Historian and teacher John Thompson reminds us of why unions are necessary: to protect workers against predatory, greedy, heedless bosses.
He tells about the jobs where workers risk their lives and where more would die without the protections that unions insist upon.
He chides the so-called “reformers” who pal around with anti-union goons like Scott Walker and John Kasich and who help them bust unions.
He reminds us that neither Arne Duncan nor Barack Obama lifted a finger to help the unions in Wisconsin when Scott Walker began attacking them.
In union there is strength. That was why it is so sad that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, i.e. Scott Walker lite, and the Obama administration help pave the way for his union-bashing and did little to help working people in the Wisconsin recall campaigns.
That is also why Walker pretended to not be an existential threat to private sector unions and claimed that his fight to the death with public sector unions did not foreshadow an all-out assault on public and higher education. Only after he had picked off one opponent after another did Walker cut education spending by $2 billion and ram through Right to Work. When pushing a $300 million cut to higher education, he promised universities freedom from “shared governance,” which “kept the university from directly running things” and told professors to work harder.
Unions have always been some of the most loyal members of the civil rights coalition, as well as crusaders for economic justice. And, we have usually had the same opponents. As Kaufman recalls, a founder of the Right to Work movement, Vance Muse, explained the need for its banning of otherwise legal, negotiated agreements, “White women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes, whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”
Kaufman also notes that roads in the Right to Work state of Texas don’t cost half as much to build, even though workers get paid that much less. “So,” as a union leader says, “it is only a question of who makes the money — the workers or the owners.”
It is one thing for a right-winger to oppose the rights of working people, but there is no intellectually honest way for a liberal to be an ally of Right to Work and to still pose as pro-civil rights. On the other hand, the neo-liberal corporate reformers who opened the door for Walker are nothing if they aren’t inconsistent. They will say anything, do almost anything, and ally themselves with virtually any true believer in uncontrolled competition to clear the way for top-down, market-driven school reforms.
Sadly, one reason why elite education reformers don’t understand the essential role of labor in working for justice is that too many of them have no experience in the blue collar working world. If the rank-in-file of the corporate reform movement had more experience in the industrial world, they would have seen how little the lives of workers are worth. Kaufman explains, for instance, that the fatality rate for construction workers is 40% higher in Right to Work states.
Virtually every remnant of the social safety net is now at risk. Middle and working class families are just one medical crisis away from poverty. Now more than ever, test-driven, competition-driven reformers should reconsider their neo-liberalism and rethink their contempt for organized labor. They should face up to the single biggest question. Even if they can’t get over their distaste for teachers and unions, and even if they don’t have any personal contact with blue collar workers, how can they continue to sow discord among the ranks of progressives? If they help destroy organized labor, who will replace us in the fight for civil rights and economic justice?
Recently an old friend who has long been active in Democratic party politics asked me why everyone he knew in the business world hates unions, especially the teachers unions. I said business hated unions in the 1930s. The same people hate them now. The only difference is now they have the tacit support of the Obama administration. I sent him a copy today of John Thompson’s post.