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with Tony Laden and Eleni Schirmer

Carrie Welsh  00:01

You’re listening to Ethics & Education. I’m Carrie Welsh.

Carrie Welsh  00:08

Here at the Center for Ethics & Education, we obviously think a lot about the ethics of teaching. But what about the ethics of not teaching? We wanted to host a conversation about the ethical dimensions of teacher strikes. So I invited labor scholar Eleni Schirmer…

Eleni Schirmer  00:27

My name is Eleni Schirmer. I’m currently a research associate with the UCLA Center on the Institute of Inequality and Democracy. And I got my PhD at UW Madison in Educational Policy Studies, where I was a member of the Graduate Assistant union, the TAA, which is the nation’s oldest graduate worker union.

Carrie Welsh  00:54

…into conversation with philosopher Tony Laden.

Tony Laden  00:57

I’m Tony Laden. I teach philosophy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and I am the associate director at the Center for Ethics & Education.

Carrie Welsh  01:06

There’s a lot to the history of teachers unions. But right now, we just want to go back a few years to 2018. How were teachers unions so successful then? Tony and Eleni think it’s because they were ethical.

Eleni Schirmer  01:22

You know, 2018 was a massive year for teachers union strikes. [It] was the sort of the spark of the Red for Ed movement that started in 2018. And sort of continued on through 2019. I’m curious, if it hadn’t been for COVID, how that wave would have taken its next shape. But there was something like in 2018, close to half a million workers walked off the job, which was, I think, in 2017, something like 20,000 workers went off the job. It was like a 20 fold increase in worker strikes, that was largely driven by teachers. In the most recent polls of sort of union popularity writ large, not teachers union in particular, but unions right now are pulling with all time popularity. There’s something like close to more than two thirds of the country supports unions, which hasn’t seen this level since 1965. I’m not exactly sure when the the decline started. But 2009 was sort of a low point in in labor popularity. And since 2009, to the present, there’s been a big uptick, with an especially big spike after 2018. I wonder, you know, it’s hard to say if the people who are saying that they approve of unions have been affected positively or negatively by a teachers union strike, I don’t have data to comment on that. But I have enough to speculate that the more active a labor movement is, in some ways, the more popular a labor movement is because they’re making the case that is sort of a hard case, for most of us actually do work for our living and feel, to a certain degree that our labor is devalued, and having other people exercise claims to increase worker value and worker power is that it creates sort of a positive read on on what labor unions can do. It’s interesting.

Carrie Welsh  03:40

Tony describes strikes as more like direct action than just bargaining.

Tony Laden  03:46

I think, like, one way I like to think about it is that, you know, for an industrial union, striking is bargaining by other means, right? When normal bargaining across the table over a contract breaks down, your last resort is to go on strike to withhold your labor at but that’s a move in the bargaining, right, that’s a way of upping your leverage in the in the activity of bargaining. For a teacher’s union, since the funding is coming from the legislature, ultimately, and the taxpayers, those the way in which public education gets funded, is to his politics and political campaigns. And so you have to think of a strike in on behalf of the teachers union, not as the last step in bargaining. So bargaining as other means, but rather as engaging in politics by other means. So it’s more like a direct action in this sort of civil disobedience tradition, then it is a step in a bargaining game. Right, you know, in a bargaining. I mean, you can think of a bargaining game as a game of chicken right, or a game of tug of war, each side is like trying to get as much as it can, from the middle of this sort of middle pile. That’s the tug of war image. And one way they do that is they, they make it look like they’re willing to sustain huge losses to get what they want. That’s the chicken part of the game. And so a strike is just an industrial strike is really just a game of chicken, both sides are showing that they can take more pain and the other side, the owners and loss of profits, the labors and loss of wages. And at some point, one of them blinks and loses the game, right? Or they crash into each other and the enterprise goes under. In a if you’re thinking of your strike, if your teachers union, and you’re thinking of your strike is a game of chicken, you’re going to it’s going to go wrong, because the the the pain you’re inflicting is not just on you, it’s on the children, the students and their families and their parents and so forth. And so, you know, it’s almost like you’re playing a game of chicken. And, you know, literally the game of chicken, where you have two cars driving in each other, except for the teachers have strapped a bunch of students onto the front of their car, thinking that’ll be a much more effective strategy, right. But it sounds as if it is they were playing chicken, but since what they’re doing is engaging in political campaign, it’s a really, that can be look like a really bad move, right? Because you’re not going to get public support by threatening children. Right, not not a good democratic move. And so then you have to think about a strike if you’re a teachers union, given that dynamic, as more like direct action, more like civil disobedience, and there’s a reason why people engaged in civil disobedience think it’s absolutely essential to their cause, that they’re morally constrained. That is, you can’t engage in civil disobedience unless you’re showing the utmost respect to the law, the agents of the law, your fellow citizens, because what you’re doing is making a kind of appeal to their sense of justice. And so if you make that shift, then that changes, like, both what you think you’re doing when you’re engaging in a teacher strike, and then what it would be to do it well, where that means successfully, like I want to achieve whatever it is I’m trying to achieve. How am I going to do that? I’m going to do that by convincing the public that I’m on the right side, that will put pressure on the legislature to do what I’m asking them to do.

