meister: Newt's wacko 18th century idea

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By Dick Meister

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

"Nuts, vicious and wrong." That's what the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees thinks of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's wacko idea of putting kids to work to clean our schools in place of unionized adult janitors. AFSCME is correct, of course. It's a nutty, vicious and wrong idea.

But, gee, putting the kids to work would save money, notes Gingrich. Sure would.  And nothing's more important to politicians like Gingrich. To them, government is not primarily a vehicle to provide essential services to people. It is, as they complain, a vehicle that gobbles up taxpayer money – especially rich taxpayers' money. Read more »

Heroes who did their jobs on 9/11

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By Dick Meister

You know those public employees who are under seemingly constant attack? Who are being blamed for all sorts of governmental problems, financial and otherwise? Well, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center is a good time to make clear how very important to the nation those unfairly maligned public employees have been for a long, long time.

I should think it would be very hard to argue against the pay and pensions negotiated by firefighters and police, for instance, given their often heroic and usually helpful acts in behalf of the people they serve.

Yes, they make demands for pay and benefit increases and better working conditions– and they should.  Just as they should be able to bargain collectively through their unions to try to realize their demands. That's called workplace democracy, and it should be their absolute right.

But anti-labor political leaders are looking for someone else to blame for the poor state of the economy that's at least in part due to their own ineptness. And who do they blame? Public employees, who are characterized as greedy, overpaid and underworked members of much too economically and politically powerful unions.   The employees are the cause of it all.  Certainly it's not the failed leadership and poor bargaining skills of the political leaders that's at fault. Or their refusal to adequately tax the wealthy. Of course not. Read more »

Dick Meister: Workers gaining in fight for union rights

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This year marks the 76th anniversary of the National Labor Relations Act, the Depression-era law that was essential in building an American middle class - and which remains essential to the well-being of all working Americans. 

But you know what? Powerful corporate interests and their Republican buddies in Congress are nevertheless trying mightily to cripple what has so long been one of the most important U.S. laws of any kind. Read more »

Dick Meister: New hope for domestic workers

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With a lot of luck, we may finally take decisive action to guarantee decent treatment for the world's highly exploited housekeepers, maids, nannies and other domestic workers. There are an estimated 100 million of them, working in more than 180 countries.

Their pay is generally at the poverty level, and very few have fringe benefits such as pensions and employer-paid health care. Few have the protection of unions or labor laws, and they're often at the mercy of unscrupulous labor contractors.  Almost half of them are not entitled to even one day off per week. About a third of the female workers are denied maternity leave. Read more »

Dick Meister: Farm workers need drastic change

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No workers are more in need of union protection than the nation's miserably treated farm workers. Yet a promising new effort to ease their path to unionization has been blocked by one of their former champions, Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown was rightly hailed for signing, in an earlier term as governor, the 1975 law that granted farm workers in California the collective bargaining rights denied them nationwide. It's the weapon farm workers must have if they are to escape poverty and the arbitrary and often harmful actions of grower employers. Read more »

Dick Meister: Paid sick leave is good for us all

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The latest figures show that some 44 million workers in private employment  - more than 40 percent of the private sector workforce - do not have paid sick days that they could use to recover from illnesses, including contagious illnesses such as the flu, or worse.

It should be of particular concern that those occupations which are currently least likely to provide paid sick days include occupations most likely to have regular contact with the public – most importantly and most disturbingly, food service and food preparation. Read more »

Dick Meister: Can a woman beat Hoffa?

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A woman as president of the macho Teamsters Union that was once headed by supermacho Jimmy Hoffa? It could happen. 

Sandy Pope thinks so, and she's going to try as hard as she can to make it happen – going to try as hard as she can to succeed Hoffa's lawyer son, Jimmy junior, as head of one of the country's largest and most powerful unions.

If a majority of delegates at the Teamster convention that opened today in Las Vegas vote for Pope to unseat Hoffa, who was first elected a dozen years ago, she'll be only the third woman to ever head an international union. Read more »

Dick Meister: The battle of our generation

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President Bob King of the United Auto Workers union is proving again that he's one of our most astute labor leaders, a worthy occupant of the position once held by the legendary Walter Reuther.

King's latest column in Solidarity, the UAW's official magazine, certainly proves that. King writes about the severe weakening of the union rights that are supposedly guaranteed all working people – the right to organize. King calls that "the first amendment for workers." Read more »

Dick Meister: Unions save lives

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A miner's life is like a sailor's

'Board a ship to cross the waves

Every day his life's in danger

Still he ventures being brave

---Traditional labor song

Read more »