Writing in the newest edition of The Washington Monthly, Barry C. Lynn says unions need to find common ground with entrepreneurs as a counterbalance to the centralized power of large monopolies. Here’s the crux of his argument, which has relevance for public education:
… the great middle class of twentieth-century America stood atop two foundations. One was freedom to organize the industrial workplace, to erect a ‘countervailing power’ within a necessarily hierarchical governance structure. The other was freedom from organization, the freedom to be one’s own boss, the freedom to build up a business that — thanks to anti-monopoly law — was largely safe from predation. Every American could choose the path that fit best.
School districts are monopolies with hierarchical governance structures, and over the last fifty years their employees have successfully organized industrial unions to protect themselves. But teacher unions strongly oppose the existence of entrepreneurs in public education, and they are especially hostile toward teachers being entrepreneurial and having the freedom to be their own bosses. Today’s teacher unions are the foot soldiers of school boards and protecting school board monopolies is a top priority.
Teacher unions are under siege, in part, because they insist on putting the power of school boards over the needs of teachers, parents, students and taxpayers. Embracing Lynn’s call to find common ground with entrepreneurs and abandoning their faith in school district monopolies will enable them to regain their status as a progressive force in education and the larger society.