Unions – part of the solution or not

Trade unions can be their own worst enemy. In South Africa, during the apartheid years, they were the only political voice for the majority of the population. Job done.

After 1994, they lost the plot. The top union leaders moved into senior positions in government. The new union leaders were not prepared for the move from being political to representing workers rights. Employers were not ready for the transition either. Destructive power negotiation ruled. Some industries were decimated.

That kind of negotiating makes finding mutually beneficial solutions in difficult times unlikely. These are difficult times.

Now, as public servants pensions are being exposed as being underfunded and so the biggest threat to the solvency of towns, cities, states and countries, the unions are being challenged. Teachers are getting a raw deal.

Bankers and traders get million dollar bonuses for looking after other people’s money. The money doesn’t do drugs. Doesn’t fight with the other money. Does not interrupt when you’re talking to it. Pretty much does what you tell it to. Teachers get a lot less looking after other people’s kids. There aren’t any algorithms for teaching kids. And the pay is not quite as good.

Reading the recent literature about the success of charter schools, one gets the feeling that being non-unionized is a big part of the reason that they work.

Having seen teachers go for months without pay in some of the poorest parts of the world makes me believe that teachers are not the problem.

The people doing the negotiating are. Both sides. The unionists are doing their constituency a disservice. The politicians are doing everyone a disservice.

Another brick in the wall.

More at:
A 20-year lesson
Testing the limits
Charting a better course
The long turnaround