Unions Complaining about Digging Their Own Grave
Two reports -- ironically, both from the same source (the WSJ) on the same day -- point to continuing problems for the union movement.
The first is the great news out of North Carolina of a defeat for the pernicious teachers' unions. Republican Governor Pat McCrory just signed a bill that ends K-12 teacher tenure and ends the practice of giving teachers an automatic raise for getting a Master's degree. Both reforms are, in my view, quite defensible.
Both reforms, of course, were vociferously opposed by the rent-seekers -- or rather "the teachers." Hundreds of them turned out to show their anger. One teacher mewed that "[m]orale is going to be at an all-time low" because of the reforms. He added -- in a moment of unintended comedy -- that "[t]he best and the brightest aren't going to go into the profession." Like they are now.
The article notes that the bill aims at replacing using formal credentials with criteria such as measures student performance to determine compensation and retention. The article also notes that some studies show that these degrees don't result in better teaching. But to be precise, the studies suggest that a Master's in education -- a notoriously nebulous subject -- is worthless. A Master's in a real subject -- especially a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field -- does correlate with more effective teaching.
Of course, correlation doesn't necessarily prove causality; it could just be that a person with the intelligence to get an advanced degree in math, say, is just that much better a mathematician (so more passionate and insightful about the subject) to begin with.
My preference would be to just privatize -- i.e., voucherize -- all the schools, and let each school determine which teachers to hire, promote, or fire, as it sees fit -- under the pressure the free market brings. Presumably, any such schools that choose to retain the tenure system would at least strictly monitor continued good performance, a provision that is invariably part of the tenure contract, but equally invariably never enforced. But these reforms are surely better than nothing.
The second report is the delightful news that the head of the AFL-CIO, leftist hack and Obama lackey Richard Trumka, has admitted that the organized labor movement is in crisis. The article notes that last year, organized labor saw the largest drop in six years of the percentage of American workers who are members of it, hitting a low 11.3% in total. And that figure doesn't disaggregate public employees -- who are increasingly unionized -- from private-sector workers, who are down to about 7% unionized.
The latest sign of this crisis is the contortions of the union bosses as the struggle to get out from the clutches of ObamaCare, the very law they had so vociferously and corruptly supported.
Not mentioned in the article is a phenomenon that has to be frightening the hell out of the labor leaders: the spread of right-to-work laws in the Midwest, long a labor stronghold. The most striking recent example is the passage of a right-to-work law in Michigan, of all places. Imagine that -- a law liberating workers from union domination being enacted right in the heart of organized labor's own turf.
What Trumka and his ilk show no sign of comprehending is that it has been organized labor's own behavior that has led to workers' flight from it. It has saddled businesses and governments with such burdensome agreements that they have driven both businesses and governments into bankruptcy -- Detroit being just the most recent such case. As more cities hit the wall, expect union membership to continue to drop. Killing the golden goose is not a wise strategy for those who crave golden eggs.
Furthermore, organized labor has allied itself with groups that aim to destroy the very businesses that employ its workers and pay for the governments that employ its workers. I speak here, of course, of the environmentalists, who are typically anti-development to the core. Despite the fact that most union members are in favor of projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline and fracking in upstate New York, which would create hundreds of thousands of high-wage blue-collar jobs, the environmentalists have successfully blocked those projects.
What is Trumka's response? To open talks with -- wait for it! -- the Sierra Club! This is rather like the chickens opening talks with the foxes. How stupid can you get? But Trumka's sentiment was echoed by Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers chief, who said, "We need to go back to much more coordinated approach with progressive groups." Go back to? What have you been doing all along? And how is it working out?
Let me be quite clear here. I don't in the least oppose workers unionizing -- just their use of coercion, such as union shop and agency contracts, which force all workers to either join or financially support the union. And they would attract more members if they dropped the coercion and instead pursued more intelligent strategies.
One such strategy would be to become more politically independent, and start to work with Republicans and pro-business groups to rapidly increase the development of America's energy resources. If the unions made clear to the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress that they will break from them unless the Keystone project goes forward immediately, the project would be okayed overnight. They should then push to open up ANWR, and get the administration to back off its war on fracking.
Second, the unions should give up coercion and focus on enticement of new members. One way to do this would be to take the money now shoveled into electing Democrats into opening trade schools, which would teach young people just out of high school in valuable trades, in exchange for their joining the union.
But that would require a depth of insight far beyond what morons such as Trumka can evolve. It will take a grassroots effort by union members themselves to replace the old, tired, foolish Stalinists who currently form the leadership with younger, more intelligent, more pragmatic, and more far-sighted leadership.
They say that doing the same thing over and over again, always hoping for a different result, is the very definition of insanity. By this definition, the major labor leaders are crazy, indeed.
Gary Jason is a philosopher and a senior editor of Liberty. His new book, Philosophic Thoughts: Essays on Logic and Philosopher, is forthcoming through Peter Lang Publishers.