The Teachers Union Difference

A blog about business and economics.
Sept. 12 2012 10:43 AM

The Teachers Union Difference

Doug Henwood, who wrote some really smart stuff about the substantive weaknesses of American labor unions in the wake of the failed recall of Scott Walker (see this, this, this, and especially this and this) is back on-message and fired-up about the Chicago Teachers Union strike and has a post musing about why some people could be generally liberal but "hate" teachers unions.

The most salient difference, completely absent from his armchair psychologizing, is surely that public school teachers work for the government. If AT&T workers get a better deal for themselves, that may well mean a worse deal for people who bought AT&T stock in past years but I'm not going to cry on their behalf. By contrast, if Chicago public school teachers get a better deal for themselves that may well mean a worse deal for Chicago taxpayers.

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Indeed, what baffles me about these discussions is the tendency of labor's alleged friends to simply refuse to look this reality in the face and instead insist that any hostility to specific union asks must secretly reflect the skeptic's hostility to the existence of the union or its members. If you think that Chicago's teachers deserve the right to form an association to advocate, lobby, and bargain on behalf of the interests of its members (and why shouldn't they?) then you have to think that they deserve the right to advocate for ideas that may not be in the public interest. That's fine, everybody does it. But it really does mean that the policy proposals ought to be examined on the merits. If CTU members get what they want, that's not coming out of the pocket of "the bosses" it's coming out of the pocket of the people who work at charter schools or the people who pay taxes in Chicago.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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