No more teacher's dirty looks

By Owen Paine on Wednesday March 17, 2010 11:41 AM

Suitably the reverend father writes of uni-ville; I write of dutyville, in particular the 5th international view of teachers' unions, as rendered in words by one Shango Cooke:

...public controversy seeks to dislodge teachers' unions: the right-wing trashes teachers’ unions outright, while the “liberal” media takes a more subtle, sophisticated approach, blaming the state of public education on “bad teachers” ....The bi-partisan goal is to undermine and dismember public education....

... as public education is gutted, rich investors parasitically benefit from it by opening for-profit “charter schools,” curriculum corporations, [etc.]

Shango goes on to trace our future if this orgy of union-busting proceeds as planned by Obummer, Incorporated:
If teachers’ unions cannot keep schools open, or teachers from being fired... If any teacher can be fired when they are labeled “bad,” then one of the fundamental concepts of unionism, seniority, is crushed.... The struggle of the teachers is thus the struggle of all union workers. But unions benefit more than just union workers.
Shango's prescribed counterattack:
Taxing the rich and corporations must be the rallying call for the entire public sector workforce, which remains the bedrock of American labor.
Sounds pretty good, up to the business about public-sector (PS) unions as "the bedrock of American labor". In fact the rise of PS unionism has coincided with the decline of private-sector unionism, and I don't think that's a coincidence.

Can post-industrial American unionism be all about schools, libraries, hospitals, and nursing homes? I sure hope not.

Once you add in those sectors that are quasi-public, PS unions have joined the blue-ribbon contruction kulaks in dominating the movement. And they're Dembo barnacles to a man. They typify political-machine shakedown unionism -- the very nexus, so effectively targeted by rage radio, of do-little and care-less parasitism. We got ours, and know what? You can go to hell if you don't like it.

To the unorganized, un-connected mass of badly jobbled citizenry, these rackets can look as much like gangsterism in uniform as the Brownshirts. The bastards are giving unionism a bad rap.

Okay, okay, it gets complicated. One thinks of the last pair of serious transit actions in NYC and Phili. Tactics need sharpening here, and the corporate media certainly can twist a plea for fairness into a screw job and a holdup. But as a Woodstocker I first think of the goddam police "unions", and that other working-class hero scam, the firemen.

As to their plainclothes cousins, one notes the teacher outfits... say the NYC UFT under Shanker.

Of course none of this in itself is fatal to union expansion, but letting these apes run the federations and the councils can cripple organizing in tougher sectors where the unions face bottom-line alley cats, not tax-based puddy tats.

The union movement needs to self-reconstruct, right?

If its long slide is to reverse itself, a new organizing paradigm is needed -- as big as the protracted antagonistic transition from trade to industrial unionism that culminated in the birth of the CIO -- to organize the vast privately owned and operated low wage corporate service and commercial sectors: the restaurants, the hotels, the retail stores, the cleaning services, the delivery and warehouse networks and so on.

Yes, the health sector has been a partial success, largely because inside-baseball unionism works, and even sustains itself in a hostile sea of anti-unionism, wherever gubmint money flows into payrolls. The locus classicus is construction, where all the Davis-Bacon Act rig jobs allowed the rise of the hardhat kulakery and created reactionary Meany-streak unionism back in the 'Nam days.

Even if Meany and his ilk are now long since members in that final union beyond, down here the culture of unionism is still entirely based on inside deals, i.e. ways to carve up added surplus extracted from a passive, nearly prostrate fee- and tax-paying public.

That's not the model of a "progressive" union, which would be a market-restricted shift in value-added shares between corporates and their job force. Rather, the PS unions' model is a surplus upcharge instead of a takeback. Instead of shifting the shares of value-added between labor and the corporations, public unionism is all about locating possible new sources of capturable surplus -- what the econ-cons call drilling for rent -- or better, collaborating in the erection of ever-new tollgates to scim-scam more of the innocent public's money

Education, of course, is the gold-standard horrible example, but health care is right u there too -- may even be the ultimo mishmash of irrational arbitrary taxing disguised as pricing.

