Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Washington Post columnist: Unions need to shake their "legacy image"

Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein (“Economic and Domestic Policy, and Lots of It”) has a balanced perspective in the Washington Post March 1, “How unions can be more than a legacy institution”.  His link is here


Having been a computer programmer most of my career, I was never in a union (does that necessarily follow?) and always had the impression that unions tended to protect featherbedding and non-performers. That said, I must also say that during my “coming of age” in the 60s and 70s, I had plenty of exposure (and earfuls) from the “Left” on how even the “professional” or “managerial” class was part of the bourgeoisie that lived off the “sacrifices” of workers.  (I remember one December, 1972 evening in a drafty tenement in Newark, NJ with the “People’s Party”; the Left can be “so moralistic.”) But I was never one to carry picket signs for someone else's wages, or join in "collective protests". Once,  when working for NBC in 1976, I worked "strike duty" during the NABET strike and learned to operate a boom, and saw how soap operas (then it was "Somerset") get filmed, from a studio in Brooklyn. 

But, collective bargaining is a legally driven right. Public workers may not have the right to strike, but they have the right to organize, in state and federal governments as elsewhere. But they may not have the "right" to be better off than other private workers.  In any case, unions gradually helped create a world that was not "sustainable."  Like any human organization, unions could become as corrupt as companies or religious organizations.   But maybe that gets back to how individuals "pay their dues." 

The national teacher’s union may finally be getting on the right track, after the pressure from Michelle Rhee, and John Stossel’s coverage of the NYC “rubber rooms”.  (The Teacher’s Union was critical in resolving the impasse of NYC’s 1975 financial crisis, when the New York Daily News ran the headline “Ford to City: Drop dead!”)  As I’ve covered here, I subbed for a while in northern Virginia, and found the experience interesting and challenging yet troubling. As badly as we need top teachers now, the cultural environment for most of my working years did not make teaching sound like an honored profession.

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