Checks on the power of big money?

Corporations, institutions that serve the interests of the financial elite, have been accorded “personhood” by the judiciary.  Unions, however, institutions that serve the interests of the multitudes, hear the tolling of the bells for the basic right to associate and bargain collectively over the terms and conditions of employment. It appears the nation has forgotten an essential part of Abraham Lincoln’s First Annual Message, “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

In case it has escaped your attention, the monolithic “power” frequently ascribed to organized labor is a hoax perpetrated by the investor class who uses immense wealth to fund legislation and litigation that will seriously limit the rights of labor. In the 1950’s just less than half of the American workforce was organized; today the number is around 11% and those are mostly public sector employees. The decline of earning power in the middle class has matched the decline in union membership. 

Those who own the gold are making the rules, and the first rule is they get to keep all the gold. So, the oligarchy lobbies for cleverly named legislation called “Right to Work” that abolishes collective bargaining and allows employers to pay subsistence wages and cut benefits for those who actually perform the labor. As George Carlin so cogently observed some years ago, “There are no permanent ‘Rights’ in America; there are only temporary ‘privileges’ that can be taken away at any time.”  

Allowing the rug to be pulled out from under organized labor dishonors the memory of those who laid down their lives for the ‘right’ to bargain collectively. 

The Vergara ruling on California’s tenure law is another case in point.

Blaming the well-chronicled disparities in education between affluent and impoverished communities on “teacher tenure” constitutes a classic red herring argument that attempts to distract the public from the well-chronicled issue of poverty-induced stressors on the readiness to learn of children. 

Furthermore, “tenure” for professional educators has never constituted a “guarantee” of employment, but merely a protection against the capricious dismissals that once were rampant in the schoolhouse for causes ranging from nepotism to political dissent.

Ultimately, the potential elimination of due process and just-cause termination for career educators is just as likely to prove harmful to children as we become overly focused on shedding the comparatively few incompetent instructors instead of retaining the overwhelming majority of potentially effective ones.

Taking responsibility for elevating the professional practice of all educators is of paramount importance to teachers if they are to re-establish the respect and prestige of the teaching profession. Teachers’ unions have been grappling with such efforts, successfully, for a number of years. If corporatist reformers focused on the financial bottom line have their way, however, budgetary considerations could soon hold sway over instructional priorities.

Experienced, well-compensated educators would be no more. After a lifetime of honing their professional practice and enhancing instructional repertoires, career educators could fall prey to “budget axes” and a younger, more compliant workforce. Where will such practices evolve? As always, financially-strapped school districts would be a great guess!

 

[The original version of this “Commentary” first appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on July 3, 2014.]

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