Sunday, November 24, 2013

Arjun Janah Responds to my analyis of Paul Krugman column and principal/teacher power relationship

The labor unions made advances when socialist (including communist) movements were highly active around the globe. Could it be that concessions were made to labor from fear that socialists might take over the unions or that workers would see advances made in other countries and demand a greater share of the pie -- including political power? Yes, the red-baiting worked, with the more radical unions and their leaders neutralized in many ways -- and we are seeing the long term consequences of that.... Arjun Janah
There some reactions to my parsing of the Krugman's column on Friday -Paul Krugman on the imbalanced boss-worker power relationship applied to NYC principals and teachers. The most in-depth was from long-time NYC high school teacher Arjun Janah who is often so thoughtful.

Here he points out that even the virulently anti-communist Albert Shanker benefitted from the push from the left and when he and other union leaders helped stamp out the left in the unions they suffered - and are suffering today - the long term consequences that threaten the very existence of unions.

Some areas where I disagree:
I believe he may be wrong on the column in the NY Times point since I think Randi does run something.

Also his point about only attacking the UFT leadership - where his  affiliation with the New Action point of view emerges. That point of view lets the UFT leadership off the hook for their level of complicity and enabling of the ed deform movement -- unless they are called out constantly they will get away with obfuscating/muddling the issues and confusing the membership. The only way to fight back against ed deformers is to declare them as enemies and treat them as so.

And on the "quitting" factor. Yes the economy is bad and yes there may be 10 people lined up to take every job for the health benefits and other perks alone -- but then why do so many people quit in the first place? And of course the whole idea is to encourage this turnover so as to create a revolving non-career teaching force which will be so much cheaper.

Arjun's blogs are

The Humble Subject Teacher

I would like to elaborate on a small point that may be significant. The labor unions made advances when socialist (including communist) movements were highly active around the globe. Could it be that concessions were made to labor from fear that socialists might take over the unions or that workers would see advances made in other countries and demand a greater share of the pie -- including political power?

Yes, the red-baiting worked, with the more radical unions and their leaders neutralized in many ways -- and we are seeing the long term consequences of that.

Albert Shanker voiced strong anticommunist views, and even defended an indefensible, criminal, murderous war abroad (in Vietnam and contiguous countries), but he and the union benefited from the socialist groundswell that struck fear into the hearts of the wealthy and their corporate and government hirelings. Also, the terms of the public conversation were different, with basic socialist premises (without the explicit label) being accepted, despite the anti-red rhetoric, by the public as being for the public good. So we did not see the questioning, belittlement, scapegoating and imminent or ongoing privatization of public institutions -- not just public schools, but public libraries, the federal post office, the public jails, state and city universities, even the military corps -- and of public workers that we are now seeing. Instead, we saw an expansion of these things, along with things like Social Security, Medicaid, SSI, Food Stamps, Medicare... All of these are now under attack. While the advances on social issues -- on civil rights for African Americans, women -- and now gays, may be around a while longer, the advances on economic issues made by workers are being rolled back. Rightly or wrongly, a large segment of the public has been persuaded that many of these things are benefiting others than themselves, at their expense. Much of the public has also been persuaded that public workers are lazy, incompetent and feeding at the public trough supplied by taxpayers.

The mistake made by the collaborative unions (and I would include even Shanker's union among these) is that they made deals with the owners (be these private holders or the government) that benefited the union members (in particular the senior ones) but not the general public -- except by example or precedent. This is a mistake that socialist unions would not have made. By doing this, divisions were created between the general public and union workers -- and between unions, which led to the resentments and disunity that you see today, with crabs in the barrel trying to pull each other down, rather than lift everybody up and out. In the unions' heydays, the unions had strong public support -- no doubt in part because union membership was greater, with each household in an urban or industrial area likely to have members or relatives who were union members. The loss of much of our manufacturing sector, automation and the increased outsourcing of even high-tech services, has contributed to this erosion. But so has weak union leadership -- and a divided, apathetic, brainwashed and increasingly overworked membership, let us not forget. Now, we rely on backdoor deals with politicians that unions support. But this has long become less and less tenable.

