Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Posts Tagged ‘labor

Who Will Push Back? Without Strong Democratic Teachers’ Unions, We’re All Screwed

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Kindergartner students in the deep blue state of Massachusetts are being shamed by publicly posting their test scores. Here’s Sarah Jaffe reporting on “data walls”:

Last year, K-12 teachers in the Holyoke, Massachusetts school district were told to try a new tactic to improve test scores: posting “data walls” in their classrooms. The walls list students by name and rank them by their scores on standardized tests. This, they say administrators told them, would motivate children to try harder on those tests.

Teachers did so, many unwillingly. Agustin Morales, an English teacher at Maurice A. Donahue Elementary School in Holyoke felt pressure to comply, but finds the data walls cruel. One of his top students did poorly on a standardized test in November and found her name at the bottom of the data wall. Afterward, in a writing assignment for class, she “wrote about how sad she was, how depressed she was because she’d scored negatively on it, she felt stupid.”

“So why do I hate data walls?” he continued. “Because of how she felt that day. She felt worthless. She felt like she wasn’t as good as other people.”

Morales isn’t alone in opposing the data walls. They’re widely seen as just the latest front in a war being fought by educators, parents and students nationwide against what teacher educator Barbara Madeloni calls “predatory education reform.”

Earlier, Jaffe wrote about the difficulties of kindergartners given standardized tests  in New York , which “pit children against one another instead of teaching them to share, which can turn even a kindergarten classroom into a den of hyper-individualistic bootstrappers.”  And indeed, like the data wall and the shaming it facilities, “This is a feature, not a bug, of the testing regime.”

These sort of stories should not be dismissed as outliers.  They are part of the same drive to relentlessly rate the relative merits of students, teachers, and schools, to place them in competition with one another, to address education problems by mass firings of teachers or mass closure of schools, to devalue the contributions of experienced teachers as well as traditional (or more accurately, real) public schools.

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Written by David Kaib

March 11, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Deep in the Heart of Texas: The AFL-CIO Looks South

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Josh Eidelson has a piece about the AFL-CIO “exploring new investments in alternative labor organizing and a multi-union effort to transform Texas.”  And that is good news.  While there has been so much talk about the possibility of a major electoral shift in Texas, there hasn’t been much talk about an opening for labor.  But I agree, based on what I can see from here, and what I’ve heard from those on the ground, that Texas could be an opportunity if the resources were there and an aggressive multi-union strategy.  And that appears to be what we’re talking about here: “Becker also told The Nation that the AFL-CIO plans to support an ambitious multi-union effort to organize in Texas.” That’s AFL-CIO General Counsel Craig Becker, whose leading the “Initiative on the Future of Worker Representation” to come up with ideas to be discussed at the federation’s convention.

There is also talk of increasing support for alt-labor groups, along the lines of OUR Wall Mart or Working America.

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Written by David Kaib

August 19, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Blaming Voters or Consumers is a Cop Out

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I’ve argued here before that blaming voters for bad policy or consumers for things like labor conditions is a cop out.  (Here and here for voters, here and here for consumers). The general idea is that social outcomes are not a product of unalloyed aggregated individual choice.  Institutions matter, power matters.  Elites shape the ideas (or people) that can get a serious hearing, and the structure of the choices people get. They work to suppress information and to coopt efforts to challenge them. They make symbolic moves to demobilize those challenges. They act to influence the preferences people hold.  Those who hold positions of power and authority are supposed to do things like follow the law, act morally, represent us, etc.  When they fail to, it’s their fault – ‘why did you let me?’ is a ridiculous response to a charge of dereliction of duty.

There are often two response to this claim that raise an important point, and addressing them helps me clarify my argument.  First is the idea that I’m saying that people have no responsibility to act at all–that I’m essentially leaving them out of the conversation entirely. Second is the idea that saying they aren’t to blame is saying they have no role. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by David Kaib

July 8, 2013 at 9:05 am

Gender, Class and Economic Fairness: Blaming Voters is a Cop Out

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Laura Bassett and Dave Jamieson have a piece on Democratic strategy, Minimum Wage, Sick Leave Rebranded As Women’s Issues To Pressure GOP that I find troubling (the strategy, not the piece).

