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David Bacon: Public Workers: A Visual Reality Check

November 10, 2010

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By **David Bacon**

In California cities like San Jose, voters this election passed ballot measures to weaken the retirement system for public workers. These are the same kind of measures that have brought workers into the streets of France for weeks in protest.

Beyond the ballot initiatives, the election season of 2010 was filled with rhetoric blaming public workers for the economic woes of cities and states. It’s hard to understand, in an era of foreclosures by banks that pay their executives bonuses of millions of dollars, while getting bailouts from the Federal government, why public workers should be held responsible for the current economic crisis. Who contributes more to the welfare of our communities—a teacher or a hedge fund manager?

But perhaps the most important thing to remember is what these workers do. These photographs are meant to inspire some obvious questions. Can people do this work, if they’re then cast adrift once they’re too old? What would happen to all of us if they didn’t do these jobs?

All photos © David Bacon.

Public Workers 1.jpg

Sam Johnson, a worker for the City of Burlingame, prepares to tap a water main to provide water service to a home.

Public Workers 2.jpg

Nick Hackleman takes a water sample from a Burlingame hydrant, to test water purity.

Public Workers 3.jpg

Pamela Swim and Misael Apostol sweep up leaves at the maintenance yard for the Elk Grove schools.

Public Workers 4.jpg

Yesenia Galegos helps children of migrant farm workers learn social skills in a nursery school program run by Migrant Head Start.

Public Workers 5.jpg

A school bus driver in Colusa helps children get safely off the bus, and makes sure they don’t get lost.

Public Workers 6.jpg

Carmelita Reyes teaches math at the Life Academy, a small public high school in one of the poorest areas of east Oakland.

Public Workers 7.jpg

Gabriela works on the line in the Food and Nutrition Services Production Center, which prepares school lunches for the Elk Grove schools.

Public Workers 8.jpg

A printer in the school district print shop in Anaheim, CA.

Public Workers 9.jpg

Judy Leyva runs the control panel for the sewage treatment plant for the City of Lodi.

Public Workers 10.jpg

Markus Brown is an intern at the San Mateo County Hospital.

Copyright 2010 David Bacon

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This post appeared on Beacon Broadside.

David Bacon is the author of Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants. Bacon spent thirty years as a labor organizer and immigrant rights activist. His articles appear in The Nation, American Prospect, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and he hosts a weekly radio show on KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California.

To read more blog entries from Bacon and others at GUERNICA click HERE .

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