The Sacramento Bee editorial writers again attack teachers unions in their support of SB 1285 to alter seniority rules. Lets look at what they are actually advocating. In low performing schools, new teachers, teachers with 1 -3 years of experience would not be laid off. So, more experienced teaches, teachers with 4-6 years of experience would be laid off. There is little gain here.
It is a tragedy that young teachers will be laid off. It will impact their lives, their careers, and the future of the schools. But, what are the Bee editorial writers not saying ? The national economic crisis produced a fiscal crisis in the states, and now California has cut over $16 billion from its schools. The financial crisis caused the lay offs, not seniority.
It is most interesting that writers focus on teachers and seniority. Why would that be? In an excellent editorial, What’s Up with All the Teacher Bashing? in the Summer issue of Rethinking Schools the editors say,
“But if these attacks on teachers aren’t about ending the systemic racism that continues to undermine our education system, what is the goal? With forces as seemingly disparate as the Obama administration, the Walton Foundation, the late Milton Friedman, and the New York Times all pushing the same ideas, this is a complicated question, but there are at least two major goals: destroy the power of the teachers’ unions, and turn the public school system from a public trust into a new market for corporate development. From the time of Reagan, who used his “welfare queen” stories to scapegoat the poor as a basis on which to destroy the welfare system, this has been a tried-and-true approach to privatization: use visceral anecdotes to whip up hysteria that a system is “broken,” argue that only market competition can fix the situation, and then sell off pieces of the public sector to private corporations. This time, teachers are the scapegoats.
So it’s no accident that a major thrust of the media and political campaign has been the elimination of teacher tenure ( or seniority), which is blamed for making it hard to fire “bad” teachers. Everyone—as student, parent, or colleague—has felt the impact of teachers who should not be in the classroom. But don't blame tenure. Tenure is not a guaranteed job for life; it’s the right, which all employees deserve, not to be fired without due process and without just cause.”
A second major function of teacher bashing and union bashing is to encourage readers to not look closely at the economic crisis. It is a populist diversion from the real problems. Problems which we could do something about.
California, like 42 other states, has a budget problem Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma and other non union, low benefit states have similar problems. They are not saying that the cause of the problem is the economic crisis. Wall Street 13 bankers robbed the banks and the economy. This crisis was created by finance capital and banking, mostly on Wall Street, ie. Chase Banks, Bank of America, AIG, and others. Finance capital produced a $ 2 trillion bailout of the financial industry, the doubling of US unemployment rate and the loss of over 2 million manufacturing jobs in 2008. Fifteen million people are out of work.
Teachers unions, and other public sector unions are some of the few union jobs remaining. They provide some of the few opportunities for people to work hard and to achieve some dignity at work and a middle class life. The attacks on seniority and union contracts are, in fact, essentially attacks on the teachers’ unions. Despite their problems, teachers’ unions are one of the few remaining bulwarks of organized labor. The corporate agenda is to weaken these unions. If they can weaken public sector unions, then the corporations will have less difficulty establishing their own dominance.
In the last 30 years, the corporate agenda has dominated the US economy leading up to the current economic crisis. Jobs and factories were shifted out of the country—beyond the protections of our business, labor and environmental laws and regulatory protections., Today’s de unionized workplace is characterized by increasing working hours or just workload, high stress, fear of layoffs, low or reduced wages, jobs sent overseas, loss of health care, loss of pensions and a general loss of dignity and security.
It is quite possible for voters to limit this corporate agenda. The current effort to constrain Wall Street is illustrative. As Johnson and Kwak argue in 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown, (2010) we must break up the largest 6 banks in the nation and pass legislation preventing them from re-establishing control or we will lose our democracy. In the Senate, the Brown-Kaufman Safe Banking bill and the Merkly-Levin bill that would have moved toward a limit on bankers power were blocked by Republican threats to filibuster. They were not allowed to come to a vote. The conference committee bill has some good provisions, but it doesn't end "too big to fail" banks and it doesn't create a Glass-Steagall style firewall between commercial and investment banking. Wall Street should not be allowed to rule and to ruin our country again as they did in 2007-2009. To achieve finance reform we need to return some democracy to our political system.
The Walton Foundation, the late Milton Friedman, and the New York Times, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Olin Foundation, the Broad Foundation, each are pushing the same ideas, the crisis in our schools is caused by union teachers not by the economic crisis in the society. It is this real financial reform that the Bee editors can not see, and the foundations do not wish to discuss. Instead, they prefer to raise misstated issues of teacher unions and teacher seniority. You see the Senate votes on a weak version of finance reform will occur within two weeks. The current bill is a start, it is a first step toward finance reform but it does not rein in Casino capitalism. It definitely will not prevent the next economic crisis. The Republican filibuster will not permit such strong reforms.
We are in a position similar to the U.S. economy in the Great Depression of 1932.
What should we do? Well, to respond to the economic crisis, the US senate should pass Local Jobs bill by Senator Harkins to employ over 300,000 teachers, police, firefighters around the county- and to stimulate the economy. And, they should pass the needed extension of long term unemployment benefits to provide basic necessities to the millions about to lose their basic benefits. Passing these bills alone would do more to improve education than would California bill SB 1285 on seniority.
For support in California, Senator Steinberg and others could realistically look at sources of revenue. These include, a tax on oil, a fair tax on the very rich, a needed adjustment to eliminate commercial property from the Prop.13, tax haven, eliminations of the special tax breaks given to corporations last year, and other sources well researched by the California Tax Reform Association and the California Budget Project.
So, why are the foundations and the media, and the Bee editorial board attacking teachers unions rather than supporting hiring more teachers?