Saturday, July 28, 2007

The NEA and Democracy

The NEA likes to bill its annual Representative Assembly as the largest democratic assembly in the world, with a couple thousand delegates who get to vote on the major issues facing the union.

This, of course, is complete and total crap.

There's so much more to democracy than just voting--after all, Saddam Hussein got "reelected" plenty of times. Hiding behind a fa├žade of a fair election is the most evil of lies and the most cynical of acts.

Since the left is so fond of international governmental organizations (but not multinational corporations, go figure), I thought it might be fun to explore the democratic requirements of one of the treaties we've signed. Let's see what the Inter-American Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States has to say on the topic.

At the beginning of the charter is a large list of therefores, whereases, and recognizing-thats. This one stood out to me:

RECOGNIZING that the right of workers to associate themselves freely for the defense and promotion of their interests is fundamental to the fulfillment of democratic ideals;

What is probably the most important word in that recognition? Freely. Well, the NEA certainly can't claim title to that. Let's move on to the articles.

Article 3
Essential elements of representative democracy include, inter alia, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people, the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.

Of course these articles relate specifically to governments and not to unions, but an organization that considers itself democratic in nature should at least support these requirements, if not abide by them. NEA doesn't believe in secret elections; as a union, it supports the card check process for certifying unions (learn how a card check works here). NEA doesn't believe in pluralism, it believes in acting as a monolithic bloc representing "teachers", even though it supports politicians and organizations that a large percentage of its membership most likely does not.

Article 4
Transparency in government activities, probity, responsible public administration on the part of governments, respect for social rights, and freedom of expression and of the press are essential components of the exercise of democracy.

The constitutional subordination of all state institutions to the legally constituted civilian authority and respect for the rule of law on the part of all institutions and sectors of society are equally essential to democracy.

Transparency is not a word I'd use to describe the workings of the teachers union. And when the NEA devotes even a page of its union rag to the 30+% of its membership that claims to be Republican, or that challenges NEA's actions, I'll consider revisiting this criticism. Until then, no.

Article 5
The strengthening of political parties and other political organizations is a priority for democracy. Special attention will be paid to the problems associated with the high cost of election campaigns and the establishment of a balanced and transparent system for their financing.

Opposing viewpoints expressed in the NEA? Perish the thought. It takes outside organizations to stand up to the NEA because there isn't a fair process with which to do so internally.

Article 6
It is the right and responsibility of all citizens to participate in decisions relating to their own development. This is also a necessary condition for the full and effective exercise of democracy. Promoting and fostering diverse forms of participation strengthens democracy.

I'm not quite sure what a diverse form of participation is--maybe it's supporting a Republican for president, something the NEA has never done in its 150 year history? Nah, couldn't be that!

Well, that was fun. Now let's try something domestic--the US Department of State. Here's what our own State Department, darling of the liberals, has to say about majority rule and minority rights:

On the surface, the principles of majority rule and the protection of individual and minority rights would seem contradictory. In fact, however, these principles are twin pillars holding up the very foundation of what we mean by democratic government.

  • Majority rule is a means for organizing government and deciding public issues; it is not another road to oppression. Just as no self-appointed group has the right to oppress others, so no majority, even in a democracy, should take away the basic rights and freedoms of a minority group or individual.
  • Minorities -- whether as a result of ethnic background, religious belief, geographic location, income level, or simply as the losers in elections or political debate -- enjoy guaranteed basic human rights that no government, and no majority, elected or not, should remove.
  • Minorities need to trust that the government will protect their rights and self-identity. Once this is accomplished, such groups can participate in, and contribute to their country's democratic institutions.
  • Among the basic human rights that any democratic government must protect are freedom of speech and expression; freedom of religion and belief; due process and equal protection under the law; and freedom to organize, speak out, dissent, and participate fully in the public life of their society.
  • Democracies understand that protecting the rights of minorities to uphold cultural identity, social practices, individual consciences, and religious activities is one of their primary tasks.
  • Acceptance of ethnic and cultural groups that seem strange if not alien to the majority can represent one of the greatest challenges that any democratic government can face. But democracies recognize that diversity can be an enormous asset. They treat these differences in identity, culture, and values as a challenge that can strengthen and enrich them, not as a threat.
  • There can be no single answer to how minority-group differences in views and values are resolved -- only the sure knowledge that only through the democratic process of tolerance, debate, and willingness to compromise can free societies reach agreements that embrace the twin pillars of majority rule and minority rights.

  • U-bots will claim that the NEA does this, but I disagree. Vehemently.

