Education Next is an influential rightwing publication. Its editors are mostly fellows at the free-market Hoover Institution. It is based at Harvard University, because its editor-in-chief is Paul Peterson, who holds a chair at Harvard. Peterson is one of the leading voices (perhaps THE leading voice) in the academic world for free markets and unfettered choice. He was once a strong supporter of public schools; he is now a strong advocate for vouchers, charters, and anything but public schools. Paul Peterson is a tenured professor who opposes teacher tenure. He also opposes teachers’ unions; he believes they are selfish and greedy and disrupt the working of the free market.  Of course, professors at Harvard make double or triple what the average K-12 teacher earns in a year and work far fewer hours (nine hours a week of class time? three hours? none?). Paul, whom I knew well when I was a senior fellow at Hoover, is an amiable guy. He is also one of the most prolific of the academic boosters for privatization.


Paul Peterson’s influence can be seen in the new movement for vouchers, which have repeatedly been voted down by the public. He has trained a large number of scholars who are dedicated advocates of free-market policies and school choice. One of his former students, Patrick Wolf, is the official evaluator of the voucher programs in the District of Columbia, Milwaukee, and Louisiana. Wolf holds an endowed chair in the “Department of Educational Reform” at the University of Arkansas, a department led by another Peterson student, Jay Greene. Peterson and Wolf have written a number of articles together about school choice. On his website, Wolf says that he has received $20 million in grants and contracts for his research studies.


Peterson’s latest piece, written with Martin West, another of his former graduate students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, says that the public doesn’t believe that unions should be able to collect dues from people who don’t want to belong to the union but enjoy the benefits that the union negotiates for them. If the public doesn’t believe in unions, then presumably the courts should be willing to strip them of the revenues that enable them to represent workers and to exert influence to protect workers.


Do workers need unions? Growing up as I did in the 1940s and 1950s, unions were seen as a force for progressive change, as the defender of workers, as builders of the middle class. I have never belonged to a union but I continue to believe that without unions, workers will be exploited, treated as chattel, paid below the minimum wage, expected to work long hours in poor conditions, and fired with or without cause. The New York Times recently reported on protests by farm workers, some of whom work nearly 70 hours a week, seven days a week, in substandard conditions. One said that he would be grateful to have one day off a week.


I can’t help but think of a recent tweet by teacher Steven Singer: #Unions are the only reason we have weekends, vacations, overtime pay, 8-hour work day, sick leave, etc.


As unions disappear in the private sector, we see vast numbers of workers who work long hours, do not receive minimum wage or sick days. We see workers who are exploited by corporations that do not have a human face and discard people like trash. To be anti-union is to be anti-worker and anti-middle-class. Unions have their flaws, but their fundamental role is to create better lives for their members. To lose them will exacerbate the growing divide between the 1% and the poor and will hasten the shrinkage of the middle class. That’s bad for America. It’s bad for families and communities. It’s bad for children. It is shameful.