Pelosi and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) met with House freshmen two weeks ago to brief them on the new “women’s economic agenda,” which includes raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing workers the opportunity to earn paid sick leave, expanding affordable child care programs and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Democrats have long supported such worker-friendly reforms. What’s changing this year are their political tactics. Rather than frame these issues in the traditional terms of economic fairness, they’ll be repackaging them as a matter of gender equality and family stability. As they push specific pieces of legislation, Democrats plan to roll out an aggressive communications effort to pressure Republicans who’ve declared the workplace measures job killers.

The strategy takes a cue from last November: If Democrats have managed to trounce Republicans with women voters, then why not turn labor issues into gender issues in pursuit of progressive reforms?

I’d love for Democrats to push harder on these issues.  And I’m definitely for connecting issue of economic fairness to gender equality is a good one. I want to see more of that.  The various issues that make up left politics are not a series of disconnected issue positions, as they are often framed, but are rather connected.  At the core of both of these things is the question of who counts as a full and equal person. The answer should be everyone. But if we don’t draw the connections across these different areas, we’re operating at a serious political disadvantage. Certainly the right appreciates these connections.  When we make the connections, people are more likely to see the issues that affect them personally as related to those that affect others. It helps them see these as a similar struggle. It helps produces solidarity.

But that isn’t what this story is about. Rather, it’s about replacing the economic framing with the gender framing (see my emphasis above). Read the rest of this entry »

Written by David Kaib

June 18, 2013 at 8:01 am

Culpability and Change: The Bangladesh Disaster (Again)

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[Update: Jerry Davis had a longer piece on this issue at Yale Global Online.]

Jerry Davis objects to my post, accusing me of misreading him because I didn’t read him (allegedly).  “I would not summarize my argument as ‘Blame the consumers,’ and tried to be careful not to phrase it this way.” I gather part of the complaint is that ‘blame the consumers’ implies it is solely their fault, whereas (at points) Davis is clear blame is shared. Fair enough.

Let’s start with the original post.

Blame quickly extended from the owners of the building and the factories it contained, to the government of Bangladesh, to the retailers who sold the clothing. But the culpability extends all the way down the supply chain — to us.

Our willingness to buy garments sewn under dangerous conditions, chocolate made from cocoa picked by captive children, or cellphones and laptops containing “conflict minerals” from Congo create the demand that underwrites these tragedies.

I’ll concede he doesn’t actual apply the word blame to consumers – he used culpability (seemingly  as a synonym for blame, which is used at the beginning of the sentence, but let’s leave that aside).  Where does our culpability come from?  “Our willingness” (a phrase I already quoted) to buy such goods. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by David Kaib

May 15, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Blaming Consumers is a Cop Out

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Dime

[Update: On Orhtheory, Jerry Davis object to my comment (which was the first draft of this post) for claiming  that he is calling to blame the consumer.] 

[Update 2: Davis also makes his objections in this comments to this post. My response is here]

[Update 3: Jim Naureckas has a good post on this topic: You're to Blame for Factory Deaths. Well, You and Walmart]

[Update 4: You can take the National Consumers' League 10 cent pledge here.]

Speaking of the awful Bangladesh factory disaster that killed at least a thousand people, Brayden King at Orgtheory quotes Jerry Davis in the New York Times who blames consumers for working conditions in the Third World. In essence, consumer demand for cheap products are what forces wages down and makes working conditions so dangerous, so the blame lies with those consumers.

I see a few problems with this. First, if the all-powerful consumer was driving this, we wouldn’t see businesses making high profits, because that too raises costs. This is not the case. Second, even with expensive goods, where consumers are willing and even eager to pay high prices, we see similar working conditions (think Apple products).