Eleni Schirmer  07:45

Yes, absolutely. I really, really appreciate the chicken analogy. And you’re saying draws out, it’s not really correct to call teachers care workers. It’s more accurate to call them public care workers. I think that gets at this dynamic, that they’re not, let’s say, nannies taking people’s children out. They’re are charged by the state, they haven’t kidnapped a bunch of children to sort of like strap them to their game of chicken; it’s their responsibility from the state to take care of these children. And they’re trying to use that as part of their maneuvers. Or maybe it’s not correct to say they’re trying to use it, because that seems to me suggests a kind of, like, manipulation that may or may not be there. They also just, that’s just the job duty that they have: children are in their charge. But the point, I think, that I’m trying to get at here is just that there’s, unlike an industrial strike, you can imagine… if the game of chicken that you’re describing, to mix metaphors, which is I think, always what you want to do, I’ve heard, that it’s like a seesaw. It’s like a someone has added another dimension to the seesaw. So instead of up and down between two pillars, there is now a cross beam that sort of like it’s like this three dimensional seesaw where the the public is in the balance. And the question is, is are the public going to come to support? Do they feel that the demands of the teachers or the educators are in their interest or the demands of the administration, the public officials are protecting their interests?

Tony Laden  09:45

Yeah, so I think, I’m going to go back to this chicken analogy. When you strapped your student onto the front of your car, you’ve taken them hostage, right. So the idea is like, and if you think about a hostage situation, and you are you’re involved in negotiations, and you think that you will have more leverage if you can cause harm to another person who is dear to the people on the other side of negotiation. That’s, that’s why hostage taking seems to be an effective strategy in certain circumstances. But if what you’re trying to do is get public sympathy, it’s a really bad strategy because it makes you look like a moral monster. And so, and this has two effects. One is it’s, it’s going to be ineffective, because you’re not going to get the public on your side of it looks like what you’re doing is harming children, for your own selfish interests. And secondly, going back to Eleni’s point about the kind of people who go into teaching, right, are people who are interested in caring for and teach, you know, educating children, they’re going to be less willing to engage in that. So if you were trying to rally the, your union members to engage in a strike effectively, they have to actually walk off the job. And if what you’re saying to them is, essentially, I want you to hurt your kids for the sake of, you know, higher pensions or better retirement benefits for the old members of the union, or to make it the case that, you know, bad teachers can’t be fired, or something like that. A lot of teachers are just not going to be willing to do that, because they are invested in their case, they care for their kids. I mean, in some sense that, I mean, there’s this other dynamic that the teachers care, the fact that their care workers gets exploited, not just because they get underpaid, but because they can be called on not to do certain things, because it violates that kind of ethic and sense of professional sense of care.

Tony Laden  11:53

So, you know, we go back to this question of how to be successful in a teacher strike and why ethics comes into it. And I think this is a way to see it. If you engage in a teachers strike in the form of a hostage taking as a step in a bargaining process, you’re going to lose, because you’re going to lose your members, and you’re gonna lose the public. But if you can engage in a teacher strike in a way that doesn’t have that feature, because what you’re doing is political action designed to bring attention to injustice in the school system, the underfunding of the school system, the danger that causes your students and so forth, then you’re both acting with this sort of ethics of care towards your students, and in a way that you can win the public on your side. And so that’s both ethically better, right? You’re not taking hostages, and more likely to be effective, because of what it is you’re doing

Eleni Schirmer  12:58

I 100% agree with your analysis there. And the sense of the question that you’re getting into sort of the teachers union, when they go on strike have to make it clear in whose interest they’re acting, it’s because they’re charged with giving care to the public, if they’re acting in their sort of private self interests. It they’re seen as violating their job duty, they’re not providing public care. But there is a way that perhaps teachers, is what you’re saying, is if they’re engaging in an ethics of care if a teacher strike is guided by this ethics of care, there’s a way that it can be seen as withholding care is actually acting in the interests of the families and children with whom they’re charged to nurture.