But I come to save unionism, not to bury it.

I hope to live to see the union movement, that loveable old much-battered pug, rising majestically from his stool like old Laertes, his strength miraculously restored by the gods of class war, ready for the next big round.

Comments (17)

Laid off teachers on unemployment have time now to help organize against Obama's privatization plans. If they team up with the nurses here in California, that could be a catalyst.

Like you say, there's plenty of blood-letting to be done internally, especially in AFSCME, but the union framework could be useful nonetheless. One thing teachers have going for them is they know how to inform


This may be the least textually challenging text posted by op since I began reading SMBIVA. Thanks, oxy.


i find it hard to attack teachers
even as just collateral damage
but their
pie cardish class betraying union leadership
needs a serious poke in the ass

the legacy of tactics brought over to the PS leaves behind the market discipline and freedom of choice that leaves to the public
if union gains boost costs of products
education maintained by taxation opens up a very diffrent set of obligations on a union
an obligation many maybe even most
front line teachers themselves might
as service oriented beings might wish to meet whole heartedly
is confronted by their union leadership
with stuff like "seniority "
--imagine even this wildly pink shango here
slobbers over that golden rule of collective bargaining --

the public be damned !!! ?
time servers not public servers seem to find a deeper reflection in leadership actions then
the well of dedication to small e education
millions of teachers themselves dutifully honor 5 days a week and prolly most weekends too

Michael Hureaux:

You put it a lot more brutally then I would, op, but there does indeed need to be a massive tear in the current life of the NEA and the AFT. There are rank and file caucuses in both unions who are struggling mightily to expose and confront the Gompers style "we've got ours" mentality that sticks its head in the sand everytime there comes another attack on the Teamsters or any of the other industrial unions which represent support workers (janitors, bus drivers, kitchen staffs, nurses, classroom aides). The entry of the SEA in Seattle to the local labor council was opposed by many of the Gompersites, and it has been a top heavy transition to be sure. By the same token, our linkage with the industrial unions through the labor council has been a good thing for those teachers whom, prior to their experience as delegates to the labor council, were barely aware that there still is a labor movement with rank and file concerns. Clearly it's not enough, but it's a start. A single meeting of the Labor Council, for all its AFL CIO baggage, is at least a forum which will pass a great many more solidarity resolutions and actions then will a half dozen meetings of the Seattle Education Association.

Obviously this isn't enough, there are much longer, harder, tougher paths ahead, and a good lot of convention crockery that's going to have to get broken. But it's early, isn't it?

By the way, Shamus Cooke bears about the same resemblance to Shango- the Lucumi saint of the storm, and song, and drums and dance and sex, as a mud fence does to the Big Dipper.

I hate the AFT as much as the next SMBIVer, but I think "educator"-ism is a molehill compared to the mountain of deindustrialization. It ain't easy to organize at Taco Bell and the local mall, under existing rules. The failure is the whole AFLack's. $400 million in just the latest round of DP dumpage, and we can't even get a courtesy flush from those fuckers.

It would seem many private companies have the best of both worlds--being public-subsidized (via various devices) and union free.

Sambert, you're thanking me? That's weird. I would be thanking op, as it's his post!

I am not a fan of unions simply because as configured, they tend to be money-generating machines for organized crime of the blue collar type (Mafia), while ostensibly standing against organized crime of the white collar sort (corporate profiteering). Do they improve conditions? Hmmm. Once upon a time, yes. Is collectivism good? Indeed. Is collectivism the aim of modern labor unions? That's the point on which I carry a brief for Skeptics United Against Profiteering, a group of naysaying gadflies who don't like the pretense of "organizing" where the end result is enriching the Mafia and creating a level of union-management hybrids who serve management while pretending to represent the union grunts.

I see unions much as I see the US Congress... perhaps noble in the abstract, this idea of representative government, but ultimately serving the needs of the government itself and not of the governed.

Unions remind me of NORML's present ploy in Montana -- medical marijuana, and the aim of having marijuana treated like liquor -- commercially packaged, taxed and regulated -- while having the additional burden of making MJ available only to those who qualify as "patients" who "need" MJ. Attaining such qualification is not easy. What happened to legalization/decriminalization? Well, it doesn't provide avenues for profiteering like Medical MJ does.



