Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lois Weiner on the Survival of Unions and Why Chicago TU is Different

What we see in Chicago has been more  like the kind of organizing done by the CIO, fusing a progressive social program to union demands. CORE, the insurgent caucus that leads the CTU and was re-elected last month in a landslide (with over 60% of the members voting) has shifted the political terrain of education politics by embedding union demands in a vision for public education. ... Lois Weiner

Herman Benson, founder and driving force behind the Association of Union Democracy, is an interesting guy. He must be around a hundred years old by now.  See here, here, here.

I was in touch with the AUD early on in the life of Ed Notes. I was told by some old hands that Benson as a fan of Al Shanker and the UFT as one of the most democratic of unions (sadly, that is actually true) often left them off the hook. I imagine Benson, as others do, would think I am too harsh on the UFT given the context. But I don't know any other context personally. I guess there is another side but I have no patience for it.

Here is a great debate starting with Lois Weiner's comments referring to the debate on union democracy between Benson and Dan La Botz. Debating the Chicago model vs UFT model will be fodder for years of debate. I find it interesting that Mulgrew seems to have been selling both to Chicago and to the anti-Randy Unity Caucus people (a growing band) that he is differentiating himself from Randi. Maybe in some words and tone, but I offer my standard: watch what they do, not what they say.

A reply to Herman Benson: The Chicago Teachers Union is a different kind of labor union

http://newpol.org/content/reply-herman-benson-chicago-teachers-union-different-kind-labor-union


Lois Weiner July 12, 2013
The exchange between Herman Benson and Dan La Botz highlights one, if not the primary, issue that has to be resolved if we are to turn back the tidal wave of anti-union and anti-democratic policies that have transformed the nation’s social and political landscape.  I think both Herman and Dan would agree that we need a revived labor movement. But what will drive the revival? And what form should it take?

Herman’s definition of revival seems to consist of more “oomph” from the AFL-CIO leadership and more attention to union democracy.  Both are sorely needed. The question is whether these are adequate to restore, let alone push forward, the political and economic policies we so desperately need.  In education, the answer is a clear “no” and the example of the Chicago Teachers Union supports Dan’s argument.

Yes, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) conducted a militant strike. But it was not a traditional strike by any means, if we take as a definition of tradition what has existed in US unions for four decades.  What we see in Chicago has been more  like the kind of organizing done by the CIO, fusing a progressive social program to union demands. CORE, the insurgent caucus that leads the CTU and was re-elected last month in a landslide (with over 60% of the members voting) has shifted the political terrain of education politics by embedding union demands in a vision for public education. Yes, the strike was a contract dispute, but these courageous, wise activists found a way to win over the vast majority of teachers to use the contract fight to fight for much more. Theirs was a fight for public education - as is their current struggle against the unnecessary, racist school closings that other cities are facing.  CTU has taken on the power establishment of Chicago and the White House.  They organize along side parents and community activists, as partners. In doing so, the CTU has shown teachers and organized labor the kind of unions - and unionism - we need.  Now. 

The victory of “right to work” legislation in Michigan shows how very tenuous U.S. labor’s hold is on the right to bargain collectively. Is it even a movement? Herman has been so right for so long about union democracy. Still, his analysis reflects the problems liberals have had in understanding that neoliberalism has destroyed the landscape in which unions have functioned.  (In an upcoming article in “The Jacobin,” I’ll be discussing liberalism’s failure to “get” what’s ailing education and the unions more detail.)

(Note: You can now follow me on twitter @drloisweiner.)

1 comment:

  1. There might be more to Herman Benson and the Association for Union Democracy's favorable view of the UFT than meets the eye.

    Mr. Benson was for many years a Shachtmanite, a follower of US Trotskyite leader Max Shactman.

    Albert Shanker was close to the Shactmanites in the early 1950's, when he was involved with the then Schactmanite-controlled Student League for Industrial Democarcy at Columbia. Schachtman's wife was later to be Shanker's secretary at the UFT.

    His group eventually morphed into Social Democrats USA, which tried to provide a "left/liberal" cover for US empire. The group had a particularly egregious period as essentially a US foreign policy cheerleading front during the Reagan era, when Central America became a proxy battleground in the Cold War, and the US maintained support for the Nicaraguan Contras and murderous regimes in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

    Shactman was a compulsive schemer whose followers for decades would affiliate with larger Left organizations, for the purpose of recruiting and hopefully taking them over. For example, his followers were able to successfully able to take over the youth affiliate of the Socialist Party. He later became a slavish follower of George Many and the Cold War-era AFL-CIO, and numerous followers of his became AFT staffers.

    Aside from sharing Cold War orthodoxies, Shanker and Schactman shared a similar background in their decades-long opposition to the CP, and with their commitment to institutional control by a Big Man.

    Herman Benson may have been correct that the UFT is more democratic than most unions - though, again, the political genealogy of the players suggests a more complicated picture - and if so, Heaven help us all.

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