Eleni Schirmer  13:56

I agree with this, but just to play devil’s advocate, the one thing that I think is interesting about this, and perhaps this goes back to the distinction we’re sort of flushing out earlier about industrial unions versus teachers unions, is that it does strike me that there is something of a gendered irony here, which is that a predominantly feminized profession, if they do, if they make a claim of only advancing their interests, it’s doesn’t pass a test, it will sort of fail to be seen as politically legitimate move that they’re seen as taking other people hostage. Whereas we would never think of steel workers going on strike as being selfish or greedy, or, you know, causing some kind of sort of acting and acting on tort or something like this. So I do think that that’s an interesting dynamic at play here is that there’s an extra burden that educators or care workers face in their work is that they can only advance they’re the sort of wanting more money for their work, which is like, we live under capitalism, that’s sort of the structure that we’re…I don’t know if that makes a person good or bad or ethical or not. But it’s certainly just this strategy, a survival strategy to seek more resources. That somehow I, I’d be curious to know, Tony, your thoughts on this, but I can’t help but read it, other than through a gendered lens, which is that it’s seen as sort of violating some kind of feminine norms for women to demand more for their for their labor, they’re supposed to be seen, you know, content with what they’ve been given.

Tony Laden  15:47

I think that’s a good point. And I was just thinking about, you know, the steel worker, you know, like, what’s the steel worker holding hostage? Well, and sometimes steel workers holding, you know, the raw materials in the steel plant hostage, which is not the same kind of thing. But they are also holding hostage the downstream economy, right, if a steel plant stays on strike long enough, that the businesses that rely on the steel to keep functioning start to have to slow down. And I take it the arguments that often get made when, you know, central industries go on long strikes, that, you know, the federal government should step in and stop the strike on something like national security grounds, is a recognition that they’re being selfish, right, that the steel workers are being selfish, even if they’re just asking for wages, and they’re, they’re mostly men. So I think it probably happens in those cases, as well, it happens much less frequently. And it’s where we don’t notice it as much, I think, because of the gender thing. I also think the, you know, it, setting up a situation as well, you have to be worried about the kids, not yourself, makes the is conceptually neat, but it’s a miss describes the situation, right? I take it one way in which a teachers union is likely to make its case is the fact that we are underpaid as teachers means we can’t do our jobs well, because in order to live, we have to work nights and these other jobs, and we aren’t attracting talented teachers, because the pay is so low, or teachers are burning out. And so they’re getting replaced every three years. And it takes, you know, more than three years to develop into a good teacher. So the teacher, we’re, you know, we’re not getting good teachers into the system, because we’re, we’re being paid so badly. So one can argue for your own, you know, an increase in your wages, as connected to the injustice of the system or the quality of the schools. But I take it you couldn’t argue in the way? Well, it’s interesting whether you could argue this, if you were a steel worker, so that the tea, I think it’s gonna be really hard sell for the teachers union to say, We’re paid well enough for the US to do our jobs well, and we’re attracting good people into the profession and so forth. But we see this moment where we could get even more, and it’s a capitalist system, so we’re just gonna go for it, right. And we’ve got everybody over a barrel because they need us to take care of their kids and educate their kids, and so on and so forth. So we’re going to use that leverage to get more for ourselves. Right, that seems like that’s, that’s going to be a hard sell as a public union. But it might similarly be a hard sell for the striking steel worker. I mean, if this if the steel plant is such that it’s, you know, 99% of the surplus value being produced in the steel plant is going to the workers and owner is no richer than the workers are. And the steel worker, say, but we still want more, we want you to actually be losing money every year. And you know, draining your accumulated family wealth to pay us. And they went on strike, it might also be an ineffective strike, and in some sense, lose public support in the same way.

Eleni Schirmer  19:25

I’m loving this world, though, that’s just pondering maximum labor power! ‘We actually have plenty. And we’re just gonna sort of recreationally strike for more!’

Tony Laden  19:37


Eleni Schirmer  19:37

I’m into that world!

Tony Laden  19:41

But here in the real world, right? Yeah. So one question we could ask is, once you’ve once you realize that there are these kind of ethical constraints on how a teachers union has to strike because of what it is it’s doing in contract negotiations and what it’s doing as a union. There’s, I think, a second ethical to mentioned, which is how do you articulate what what the good is your you’re aiming for? And so it’s not enough just to say, Well, I’m doing this on behalf of the students or the society or education. What has to articulate what what that good is? And so there’s a different sort of ethical component here, which is, are we strengthening the democracy? Are we invigorating the labor force? Are we basically doing childcare so as to permit parents to enter the labor force? Are we, you know, a cheaper alternative to jails for juveniles? Right in which of these things you think this the educational system is doing? Changes the goods it produces, and it changes the goods that can demand from the society in order to produce those and whether it’s producing them? Well? And so there’s an interesting question about how, as a teachers union, would would articulate the good of education in this process of sort of democratic discussion about why we’re, why we’re educating kids on the public dime at all.