Thanks, oxy, for the your recent appeal for clearer writing by op (March 12, "Thermidor en Ventose" post, comments section).

Thanks, op, for the clear post. We sock puppets don't have much "upstairs".


SMBIVAns comprise a group socialism sympathizers, yes?

I ask in all ignorance: if the PS unions today can't be "trusted" what will be the situation when the means of all production are in the hands of the "public". Will unions then be outlawed as "unnecessary" or what?

Flak, your fake dichotomy doesn't persuade me. Teacher's Unions that uphold "standards" such as testing-as-substitute-for-learning, and who in my town serve to generate "early out" days where teachers get a "vacation" from indoctrination so they can work on "lesson plans" that further the "standards" I just mentioned... that's what you consider noble work?

I don't suppose there's an alternative, like actually teaching critical thinking? I submit that's opposed because many, if not most, public school teachers are in the game for the easy work and 3.5 months off each year. Teaching? That's not their aim. Easy work, that's their aim.

Sure, we should consider them emblems for real social change. Sure. I gotcha.

I know there are some teachers who give a shit. Like Michael Hureaux who often posts here, that's one example. I know a few others here in town. But since I work with kids who are in public schools and who suffer emotional and psychological difficulties, and I find the schools working very hard at avoiding the needs of such students, I can't say that the system overall, or the union of "educators," is very interested in actual education. It's more like they're interested in making all students fit like square pegs into round holes. Hooray for "standards"!!


Mr. Oxtrot, thank you for the flak. My comment was not intended in any way as a response to your comment. "After that" does not necessarily imply "because of that". My question is not to be taken as pro PS unions or con PS unions. It is to probe the problem of the relationship of the public purse to the demands of the various branches of the organized work force after the red flag flies.

P.S. My false fake dichotomy eludes my perception. Please clarify.



some simple questions have as yet no complete answers
we don't know if the set of prime pairs( like 11 and 13 ) is infinite
that question is at least 2500 years old

but let me suggest

the market can still mediate publically owned firms
and publically owned firms can have credit constraints and style have management that is guided by performance and still have performance that's dictated by market outcomes

this is not an answer but more like a conuter example laid out in the abstract

let me suggest places that educate and places that say assemble pc's might be quite different organizations
and my guess the pc plant might be easier to run publically then the education emporium
that is the paradox of public expansion
often its the toughtest critters that are turned over to public operation first

but again way to much is by passed here

you open the doors to the future
way too wide with that question


i see i skipped your question a bit

working back

if markets can constrain firms even publically controled firms then limits are set on the wage fund of that firm eh ??

and yet unions might still strike for higher wages based on certain equity issues
and of course since unions might control the job force of entire sectors ie escape the one firm isolation of a co op
that must compete against another co op
that union might raise all sector costs thru
raising wages and not face market competition
that constrain those wages
perhaps the higher wages will only reduce future employment in that sector

again thorny matter indeed


as an economist dedicated to sublating the irrationality of corporate capitalism
i spend most of my time straddling the zone that exists between corporate capitalism
and first stage socialism

i call the far side the socialized side of the straddle
gosplan 2.0
and the over all vision plan-mart

no book forthcoming though
i like edgeworth --and unlike mjs and md--
engage only
in hand made
small scale
and non serial productions



isn't that demure civics teacher
atop the post marvelous ??

her name is Armida jones ..
and i hear tell
she's in one of them fightin' type
uft rank and file cauci
brother hureaux mentions in his gracious comment


Thank you for the response.
Given the present circumstances, my question appears not a little premature even to me.
Your post's take on the problems posed for organized labor generally by the attitudes of the organized 'polite' trades made me think of that ancient notion about what happens when the δεμος, ruling, realizes that it can vote itself whatever benefits it desires. (Aristotle's critique?) Not a pleasant picture,eh?
I know where my sympathies lie, but won't we miss the enemy, just!

It is good to have your thoughts.

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