Taking on the workers

I love it when a number of my interests intersect in one post. A superb post over at Education Week captures everything that is wrong when people criticize the unionized nature of this country’s school system. As Diane Ravitch suggests Unions are Not The Problem:

I must confess that I have always been puzzled by people who insist that the unions are the cause of everything that is wrong with education. If we only could get rid of the union, they say, then we could raise performance.

Her arguments seem oriented around three points:

1. If unions were to blame, then school systems that are less unionized, such as in the South, should be doing better. They’re not.

2. It is not that getting rid of poorly performing teachers is difficult. Most of them grow disenchanted and leave within their first few years. There’s not much difference here between heavily unionized schools and less unionized schools.

3. The right to form and join a union is a basic human right.

And it was this last point that got me to thinking about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which currently seems to be every conservatives favorite punching bag (after President Obama).

The crux of the issue with EFCA centers on how easy it is for workers to organize and form a union. The EFCA effectively makes it easier for workers to recruit others, thus making it easier for workers to have the option to join a union where there is currently none. Sounds good to me – unions are by, for, and made up of workers. Surely workers should be able to form unions however they want?

Ignore for a moment that economists think that unions help boost the economy by raising wages. It seems that pro-business organizations are coming out in force against unions, against EFCA, and against raising workers wages. For example, the unapologetically anti-labor Center for Union Facts spent $20 million on ads in 2008 against EFCA. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has vowed to spend another $10 million this year. Just think how many jobs or workplace improvements all that money could have funded!

While these corporate interests claim that signing petitions somehow infringes on workers rights, they never get too agitated at managers who force workers to sit through hours of anti-union videos during work time, who pressure workers not to join unions for fear of losing their jobs, and the labeling of workers as troublemakers if they so much as mention the word ‘union’ on the workplace. Talk about thuggish behavior!

Nope, this has nothing to do with improving our education system, not a whole lot to do with improving our productivity and economy, nor with protecting workers from other workers. It is the same-old class warfare that our history has been littered with – with the bosses wanting to control the every means of production and workers being grateful for any crumbs thrown their way. Anyone would think the workers created the current economic malaise!

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