Carrie Welsh  21:06

So is a good teachers strike just good PR?

Eleni Schirmer  21:09

We could call it PR, or perhaps we could call it storytelling, which is maybe the like, softer, more soulful way to to describe the work, that it’s sort of, what’s the story of this struggle? Who are the adversaries? Who are the heroes? What’s at stake? I do think there’s sort of like a narrative element to labor struggles writ large. One way that you can look at this is like, what exactly are the demands that a teachers union is making. So there’s some cases like, you know, having a nurse in every school, the Chicago Teachers Union sort of has been sort of a centerpiece of their strikes, and over the last decade, is saying, what we’re going on strike for is to make sure that our students have access to our teachers, gym, teachers, nurses, school counselors, etc. And then it’s less about, we’re trying to get better pay, or the union wants to have more dues members in it, although those potentially could be outcomes. But the point is sort of the materials that they’re demanding, are for somebody else’s interests, not, not the teachers interests.

Tony Laden  22:22

I also think I mean, yes, it’s, you can divorce, what you’re doing from how you talk about it. And so one, like, when public relations is used as a kind of pejorative terms, like, oh, that’s just public relations, what we’re imagining is, well, you can do anything you want. And you could describe it any way you want. And the public relations, people are going to describe it some way. But that’s totally independent from what it is we’re actually doing. But that never works, right. I mean, and good public relations is articulating what’s actually going on. So they have to feed into each other’s like, we should only be doing something we could openly describe and transparently express. And their reason, I mean, there’s a, then the public relations is authentic. So it’s likely to be more, you know, taken up better. But it’s also the case like if, you know, if part of your bargaining strategy is in public, and your public relations department is saying, Well, what we really the only thing we really care about is more nurses in the schools. That’s the most important thing here. And what you actually care about is, you know, getting a 20% raise over the course of the next contract, or making it harder for the district to fire teachers. Then when the district comes back and says, okay, great, we’ll give you a nurse in every school, you’re stuck, right? Because you can’t say, oh, well, that’s terrific. But that’s not what we really want. Because you’ve just spent all this time telling the public that that’s what you really wanted, and you won. So you’re gonna have a really hard time getting any public support to keep the strike going to get the stuff you actually cared about if you didn’t mention those at the beginning. So you have to think about what you’re doing, in a way where what you’re after, is what you say you’re after, so that when you get it, you win, and then when you don’t get it, there’s a reason for you to keep going.

Eleni Schirmer  24:16

I think that’s absolutely right. I also think there’s an interesting, dynamic dynamic here, which is that when I hear a PR firm, when I hear the words ‘PR,’ I think of like a project that’s designed to advance some kind of niche, general probably private interests, advertising or branding or something like this. But PR can also be seen as a kind of public education of like, let’s really teach people what these issues are. And I think one of the issues here at stake is that really, you know, over the last 20 or 30 years, there’s not that is sort of that voice of defending and educating people on what that what labor is and what its value is come exclusively from unions, whereas other interests are sort of spread out more uniformly, if you open up the page of virtually any paper of record in this country or others, there will be a news, there’ll be a local, there’ll be a world, there’ll be a business section. That’s just sort of one of the categories of our world. There’s not a labor section where people are sort of learning about labor issues. I had this thought the other day, I was like, looking for something on I was like, looking for a new water bottle on the internet. And I typed in water bottle in Google. And I realized, like, gosh, I could look up, I could filter for this item by just general subject by news. And I could get all the recent news stories about water bottles. I could filter by shopping like I could there’s, I’m programmed when I go to Google to have like a filter for shopping. And I was thinking, wouldn’t it be fascinating if there was a labor buttons, and you couldn’t like search for an object and see all of the labor relations that had been embedded in the creation of that object or in that person, you know, you’d Google like Donald Trump, and you see, like, his nanny has dishwasher blah, blah, blah, I don’t know, there’s just all these fat facets of labor that we’re not that’s sort of been submerged in kind of public consciousness that other aspects of daily life are sort of, plucked out and amplified. And so it’s incumbent, it becomes educating around Labor is sort of becomes it’s, it’s sort of what unions and exclusively unions do, which makes it easier to see that task as kind of like a public PR branding sort of a privatized function when it potentially is, it’s sort of a much more profound structural commentary.