    For starters, the NEA is entitled to my money--whether or not I want them to have it. They can vote all they want what to do with my money, but the fact that they get it against my will is tyranny.

    I do not believe the NEA will protect my individual rights and self-identity, since the very idea of a labor union is that we're all one and speak with one voice. The NEA has no outreach to people of my political persuasion--and why should they? They get my money anyway. If I had remained a union member I wouldn't have minority status, I'd have invisible status. Yet even after resigning, they still get my money.

    If you've ever seen a union at work, you'll know that dissent is never tolerated. Don't believe me? Shame on you. (Updated link here.)

    Incidentally, did you know that according to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, that during the period 1975-1993 (the last time period for which I have found data), NEA ranked as the most violent public-sector union? I didn't, either, but I do now.

    How can all this be fixed? Hayek answered that question decades ago in The Constitution of Liberty:

    [T]he coersion of employers would lose most of its objectionable character if unions were deprived of this power to exact unwilling support.

    I've said it before, several times:

    Every (non-military) American has a right to join a union. Every American has a right not to join a union. Every American should have the right not to be required to support a union financially.

    It must be this way if free will and freedom of association are to have any meaning at all.


    Law and Order Teacher said...

    Very impressive analysis. I agree that unions are quite simply the most anti-democratic institutions in America today. The leftist leanings of unions are well documented. The objectionable aspect of unions isn't their leftism, it's their intolerance of dissent and ability to compel membership in complicity with their fellow travelers the Democrats.

    hepsmom said...

    I, too, am a teacher. I'm on the right on the right coast. I joined NEA/GEA last year because PAGE just didn't seem to be doing enough for the teacher, they appeared to focus on administrators. Thanks for this information and for all you do!

    Anonymous said...

    Great analysis. While not a teacher, I did work in a union shop for all of two months (all I could stand). It was easily the worst work experience of my life. The union employees were coddled and babied beyond imagination, leaving the nonunion employees to get screwed again, and again, and again. I was nonunion but I could see this process at work constantly. That was yet one reason I bailed on that place so fast...

    Dan Edwards said...

    Great you think the NEA and CTA folks can understand and comprehend it ? I doubt it.

    The Science Goddess said...

    Go, Darren, go!

    While I don't share your party beliefs, I am 100% behind your analysis of the "U-bots." I, too, am a fees-payer.

    The whole "closed shop" idea irks me. If workers have the right to free assembly---why don't they also have the right to choose not to participate in the assembly? I do not find that the Union party line reflects my values as an educator and yet I am forced to be part of their group. How democratic is that?

    Anonymous said...

    A very interesting analysis. I'm an extremely active member of my NEA local, and believe it or not, I think you make some valid points. To be honest, though, I've never found a group, association, or organization that I agree 100% with - but it doesn't necessarily stop me from being active or involved. I'm politically moderate, with a strong Christian faith, and a union advocate and activist - I guess an oxymoron to some.

    From the sounds of this and some of the comments, though, the issue is not so much about having to be a member or not. I think it's more about what being a fair-share/fee-payer means. Does it mean you are forced to be part of a group you disagree with? I can see how some would feel that way. Although I think a decent argument can be made that being a fee-payer makes sense in that you are receiving a majority of the benefits of membership, but without having to be a member.

    Certainly there are other issues you brought up, good issues at that. But of course we'll never address all those issues here. I do appreciate your thoughts and think it's important for any group, NEA included, to have an open ear to its membership - it is after all supposed to exist for its members.

    Darren said...

    bmatt, I appreciate your comments. However, you make a common (union) statement that I must address: that I *should* pay an agency fee because I receive a majority of benefits of membership without being a member.

    Pardon my bluntness, but says who?

    I liken the agency fee situation to someone coming to my house, painting it, and then telling me I have to pay them for the service! Yes, I get the benefit of the painted house (if I like the color, and if they did a good job painting) but I didn't *want* my house painted. Or, I'm forced to get into the NEA taxi, which takes me places I don't want to go--and then I'm a "free rider" when I don't want to pay! I'm not a "free rider", I'm a "forced rider".

    What benefits do you think the union offers me that I couldn't negotiate for myself--especially as a credentialed math teacher with a math degree? The NEA must not think too highly of its members if it thinks only a union can negotiate decent contracts for teachers.

    The biggest issue for me is the compulsion. My freedom of association is abridged when I'm compelled by the state to give my money to a private entity I don't want to support. It's un-American.

    It's clear I don't agree with you on the union issue--and just so you know, I used to be a union rep at school--and I appreciate the calm and reasoned way you made your points here. I hope you'll come back and comment again.