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Labor Relations and Power

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In a comment to Scott’s post yesterday, Matt Yglesias said this about evaluation of the Chicago teachers.

My point about unions favoring job security for their members per se is that there’s little reason to give special deference to their views about evaluation. If you poll the Slate staff about how we’d like to be evaluated, we’ll tell you we want to be evaluated in ways that make us look good! Not because we’re “greedy” or “lazy” but because we’re regular people.

This seems uncontroversial but actually demonstrates a lot about the underlying assumptions of Matt and other liberal writers who have been less than supportive of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Is there any group involved in the evaluation of teachers (or any other workers for that matter) that is not self-interested? Should we give deference to any group? Management? Education “reformers?” Capitalists investing in privatized school systems? Parents (which is of course is a very self-selected group of parents)? Rahm Emanuel? Each and every one of these groups has a great deal of self-interest in how Chicago teachers are evaluated. Why should they have more say than the teachers themselves? Matt doesn’t really answer this.

What Matt seems to be saying is that employers ultimately should have a lot of control over evaluation processes. And while everyone would argue that employers deserve some say over this process, both history and the present are replete with millions of examples of employers controlling the evaluation process unilaterally and then abusing that process by firing workers, not because they aren’t competent, but because administration doesn’t like them.

The fundamental definition of a labor union is a group of workers mobilizing themselves to express power in the workplace. Control over worker evaluation is absolutely central to that process. Do workers have a right to defend themselves from unfair evaluation processes? To what extent are they allowed to extend those rights? Is there anyone more qualified to have a voice in this process than workers themselves? Anyone with less of a motive to evaluate to fit their political agenda?

Teacher evaluations are about power, pure and simple. If teachers shouldn’t get “special deference to their views about evaluation,” why should anyone else? Why should we care one iota more about what Rahm Emanuel or testing proponents care about teacher evaluations than we care about teachers own thoughts?

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