All of a sudden labor unions are an enemy in America. People blame the labor unions for the loss of our manufacturing jobs. Labor unions, according to this version, priced the American worker out of the marketplace. Labor unions have, in this estimate, ruined the free market and reined in capitalism. Labor unions are responsible for the currently depressed economic state in America.
Teachers unions are under fire also. They are, apparently, responsible for forcing school districts to keep bad teachers through the practice of tenure. They are also holding schools back academically by supporting old hide-bound rules and practices.
But we have all studied the history of America without unions. Profits ruled then even more than now. Long hours, low pay, inhuman working conditions, cruelty, child labor – rampant Capitalism is not pretty without the counterpoint of labor unions to defend workers.
Perhaps labor unions (which, incidentally, are made up of American workers) were not keeping their heads up. Perhaps they were not looking at the writing on the wall. They may have thought that jobs were secure and that wages would just go on keeping pace with prices. They sort of knew other markets were waiting in the wings, but they thought American business would stay in America. Although the development of a global economy was inevitable, they (we) just weren’t expecting it now.
Teachers without unions could be fired for any reason or no reason whatsoever. They could be fired for expressing an unpopular idea. Imagine what could have happened to teachers who spoke out against McCarthyism. What about teachers who do not want to teach only “creationism”? Academic freedom is extremely central to a democracy. The 1st Amendment to our Constitution protects freedom of speech. But we still have people who want to ban books.
If tenure is a problem, work with unions to use the window of opportunity that exists for firing “bad” teachers. If the window is too short make it a bit longer. Work with unions on a great evaluation system, perhaps a peer review system, so a paper trail exists when a teacher needs to be pulled out of the classroom. Retrain where possible, let go where necessary, but don’t get rid of fail safes that guarantee academic freedom.
Our labor unions are not the villains that they are being painted in the media. However, maybe they have become a bit set in their ways. If they keep defending wage and hours standards for jobs that don’t exist they will ensure their obsolescence.
I am not like Ahmadinejad. I do not believe capitalism is dying. Obviously it is alive and well and living in China. Small businesses spring up naturally wherever there are people. Capitalism is a grassroots phenomenon. So are labor unions.