Lessons from the UAW Strike: Can Public School Teacher Unions Learn, Change and Grow?

Unionized auto workers are on strike! The first time since the 1970s …

The recent history of the automobile industry and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union is instructive to public schools and public school unions.

It is hard to believe that there are only 73,000 UAW members  working for General Motors, and only an additional hundred thousand members in total. The total is only 20% of the 1990 number of employees … At one time the UAW had well over a million members.

What happened?

Four decades ago as Japanese manufactured cars began entering the American market, GM, Ford and Chrysler all had the same attitude: Americans would never buy Japanese cars!

As foreign produced cars flooded into the country both the companies and the unions remained in denial. Rather than competing they used their political power … an illusion that politics could result in legislation that would protect their markets.

Better cars, at cheaper prices with higher mileage slowly but surely reduced market share. Japanese companies began to open non-union plants in South … and the market shrank and shrank …

The current strike is over $50 billion in retiree health care costs and retaining the current level of $70 an hour salary and benefit package employees.

GM is bleeding!! Losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year … with diminishing political support … and a bleak future.

The attacks on public schools is unrelenting: calls for limitless charter schools and open vouchers – that can be used in public, private or parochial schools and home schooling.

The attacks come from across the political spectrum: from the inner city to the suburbs.

Unfortunately the largest teacher union, the National Education Association, has chosen a UAW-like bunker mentality. The American Federation of Teachers appears to be more nimble.

Perhaps the most interesting approach is in New York City were the local union, the United Federation of Teachers has been joining with public school parents, advocacy organizations and local elected officials.

While they are supporting traditional issues, like lower class size, they also started their own charter school and are vigorous pursuing organizing charter schools across the city. Creating a coalition of end users: parents, and providers: teachers.

The classic union approach that the UAW followed: collect political action funds and “support your friends and punish your enemies,” was a failure.

Will the UFT approach: create a community of public school advocates across the spectrum, be nimble and agile, and create a “movement,” be successful?

Can public schools respond to the marketplace of consumers?

Too many public school devotees are complacent … they defend the past and ignore a rapidly changing landscape ….

The future is unclear: unless teacher union accept change they may be fated to become the UAW of the next decade.

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One response to “Lessons from the UAW Strike: Can Public School Teacher Unions Learn, Change and Grow?

  1. in case you didn’t notice, most Japanesse and Korean cars are now made HERE (oops I forgot so are Mercedez Benz’).
    I have not, nor will I ever buy a GM or Ford or Chrysler since the following happened to me in 1970. I noticed a small oil leak one day. When my mechanic (the local chevrolet dealer) checked it for me, he found that, instead of an oil filter, the “worker” had simply cut the lid of a beer can and forced it onto the oil intake.
    Any questions???? oh by the way it was a heilmann’s can (Detroit)

    Like

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