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Written by David Kaib

May 12, 2013 at 10:09 am

Forbath on the Distributive Constitution

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Progressives have forgotten how to think about the constitutional dimensions of economic life. Work, livelihood, and opportunity; material security and  insecurity; poverty and dependency; union organizing, collective bargaining, and workplace democracy: for generations of American reformers, the  constitutional importance of these subjects was self-evident. Laissez-faire, unchecked corporate power, and the deprivations and inequalities they bred were  not just bad public policy—they were constitutional infirmities.  Today, with the exception of employment discrimination, such concerns have vanished from progressives’ constitutional landscape.

That has to change.

Today, Matt Dimick called attention Williams Forbath’s piece in Dissent, “Workers’ Rights and the Distributive Constitution” which opens with the above quote. It makes a good follow up to my last post on the role of money in putting deeply unpopular Social Security cuts on the agenda, or more simply, the power of the donor class. Forbath notes that conservatives use constitutional language to advance their agenda, while progressives often respond defensively.  But Forbath calls for progressives to recapture a constitutional tradition that would insist that government has not only the power but the duty to push back against the conservative assault on the New Deal and Great Society.

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Written by David Kaib

April 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Dirty Hippies, Inequality, and the Minnesota Model

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The great Mark Price has a piece in the Guardian today, Wealth inequality will keep growing unless workers demand better, that gets to the heart of the problem with our broken economy’s failure to provide the security, opportunity, and basic needs we all deserve.  Two points are worth mentioning. First, it’s taken as a matter of faith that conservative prescriptions for the economy are easy to understand and more left-leaning approaches are more complex. I think that’s rubbish. Read Mark here. It’s not difficult at all. If people don’t have jobs, they can’t spend, and we all suffer. If there are way more applicants then there are jobs, there’s no way out of this mess.  Inequality is the problem, equality the solution. It’s not that hard.  (I made the same point about Robert Reich before).  He also discards the silly notion that government has been trying to fix this problem, or that the solutions are unclear. Read the rest of this entry »

What to Do About Jack Lew

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Rob Nabors, Barack Obama, and Jack Lew

By Official White House Photo by Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There is a really interesting discussion going on that started on Twitter, and has since moved to the blogs, sparked by Josh Eidelson’s excellent piece on accusations of union busting against current White House chief of staff and Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew.

Lew, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, joined NYU as chief operating officer and executive vice president in 2004. At the time, NYU was the only private university in the United States whose graduate students had a union contract. By the time Lew left two years later, NYU graduate students had lost their collective bargaining rights. In between, picketers hoisted “Wanted” posters with his face on them.

Reached over email, Andrew Ross, NYU professor of social and cultural analysis, charged that “the administration followed every page of the union-busting playbook, as instructed by the anti-union lawyers retained for that purpose.” Ross, a co-editor of the anthology “The University Against Itself: The NYU Strike and the Future of the Academic Workplace,” wrote that despite broad faculty and community support for the union, “students on the picket line were threatened with expulsion. There was no indication that Lew, as a senior member of the team who executed this policy, disagreed with any of these practices. To all appearances, he was a willing, and loyal, executor of decisions that trampled all over the students’ democratic right to organize.”

[snip]

By the time Jack Lew left his post as NYU COO to become COO of Citigroup Wealth Management, the six-month strike was over, and the union had lost.

When we talked last year – soon after Obama had promoted Lew from his OMB director to his chief of staff — Local 2110 president Maida Rosenstein told me that Lew had acted as “the point person” in “representing management’s position” against GSOC.

Josh’s piece generated some attention, leading Elias Isquith to question whether the Treasury Secretary has anything to do with labor unions. Shawn Gude and Erik Loomis both have responses that I largely agree with. But I wanted to add a couple of thoughts that relate to some of the themes I’ve been talking about here.
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Written by David Kaib

January 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm

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