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The Assault on Teachers Unions


Although I can understand the relentless anti-union crusade being waged by free market fundamentalists who wish to: (1) weaken the American labor movement, and (2) do away with the public school system (because there are hundreds of millions of dollars to be made by “privatizing” education), I am stunned by the public’s willingness to accept what is, on its face, a monumentally stupid argument.

While no one ever hears of American colleges and universities being accused of producing consistently “bad” accountants or bad pharmacists or bad historians or bad computer programmers or bad anthropologists, apparently, those same colleges and universities have turned out a disproportionately high number of “bad” teachers.

Even though these idealistic men and women busted their humps earning their college degrees and teaching credentials (which, by law, are required to teach in a public school, but are not required by private schools), once they entered the classroom and began plying their trade, they turned out to be a bunch of incompetents and slackers.

Of course, the explanation given by the anti-labor, privatization propagandists is that these teachers came out of their colleges and universities in satisfactory shape, but turned “bad” as soon as they became union members, because the teachers’ union, as we all know, was put on earth to protect bad teachers. Yep, as a former union president myself, I can attest that there’s nothing we union honchos admire more than a shitty worker.

Here’s something to think about: Airline pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, firefighters, nurses, actors, writers, directors, coal miners, and that woman who plays oboe in the symphony orchestra are union members. They are good at their jobs. Being represented by a union didn’t turn them into bad workers.

Southwest Airlines is the most unionized carrier in the industry and, last time I checked, it was among the most profitable. If you want to accept the outrageous falsehood—the outright lie—that union members are bad workers, that’s your privilege, but unless you have a death wish, I suggest you stay off airplanes.

Here’s something else: Some of the best school districts in the country are heavily unionized. Something else: Demonstrating that the whole thing is mainly socio-economic, schools in stable areas perform better than schools in poor, distressed areas, and unions have nothing to do with it. And something else: Non-union teachers across the country get fired at about the same rate as union teachers. It’s true. Why don’t more non-union teachers get fired? Because they don’t deserve be fired.

Has anyone who did poorly in school ever blamed the teacher for their lack of success? Has anyone ever said, “Man, I would’ve been a kick-ass student if only my teachers had been capable of teaching me”? I’ve never heard one person say that. Instead, they either blame their parents for not having assisted or “pushed” them enough, or blame themselves for simply not having put in the necessary work.

Again, this whole assault on the teaching profession is a hoax. It’s designed to beat down the unions and convince people that “private education” is the way to go. And in order to win, they need to convince a critical mass of parents that the only reason their little Johnny or Judy isn’t performing like a budding genius is because of “bad” teachers. That people believe it is a shame.

David Macaray is a labor columnist and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor, 2nd Edition).

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at

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