Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Right To Work Laws Leave Teachers Out of Democracy by Dr. Michael Flanagan

On February 18th, 2017, Iowa became the 30th state to enact Right to Work laws. On February 20th, two days later, Iowa Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren proposed a Bill that would force state universities to hire based on political party membership. The proximity of these two events was no coincidence. The Bill, Senate File 288, would implement a partisan quota system to ensure that there is no more than a 10% difference in political affiliation of new employees based on voter registration. In actuality it would be a means to dilute the liberal college faculty membership and increase the conservative. Political parties control our elections, and membership in those parties drive policy. We are given two well funded political choices, and third party candidates are disregarded. This Bill does not address non-affiliated voters, only those registered as Democrats and Republicans.

In addition to this new proposed legislation there have been recent attempts to intimidate professors because of their political ideologies.  A conservative group called Turning Point USA created a Professor Watchlist website where students can report their professors for their political beliefs or writings. Luckily, there was a pushback of support for the professors singled out on these watchlists. The ability to speak out and resist this type of political repression is suppressed by Right to Work laws.

For those of you who are confused about the history of Right to Work laws, in addition to being simply anti-labor  Right to Work has its origins in racism. White businesses saw organized labor as a threat to Jim Crow segregation. Under Right to Work laws unions can not collect mandatory dues from members. This weakens the collective bargaining power of unions, their ability to lobby for better working conditions, depresses wages and lessens worker rights such as the ability to strike. Basically workers in Right to Work states are at-will employees.

These attacks on professors and university staff follow a long line of attacks on teachers, specifically their right to tenure. Attacks on tenure will have a disproportionate effect on teachers of color. Silencing the voices of teachers and professors to speak out against biased policies makes it possible to re-segregate public schools under the guise of school choice. Right to Work laws take away teachers ability to advocate for better learning conditions for their students. This proposed Iowa Bill to base employment on party affiliation will be another violation of workers Freedom of Speech.

This current presidential administration has been waging a war on the press, going so far as to claim the media as the “enemy of the American people”. When a government is orchestrating an authoritarian repression of civil rights, the most important thing to do is to control critical thought. Any authoritarian attempts to undermine democracy historically begins with controlling the public schools and expelling professors as a means of solidifying control of children’s minds and ideals. Teachers are historically at the forefront of fighting for social justice. College campuses are often the center of  many protests and a place to organize and push back against the repressions of this current presidential administration. In response, states across the country have been passing unconstitutional laws to repress protests and criminalize those protesting for social and political change. It is these types of fear tactics, popularized under McCarthyism, which led to teachers in 39 states having to sign loyalty oaths.

Over the years there has been an increase in animosity towards teachers and their unions, but politicians and the media have been careful not to go after police unions the way they are openly against teachers unions. Again, since 80% of teachers are female, and Republicans have a terrible record on women’s rights, and this is no coincidence. Labor unions are the one impediment to total control of our political system by groups like the Koch Brothers funded American Legislative Exchange Council. As much money and influence as ALEC may have, unions still spend millions on elections, and union members tend to vote Democratic.

Legislation against teachers is not only a means of political repression, but it is also motivated by greed. Labor unions represent millions and the policies they lobby for create safer working conditions and raise wages. Wall Street profits increase when there is less regulation and lower wages. Besides wages and benefits, union pensions are also a target for politicians and their Wall Street hedge funders, as well as our new billionaire Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. There is hundreds of billions of dollars controlled by labor union pension funds that Wall Street wants. Repressive laws against teachers and unions eliminates their ability to organize and resist the privatization of public schools. This will allow for more public education funding to be funneled to charter schools and to be used as vouchers for private and religious schools.

With the attacks on public education and unions by the Republican Party one would think that all teachers would support the Democratic party. Unfortunately, the neo liberal policies of the Obama administration were no better for public school teachers than the current administration's. The cost of Obama’s terrible education policies is evident in the results of this last election. Trump’s win was a rebuke of organized political parties and the inherent corruption within them. Establishment politicians were stunned when the people of this country did not accept the hand picked candidates forced down our throats. That populist uprising shows no signs of diminishing since the elections either.

There continue to be national protests, with politicians being swarmed at their Town Hall style meetings when they return home from DC to face their constituents. The elites who control our politicians see the swarms of people, who are leaving both political parties en masse. Establishment politicians and the special interests who control them are choosing to turn off their phones, cancel town halls, and label the nation wide demonstrations as the work of “paid protesters”. Both parties are still playing politics as usual, and the Republican Party continues to take aim at the Democratic Party, labor unions and teachers. However, the people in the streets not only see what they are doing, but they literally know where these Democrats and Republicans live. They might want to remember who it is they actually work for.  

Passing Right to Work laws in order to destroy unions, and targeting professors based on party registration may seem like a good strategy to these politicians, especially while they are hiding from their constituents. They continue to enact repressive laws in an attempt to minimize protests, while the militarization of our police force continues. There is no guarantee that this Bill in Iowa will be signed into law, but there is one thing the people of this country can do: we can make the man who proposed it, Senator Mark Chelgren, infamous. Here is his contact information: State Senator, District 41, Address: 819, Hutchinson, Ottumwa, IA 52501 Phone: (641)777-7047 Email: mark.chelgren@legis.iowa.gov. Let him know what you think about his Bill.


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