March 8, 2005

Teachers and Unionization III

Carroll Andrew Morse

Unions, by their very nature are easily affected by the virus of bureaucratic rule. Unions tend to be monosocial, to be combative, to be administrative, to be market-oriented. Taken together, these traits form a strong natural bent in established unions toward the ‘one-party’ system.

The thoughts of a turn-of-the century laissez-faire robber-baron capitalist, perhaps? Not quite. This is taken from an article written by Michael Harrington, an American socialist, quoting Gus Tyler, an American labor activist, about problems rooted in the monolithic nature of unions. From up-close and direct observation, Harrington is making the case that, even when they are created in pursuit of noble ideals, unions, like any one-party system, end up serving the short-term interests of the managing bureaucracy, rather than the long term needs of the majority.

In private companies, where there are only two parties involved (labor and management) there is less of a problem. If union members decide to make sacrifices in order to build the strength of a disciplined bureaucracy, that is their choice. The problem is that education is not a two-party problem. There are three parties involved: labor, management, and students. Labor has no right make the education of students a bargaining chip when the primary goal is increasing the power of union leadership.

Ultimately, both students and teachers would benefit if unions were replaced by something more akin to a guild...

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"There are three parties involved: labor, management, and students."

I think you're slightly wrong. There ARE three parties involved; the labor (teachers), management (school dept & board) and the TAXPAYERS.

in the traditional sense of collective bargaining, you would consider the students the product, not a third party. I know it sounds cold but reducing it to a typical union vs. management relationship is the goal.

Again, in the traditional sense, you could make an argument to consider the taxpayers the shareholders of the corporation. However, unlike traditional shareholders, who have an ownership interest, but not a direct financial obligation, the taxpayers FOOT THE BILL DIRECTLY.

so, in the sense that there are three parties, I think you're right... in the sense that the students are one of those parties, I think you're wrong.

I also think you're dead-wrong in the assumption that "Labor" has no right to make the education of the students a bargaining chip. Indeed, it is the sole purpose here and thus the ONLY leverage that the unions hold, particularly since the powers-that-be see it as a good thing to outlaw a strike by a teachers union. HOWEVER, when you add the qualifier "when the primary goal is increasing the power of union leadership." well, than everything's tainted when that is the primary goal, isn't it? I refuse to believe that's the primary goal of any teacher's union, though. We ALL might as well give up in that case, because we've already lost.

just to digress for a moment.. why is it legal for police, fire and nurses to strike when LIVES are at stake but not teachers, when noone dies because of a teacher's strike?

Posted by: Jim S at March 9, 2005 1:09 PM