To The Daily Sun,
I was alarmed and concerned when I read a recent letter by Mr. Tony Boutin outlining how unions are "bankrupting" our society. Then I read about corporate profits growing at a rate five times faster than wages (obviously written by the liberal press). In this country, we have the painful comparison of the highest corporate profit margins in history, combined with one of the highest unemployment rates in history. We also have the lowest wages in history as a percent of the economy.
Further research indicates that the strength of these profits is directly related to the weakness in employee hourly wages, which are still growing at just a 2 percent nominal pace — obviously no need to be represented by a union. After paying off their investors and CEOs (the head of a typical large public company is earning between $10 million and $15 million a year). I'm sure these corporate profits will soon be "trickling down" to the working class.
We've developed inequality so extreme that it is worse than at any time since the late 1920s. As it stands, workers are no more upwardly mobile then they were 50 years ago, while corporate profits are accelerating without having to incur increases in labor costs — shipping jobs overseas. As wages fall below the level necessary to provide for a home and family, corporate cash piles have never been bigger, either in dollar terms or as a share of the economy. The labor market, meanwhile, is still millions of jobs short of where it was before the global financial crises first erupted over six years ago.
Until companies can be convinced to pay people and invest more aggressively, this stagnation will continue. But I'm sure these jobs, along with better wages, will soon come "trickling down." In the battle between wages and corporate earnings, my money's on the corporations to wind up as the winners with even bigger shares.
In his letter, Mr. Boutin provides us with the perfect example as to why unions are necessary. He represents the attitude of most conservatives that public unions, representing the working class, are "raping" the American taxpayer (apparently union members don't pay taxes). Despite what conservatives try to promote, a just and democratic society depends on a healthy and free labor movement and they have been a positive force in society. Working people have a collective voice at work and a means to equality, fair treatment and economic security.
In countries where there are free and active trade union movements, there are more democratic, transparent and representative forms of government. Unions, and the right to collective bargaining, make a major contribution to higher economic productivity to the benefit of the community as a whole.
A concern both Mr. Boutin and I share, is the unpreparedness of American students to compete in the global market, although I strongly believe that he is less concerned with the quality of education then he is with fighting unions. Boutin offers the overly simplistic political solution that poor student achievement is the result of unions and the teachers that belong to them. He and fellow conservatives know that teachers vote overwhelmingly Democratic. But they do so, not because they're union members, but because the combination of low pay and intellectual inquiry in this profession attracts liberals. And since most union members now work in the public sector — a group Boutin obviously distains — the campaign against unions has become a front in the larger conservative war on government.
I would argue that much of the problem with public education stems from political agendas. Public schools are not required to answer to parents, but they do need to heed the words of politicians and school board — all of whom have their own political agenda. It would not be an exaggeration to say that these agendas are weakening the entire system. Schools and teachers are frequently forced to deal with supposedly brilliant education plans thought up by state legislatures, judiciaries, and bureaucracies. The taxpayers are expected to foot the bill and put these plans in motion. By shutting out the interfering politicians and giving the power to the parents and teachers, true accountability may come about.
There is no one size fits all for education, yet that is what most students receive. Gifted students often take the same classes as students who need extra help — a disservice to both.
In many rural schools, there are very rarely AP (advanced placement) courses or other academic options that will allow students to excel. Good teachers — yes, Mr. Boutin, there are many excellent teachers — aren't given the opportunity to be creative because they are forced to follow plans that have been laid out for them.
Where is the money going? All too often, top administrators and those who run the schools have no personal risk involvement and no incentive to cut costs. As we have seen, in many cases when a school does poorly that school receives even more funding.
One essential part of this equation is parenting. Parents who invest time and effort into the education of their children are far more likely to raise children who succeed in schools than parents who are too busy or disinterested to provide involvement. Children who grow up in homes which put large amounts of pride and effort into educational achievement are statistically more likely to achieve because they are pressured to work hard. Parents who ensure their children are regularly attending school, earning good grades, and displaying appropriate conduct are positive examples. Studies have shown that students, with parents more engaged in their children's schooling, score 2 1/2 grade levels higher than students with uninvolved parents.
While teachers are important, parents are the most powerful force for change. This can be accomplished by demonstrating a thirst for knowledge, compassion for others, and a strong work ethic. Other cultures excel because parents respect the importance of education and demand excellence from their children.