Sunday, April 5, 2009

America in Labor and Parsing Randi

In today's Week in Review in the NY Times, Stephen Greenhouse wonders why American Labor Has An Unusually Long Fuse compared to European workers, who were out in the streets at the G20 meetings.

"Unlike their European counterparts, American workers have largely stayed off the streets, even as unemployment soars and companies cut wages and benefits."

At one time, in the 30's, when a powerful Communist and other socialist parties were strong in organizing the labor movement, this was not true.


General strikes paralyzed San Francisco and Minneapolis, and a six-week sit-down strike at a G.M. plant in Flint, Mich., pressured the company into recognizing the United Automobile Workers. In the decade’s ugliest showdown, a 1937 strike against Republic Steel in Chicago, 10 protesters were shot to death. That militancy helped build a powerful labor movement, which represented 35 percent of the nation’s workers by the 1950s and helped create the world’s largest and richest middle class.


Today, American workers, even those earning $20,000 a year, tend to view themselves as part of an upwardly mobile middle class. In contrast, European workers often still see themselves as proletarians in an enduring class struggle.

And American labor leaders, once up-from-the-street rabble-rousers, now often work hand-in-hand with C.E.O.’s to improve corporate competitiveness to protect jobs and pensions, and try to sideline activists who support a hard line.

“You have a general diminution of union leadership that was focused on defending workers by any means necessary,” said Jerry Tucker, a longtime U.A.W. militant. “The message from the union leadership nowadays often is, ‘We don’t have any choice, we have to go down this concessionary road to see if we can do damage control,’ ” he said.


Ahhh, there's a key. the "general diminution of union leadership" which wants to be partners with management.

Which leads us to Randi Weingarten and her speech this weekend at the NY State United Teachers conference in Buffalo.

We can be partners to 'advance the smart approach'
Don't reject reform ideas out of hand but instead "take a fresh look at some of the more divisive issues in education.

What are these "reform" - or deform- ideas Randi is talking about?

Merit pay, judging teachers and schools on narrow outcomes based on high stakes tests, charter schools that undermine public education, teachers as cogs - the whole gamut of deforms.

You see, to Randi, the partnership means she is the partner, not the rank and file teacher.

Now true progressive educator/reformers know what real reform would look like and it's a far cry from what is being pushed. Teachers who have real control of schools and their classrooms, which would require a take-down of the all-powerful principal. Like, how about teachers electing principals like they do in parts of Europe?

If teachers controlled schools, they would make the best - not perfect - but the best decisions. No teacher wants to work in a lousy school, so they are the ones with the most long-term interests in making schools work for themselves and the kids. More so than even parents, many of whom have more interest in their child than in the school overall. Besides, they are only part of the school temporarily, while teachers may spend an entire career. Oh, I forgot, part of the ed deformer package that Randi wants to partner with is a basic end to career teachers, replacing them with a Peace Corp mentality.

How does Randi benefit from that? Few teachers will be there long enough to realize her partnership = sellout.

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