Monday, July 2, 2012

Support for the United Opt Out Challenge to Teachers Unions

The most important moment in modern labor history is when John L Lewis, David Dubinsky and Sidney Hillman, frustrated with the complete inability of the American Federation of Labor to develop an effective strategy to organize the nation’s largest industrial corporations – which at that time included General Motors, General Electric, US Steel, the Ford Motor Company, Armour and Swift, Westinghouse- decided to break away from the AFL and organize their own independent labor federation, the Committee for Industrial Organization- which would organize workers by industry rather than by craft. It was under the auspices of the CIO that the Flint Sit Down strikes were organized, leading to the unionization of General Motors and US steel, and it was under the auspices of the CIO that America’s largest manufacturers- once as non union as Wal-Mart is today- were unionized , to the point where by the end of World War II, 15 million workers were members of unions, as compared to 3 million when Roosevelt assumed the presidency I say this to point out that sometimes, to save the labor movement, truly radical steps have to be taken, including forming new unions based on principles more appropriate to the challenges they face. No one is a stronger supporter of unions than I am. But if unions are betraying their membership and their mission, then radical actions should be taken to transform them. United Opt Out’s challenge to the NEA is a breath of fresh air in the current political climate. Members need to organize to have these unions fight back hard, and intelligently against the forces which are undermining public education in the United States. They should fight from within locally and nationally to have the NEA fight the imposition of high stakes testing tooth and nail. They should seek to replace current leadership if they refuse to support that goal. But though forming new unions which are more able to mount effective resistance is a last ditch alternative, and one that should not be considered until in-organization insurgency is mounted and failed, it should not be off the table either. The labor movement would not have uplifted the living standards of three generations of Americans if John L Lews has remained in the AFL and continued to work with its bankrupt strategy of craft unionism, which could not work in huge corporate conglomerates So I like what United Opt Out is saying, particularly in its revised concluding section. We need our unions. But we do not necessarily need them in their current form if they evade the most important educational and political struggles of our time.

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