Feature

Due South: Attacks on American Unions and Public Education

Vivian McCaffrey

American lawmakers are touting merit pay as a tool to support improved student outcomes, but clearly care more about slashing expenditures. The Ohio Office of Collective Bargaining estimated that replacing statutory grid increases with merit pay would save that state $75 million and its local governments $393 million annually.

 

PRIVATIZATION OF EDUCATION

Encouraged by federal policy, states are moving forward with measures to promote the expansion of charter schools and increase access to private education. These initiatives are also designed to undermine unions and public education. Recently, for example, the Indiana House of Representatives voted to establish the largest voucher program in the country, providing low and middle-income families with funding so their children can attend private schools. A separate bill proposes that only half of the teachers hired in state charter schools would have to be licensed.

 

BROADER UNION RIGHTS UNDER ATTACK

Right-wing state governments are using the pretext of budgetary pressures to implement full-out attacks on basic union rights. Wisconsin is the most extreme example to date. It has adopted measures to limit public sector bargaining to compensation only and salary increases to the rate of inflation. The new law also ends the automatic union dues check off and requires public sector unions to conduct annual votes to confirm their membership. Ohio has also limited the scope of bargaining and similar bills are making their way through the state legislatures of Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Tennessee.

Powerful corporate interests are funding at least some of these attacks.  The New York Times  is one of several media outlets that has reported that the billionaire Koch brothers, owners of Koch Industries, an energy and consumer products conglomerate, contributed heavily to the election campaign of the governor of Wisconsin and were working behind the scenes to provoke an attack on unions. 1

FIGHTING BACK

Mass union protests and petition campaigns are greeting the various Republican-led attacks on unions. Unions across North America are sending messages of solidarity. In Wisconsin there is a legal challenge to the anti-union legislation. In states where the Senate is not dominated by Republicans or where there is a Democratic governor, bills not yet enacted are being amended or may be vetoed. Some observers suggest that the right-wing attack will ultimately strengthen and revitalize the union movement. However, for the present, the overall trend is clear: a concerted right-wing campaign against union rights. Based on Ontario's experience with the former Conservative government, it could take years for the U.S. union movement to regain lost ground.

LESSONS FOR ONTARIO

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