Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
State Labor Council
July 10, 1997
On behalf of all the citizens of this state, I'm delighted to wish the State Labor Council a happy 40th anniversary.
For the past forty years, this Council has steadfastly fought for the betterment of Washington's working families.
Union members throughout this state have risked their own livelihoods to stand up for decent wages, safe working conditions, and job security.
For the past 40 years, your work has benefited not just your own members, but all the working people of this state.
You have much to celebrate, and a lot to be proud of.
But tonight, I want to focus on what it will take to help all Washington workers thrive in the next forty years.
And that means focusing on education.
Since Washington became a state in 1889, the paramount duty of the state has been the education of children.
That mandate is a part of our state constitution.
But during the next century, the paramount duty of the state must become the creation of a system of lifelong learning.
This is a vital issue for organized labor, because in the 21st century, the need to learn will be as important to working people as the right to organize.
The economic security of working families will depend on their ability to learn new skills, to master new technologies, and to adapt to a changing economy.
And I'm concerned that we are unprepared for this change.
In the last session of the legislature, we took a giant step backward when the legislature cut funding for retraining programs for dislocated workers in distressed rural areas.
But at the same time, we took a significant step forward when we passed welfare reform legislation called WorkFirst, which will help people find a job, first and then focus on getting the education and training they need to climb a career ladder.
But the fact that the legislature could take these two contradictory policy directions at the same time exposes our underlying problem:
We lack consensus on what a system of lifelong learning ought to be.
When our state was founded, our constitution made it plain that the education of children is the state's responsibility.
Everyone pays taxes for public schools, and everyone's children are allowed to attend them.
In fact, school attendance for kids is mandatory, because we all know that every child must be educated to function in our society.
But once kids graduate from high school, the responsibility for their continuing education is dispersed.
Government takes some responsibility by subsidizing community and technical colleges and four-year colleges.
Students and their families take some responsibility by paying tuition, which covers only part of the costs of education.
And businesses, alumni, and philanthropists take some responsibility by making donations to their favorite institutions.
But we don't have an established tradition to guide our thinking about who takes responsibility for adult learning.
Should employers be responsible for providing ongoing training and education for their employees?
Should every worker be responsible for continually upgrading his or her own skills, and anticipating economic change?
And should government provide education and training programs for adult workers?
I think the answers are yes, yes, and yes.
To survive the next forty years, every sector of our society must take on more responsibility for helping adults learn.
Workers must take more individual responsibility for learning new skills and anticipating and adapting to economic change.
Employers must take responsibility for making every workplace a center of learning.
And state government - along with our community and technical colleges and universities - must continue to rethink and redesign programs to meet the needs of adult learners.
And together, we must integrate all of these efforts into a new way of thinking about learning.
In the past, we measured learning by how much time people spent in a classroom.
After twelve years in public school, kids got a diploma.
And if they made it through four years in college, we gave them another one.
But now we're engaged in a school reform effort that's based on measuring what kids have actually learned.
We've set clear, high academic standards, and this fall we'll receive the first report on how well our fourth-graders measure up to them.
Frankly, we don't expect to be pleased with the results of these first tests.
But our new tests will tell us how much harder we have to work to make sure that kids are really learning the skills and knowledge they'll need to succeed in the next century.
And focusing on learning rather than attendance will make the system more flexible, so that kids can move through it faster or more slowly, depending on their individual needs.
This basic idea - focusing on what kids know and can do, rather than how long they sit in a classroom - can also transform education for adults.
We don't have to think of adult education as finding a way for all of us to go back to class.
In fact, there's a study going on right now at Boeing to analyze how people learn on the job, so that the company can do a better job of building learning into every day's work.
This is the new world of learning: it is a world where learning is a way of life.
And it is a world where what counts is what you know and can do - not where or how you learned it.
The willingness to learn - an eagerness to learn -- is the key to economic security for all of Washington's working families.
If we want to thrive in the next forty years, we must make Washington a state of learning -
- a state where every child gets a world-class education;
- a state where every young person understands the link between school and work;
- a state where every adult is constantly expanding his/her skills, minds, and horizons,
- and a state where every employer and every union make learning a top priority of their organization.
To make Washington a state of learning, we need the active participation of every union member in this state.
Your local schools need your help and support to succeed in helping all children measure up to our new, rigorous academic standards.
Your schools also need your help to design strong school-to-work transition programs, and to connect young people to new apprenticeship programs.
Your local community and technical colleges and four-year colleges need your participation in their efforts to tailor their classes to the needs of your local economies and workers.
Your collective bargaining agreements will need to treat lifelong learning as just as crucial to your economic security as health care insurance or a pension plan.
And your local offices of the Department of Social and Health Services and Employment Security will need your help and participation to make our WorkFirst welfare reform succeed in every region of our state.
No one knows better than working people like you that a good job is the only cure for chronic poverty.
And the only way we can reduce poverty is by helping more people get jobs, keep jobs, and get the education and training they need to move up a career ladder.
WorkFirst means that people will focus on finding entry-level work first.
But once people get those jobs, we will not abandon them.
Instead, we want to expand the range of opportunities for them to learn their way up the ladder and into the economic mainstream.
And because we are determined to do that in a way that does not displace anyone, we must create new opportunities for work and learning.
I hope that every union represented here tonight will help us with this critical task.
Creating these new opportunities for learning is the most powerful strategy we have for closing the gap between the richest and the poorest in our society.
Learning is the way to lift people out of poverty, and learning is the way to keep working families from falling into poverty.
Creating a culture of learning is the only way we can sustain our freedom, our prosperity, and our quality of life here in Washington state.
Neither working families nor American democracy can endure if we allow the rich to continue to get richer, while those at the bottom of the pay scale fall ever further behind and hard working families can't even make ends meet.
So I'm asking you to help mobilize all the progressive forces in our society to ensure that lifelong learning is the birthright of every citizen in the 21st century.
The labor movement has a vital leadership role to play in this effort.
Over the past forty years - in fact, over the last century - you have transformed the American workplace for the better.
Now, it's time to do it again - to lead the next transformation of the American workplace, so that the gains you've won will endure, and so that the working families of this state will prosper in the new century.
I know from studying your history that you can be counted on to be at the forefront of this new struggle.
And so I look forward to your partnership and leadership in helping to make Washington a state of learning.