Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Posts Tagged ‘unions

On Harry Reid’s Opposition to (Some) Plutocrats

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Not long ago, elite Democrats began to reflect the concerns of ordinary people by talking about rampant and increasing inequality. This is a particularly good frame for Democrats seeking public support, but they soon abandoned it in favor of more bland talk about ‘opportunity’.  I suspect this is because ‘inequality’ is a very bad frame for anyone seeking support from financial elites–the donor class–which is necessary but often ignored in our talk about politics. As I’ve insisted repeatedly, our political talk often begins from the premise that the public drives politics and policy, while certain things (like money) can  interfere in this process. But in reality, money drives much of the process, with the public having influence within the bounds set by money. That is, assuming they have any influence at all. Organized people can beat organized money, but people who aren’t organized don’t stand a chance. And that describes most of us, most of the time.

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Written by David Kaib

May 12, 2014 at 10:44 am

A Teacher’s Story

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A friend who is a teacher told me his story after I shared my last post, and I asked if he minded if I shared it. He agreed, so here it is. As I said before, testing is only part of all this. It’s important to understand it in light of the issues discussed in my earlier post.

I teach elementary school in a socioeconomically diverse district in Northern California. Like many states, California is preparing to unveil new online state tests to assess the mastery of the new Common Core State Standards. In the upcoming months, California students will take part in the new online testing. In a wise decision, California has decided to use the 2013-2014 school year as a trial run for the new tests. Individual scores will not be reported to students or their families. Instead, the state will use the massive amount of collected data to assess the new assessments by weeding out poorly designed questions, examining technological difficulties, and by discovering areas of learning that teachers will need to focus on in the coming years. California chose to make this a trial year for the new testing despite threats of reduced federal education dollars made by the US Department of Education. Unfortunately, my district did not make nearly as sensible decisions this year.

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Written by David Kaib

March 12, 2014 at 11:40 pm

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

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

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

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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