Matt Yglesias has a judicious take on teachers unions.
Responding to a post by Doug Henwood asking why it is that liberals seem to hate organized teachers, Yglesias denies anything of the sort.
what baffles me about these discussions is the tendency of labor’s alleged friends to simply refuse to look this reality in the face and instead insist that any hostility to specific union asks must secretly reflect the skeptic’s hostility to the existence of the union or its members. If you think that Chicago’s teachers deserve the right to form an association to advocate, lobby, and bargain on behalf of the interests of its members (and why shouldn’t they?) then you have to think that they deserve the right to advocate for ideas that may not be in the public interest. That’s fine, everybody does it. But it really does mean that the policy proposals ought to be examined on the merits.
One of the unspoken background elements of this debate is the fact that the teachers’ strike comes in the middle of an election season that feels like it’s dragged on for eons. And throughout the campaign, many of us who support the strike have been worn down by an endless barrage of mindless partisan drivel emanating from liberals who, like lab rats, can’t stop themselves from pushing the “Obama roolz!, Romney bitez!” lever every time the relevant signal is beamed out by MSNBC.
The DNC convention in particular, with its empty paeans to the common good and the economic security of the “middle class,” was received with mind-numbing euphoria, yet when a strike broke out by workers actually defending decent public services and middle-class standards of work, the response was a mixture of embarrassed silence and know-nothing hostility, peppered with contempt for overpaid teachers.
I yield to none in my vulgar empiricism, but let’s be clear: one begins the search for facts with a set of priors. And somehow a milieu of self-described liberals has emerged who want to hone the sharpest talking points possible against Mitt Romney, but also patently want to find any good reason to avoid siding with workers fighting a Democratic mayor who is trying to privatize Chicago’s public schools and break its unions.
The question is not whether you think teachers “deserve the right to form an association” to advocate for themselves. Even the yellowest right-to-work ideologue accepts that. (Anyway it’s in the First Amendment.) The question is whether you support the power of such associations, on the grounds that they’re the only things standing between workers and the unfettered despotism of their employers.
A few months ago, in an internet debate among people who do believe this, Doug took a lot of fire for some criticisms he made of the present union leaderships. Yglesias notes this, and mistakenly thinks that Doug has now gone “back on message.” In reality, it was the absence of this kind of strike — a strike that marries a stout defense of decent working conditions with robust demands for better public services — that Doug had been lamenting in the first place.
Which just underscores the point Yglesias missed: You can be for or against “specific union asks,” but it says nothing about which side you’re on.
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