Thoughts on Labor Day: Paternalism Versus the Liberties of Workers

If you follow education policy and the pseudo-policy known as education ‘reform’, you’ll often hear something along the lines of “I support teachers, I just don’t support teachers unions.” This is an arrogant canard that assumes you know what’s best for teachers:

Matt DeCarlo, in the context of teachers unions, explains why this is the wrong way to think about the question (boldface mine):

The question of whether or not “we need teachers’ unions,” though often well-intentioned, is inappropriate.

It’s not up to “us.” The choice belongs to teachers.

Laws pertaining to unions and collective bargaining are of course highly complex, and light years outside the realm of my personal expertise, but the right of workers to organize is grounded in the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of assembly. Americans have a Constitutionally-guaranteed right to get together, pool resources, and advocate for what they believe – whether in the form of a labor organization, a small protest, or a celebrity fan club.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about whether collective bargaining should be limited to certain areas, or taken away entirely – it’s a free country – but the freedom to form a union is fundamental and, at least in theory, is protected by law. In the case of teachers, unions exist because teachers want a voice in their workplace. That is why, even in states where collective bargaining is prohibited or restricted, and membership (and dues) is purely voluntary, teachers’ unions can still be influential.

So, I say we should be careful about discussing any unions – for teachers or any workers – in terms of whether or not the rest of us need or want them. Not only does it sort of imply that “we” know what’s best for these workers, but, if you’ll permit me a slight overstatement, asking if we need unions is just a step or two away from asking whether we need freedom.

Teachers have learned the hard way that to defend the things they care about, they need unions–as many charter school teachers are starting to discover.

It is rank paternalism to assume that workers have no need for their basic civil liberties, that their employers, private or public, will automatically do right by them.

Because the same argument could be made–and was made–about these workers:


And it was wrong then too.

This entry was posted in Civil Liberties, Education, Unions. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Thoughts on Labor Day: Paternalism Versus the Liberties of Workers

  1. Pingback: Liberty « 4writersandreaders

  2. joemac53 says:

    I hear this crap all time. I won’t put up with it. I have to explain that what my local teacher union bitches about most are stupid ideas that make it harder to do the job of education. We took the zero raise, we took the worst deal for health care that was legal, we put up with increased time in school (not with students, but for meetings). It was disheartening and annoying.
    When the principal would say (in one of those meetings) “According to the contract…” He knew I would be talking to him afterwards. (I couldn’t threaten him: he’s a tough guy and would break me in two). He even waited for it after I retired. Teachers did so many things that weren’t in the contract.
    I tell all the people all the time: teachers are not the problem.

  3. Pingback: Education Reform: If You Want Equal Outcomes, Let’s Start With Equal Inputs | Mike the Mad Biologist

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