Sunday, January 30, 2011

Teachers Union Boss: We’re In the Protection Racket

According to Doug Tuthill, a member of the Florida Education Association, “To be a viable business, the union must maintain its membership base. Fewer members means less money and less clout. . . The flip side is that, when I was a union president, I knew that battles over tenure were great for business. That’s because teacher unions are in the business of selling protection, and anything that causes teachers to experience more job-related fear or insecurity increases union membership. I could never say so publicly, but the elimination of tenure would mean the union contract would be the only protection teachers had. That’s amounts to a full employment act for unions.

So long as union bosses see themselves as running a business, they will do whatever it takes to maintain that business, even sell out their own members. (Better to have low paid members than no members at all).

In right to work states, maintaining membership is a bigger issue than in places like California, where membership is virtually guaranteed for those in traditional public schools. (One reason why charter schools are so popular among Wall Street speculators and billionaire philanthropists is that they are an efficient way to break the unions). However, when any union starts to look at their members as dollar signs rather than as humans, they have lost sight of their purpose: to organize their members to fight for their interests.

Unions fight by taking job actions, not by paying lobbyists to beg politicians for mercy.  However, when Tuthill talks about “less money and less clout,” he reveals the fact that most unions have in fact moved far away from organizing and focus most of their resources on political influence. While this approach may open doors to union bosses and their lobbyists (see California, where Jerry Brown paid the CTA back for its support for his campaign by giving a school board seat to their lobbyist, Patricia Ann Rucker) it does little to support the interests of teachers.

Politicians are fickle. They make their decisions based on who gives them the most money and how they think a particular decision will affect their next campaign. They are also timid and conservative, rarely taking a risky or controversial stance on any issue. Thus, when push comes to shove, a union may waste millions of dollars of its members’ dues on a failed legislative effort or campaign, when a fraction of that could have been used to organize an effective strike or other direct action.

Unions have tended to behave like a protection racket. We give them our money and they try to protect us by fighting for the status quo, or by making compromises that they think screw us over less than the alternative. In contrast, rather than trying to hold onto a mediocre or lousy status quo, a fighting a union struggles for something better, such as the abolishment of NCLB, more paid prep time, longer lunches, universal health care, higher taxes on the wealthy, or an end to wage slavery.

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