If you look around the world, labor is (with a few notable exceptions) in disarray, disunited and fragmented, with workers battling one another across all kinds of divisions. Workers in one school know nothing about what's happening in another (with the weak, "collaborative" union leadership no doubt being a factor in that). But most workers in the schools in NY City also know next to nothing about what auto and other workers in Detroit are going through, save what they read in Murdoch's New York Post. Our Klein is now in a powerful position in NewsCorp, and this anti-union rag is still being distributed for free in the schools and widely read and discussed, with some social studies teachers even basing lessons on articles from this paper!

Of course, even the so-called "liberal" (only on "social", not on economic matters close to home) New York Times is not much better when it comes to union issues. One should look at its ownership and its editorial staff. They are part of the wealthy elite in this country that has little knowledge or interest in workers' issues, except for an instinctive aversion to these. Each class protects its own interests-- except for the working class, which can be intimidated or manipulated, with a bit of bribery in the way of crumbs going a long way in ensuring dog-like status for workers.

Among print dailies in the city, the Daily News, nominally Democratic, also regularly picks on teachers and other public workers. Newsday was better, but was run out of town. About the only widely available paper in which you can find reportage favorable to union workers, with in-depth discussion of our issues, is the weekly Chief Leader, which costs only $1 a week. It is worth reading. But when I mentioned this to a former union chapter leader in our school (who retired as an A.P., after switching to administration, something I have seen happen too often in our schools), he berated the Chief as a "socialiist paper" and so not "his cup of tea".

Albert Shanker used to run a weekly column in the NY Times (I think as a paid advertisement). Ask our leadership to try and do that now. Firstly, they would decline. Secondly, even if, by some device, you got them to agree, the NY Times would say "No." Times have changed.

Of course, what our leaders would write might be drivel in favor of (the unworkable, given our realities) Common Core standards, teacher evaluation and "collaboration" between labor and management. They're not that different from the ones (including governments, such as the French) who collaborated with the Nazi occupiers in WW2 in this regard.

But are our colleagues that different from the leadership in their views, shaped by the media barrage that has been ongoing for decades? I have mentioned only the mainstream print media in our "liberal" city. The less said about the other mainstream media, the better.

Meanwhile, capital is increasingly globalized, and working in tandem all around the planet to put the squeeze on workers.

So, while making no excuses for our union leadership, one has also to see this struggle in its broader context. Attacking only the leadership will not make the Kleins, Rhees, Duncans and their political and financial mentors (such as Bloomberg and Obama and those who are far worse) go away.

Thanks, though, for the information, Norm.

Fraternally -- Arjun (Janah)

Note Added:

One more thing should be mentioned. In addition to the "fear factor" arising from a poor economy that deters workers from quitting a job and allows employers to force them to work yet more as well as to follow even more unreasonable work guidelines that they might otherwise question, the increased workload also often leaves certain workers little or no time to attend rallies, be otherwise politically active or even to inform themselves of the issues. One can see this with many overloaded teachers, whose work often extends well beyond work hours, which have also expanded. In New York City, the breaking up of the big schools into smaller ones further isolates UFT members.

Other requirements on beginning teachers (such as getting a Masters' degree within two years, and having to jump through all sorts of other hoops) also contribute to this. In a profession in which many of the workers are women, family responsibilities also weigh heavily on many -- especially on single parents of either gender. The delay (increasingly indefinite) in getting tenure, adds, as you mentioned, to the mental, emotional and physical pressure, leaving little mental workspace free for other things.

You do suggest that all of this might compel teachers and others to quit or change jobs -- in addition to those being forced out, especially the ones who are senior and so cost more, even as Bloomberg and others squeeze the schools financially. My naive guess would be that the poor economy trumps this exiting, with ten younger people, desperate for work (and perhaps the benefits, such as healthcare for family, that public employees still retain) lined up to take the job of whoever quits or is fired. Even if there is a net contraction in the public school workforce, with some past positions remaining unfilled, the remaining (or new) workers have to scramble to get the same (or more) work done, and the "fear factor" drives them in this. Of course, the quality and integrity of the work inevitably suffers, with even more attention to "educosmetics" and even less to what is truly needed for the students.

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