Tony Laden  26:43

Yeah, I think this goes back to the thought of strikes, public sector strikes as forms of direct action, right? If you think about great struggles for justice, that involve direct action, the direct action is thought of as a kind of educational move, right, it’s not just that we are going to make it harder for the technicians to get into the nuclear plant, or we’re going to sit at lunch counters, where we’re not allowed to sit or what have you, it’s that we’re going to call attention to the fact that we’re not allowed to sit at these lunch counters, we’re going to call attention to the fact that there is, you know, there are nuclear missiles in your backyard. And that’s to educate people so that people will then get up in arms about it and call them legislators or elect different legislators or what have you. And so if you think about strikes, again, as direct action, then they naturally have this kind of educational role. Teachers happen to be really good at education. So that’s a nice fit. You know, I’m just educating what, like, what is it that teachers do? Why do we need public education? Right, what is its value? And how do teachers contribute to that value? And articulating that, clearly, I think another thing that that labor does in any form, and certainly in teachers is, they’re witnesses to features of the how, you know, how the sausage is made. And so they can bear witness to certain kinds of injustice, right? I mean, we don’t like, you know, it was an interesting feature of the pandemic, when all these kids were all of a sudden, trying to do school at home. And all these parents, like got to see what their kids teachers did, you know, on a daily basis in, you know, weird in attenuated form. All right, there are all these stories about Oh, my God, I had no idea and like, that’s so hard, what they’re doing. You know, it’s amazing that my kids teacher can, you know, keep 25, seven year olds, on track over zoom. I can’t keep one of them on track over zoom. And so but then, you know, teachers can say, Look, you don’t know what it’s like in schools, you know, maybe you have some inkling, because your kid sometimes tells you something. But let us tell you what’s going on here and what the underfunding of schools really means for your children. And again, that’s a thing that given what I guess this also brings out, once you start to think of strikes this way, that is as the extension of political campaigns. And that’s an extension of a kind of democratic politics. You can then think about, like how the union what the union ought to be doing, even when it’s not at the bargaining table, and even when it’s not striking, right. So these are things unions ought to be doing all the time. Right. The steel workers ought to be telling us like what it’s like to be a steel worker, and teachers unions ought to be telling us what it’s like to be a teacher all the time, not just you know, when they have to go on strike.

Carrie Welsh  29:58

Something Tony has been thinking about lately is trust. For more on this, you can listen to another episode called Teaching, Indoctrination and Trust, which we did with Tony last year. But what does trust have to do with bargaining?

Tony Laden  30:15

One of the things that bargaining tends to do is a erode trust between the bargaining parties. Because, first of all, you’re like, each pulling in a different direction. And so the more you pull in one direction, the less you pay attention to what the other side’s doing. And if you’re bargaining over a contract, what you’re bargaining over his making as explicit as possible, what’s gonna happen when the other side behaves badly. Like, the idea is to write everything you can about the bad behavior of the other side into the contract, so that it doesn’t happen. And so you spend your time conjuring up all the ways in which the other side has, could behave badly, and then demanding that they agree not to do that. And so the result of that process is, you walk away, not trusting the other side. And anytime the other side says to you, oh, no, we don’t have to put that in the contract, you can trust us that we won’t do that. Right, you get eye rolls, that’s like, that’s just as dismissive. We’re marketing in a labor negotiation. Good democratic politics should do the opposite, right? Good. Democratic politics should enlarge and increase trust, right, that sense that we are all even though we disagree, working together to figure out how to live together, and bring about things that are valuable, like the education of our children, and the safety of our children to the well being of our children. And so, there is a problem, if you think, as a union, that what you’re doing is only bargaining. And then all your activities are geared towards bargaining, that you end up creating situations where they you break down the trust between the labor and the owners in a teacher’s union, that’s a big problem, because because you don’t have that owner workers drug structure, you have to do things in a much more collaborative way in a school. And so you don’t want to create a situation where the teachers don’t trust the administration, and the administration doesn’t trust the teachers. Because it’s really, really hard to run a school well, if you don’t have some level of trust amongst the teachers and with the administration and the staff, and so forth. And so there is, again, there’s a danger if your model of labor organizing in your model is striking, is all around bargaining and its extension, that you end up destroying one of the things that it’s most valuable to cultivate in any in any environment, but especially in a public environment, and especially in a school. But I think if you think if it, you know, if a teacher’s union is thinking of itself as this kind of democratic actor, and it’s, it’s an act, it’s public facing actions as educational, and deliberative and witnessing the state of the schools and their justice, then it can act in ways even when it goes on strike that are about cultivating trust. Right? You know, if you think again, about the red Fred movement, I think one of the things that worked there was, people came to trust the testimony of teachers about how bad the schools were, right, and how much they were being underfunded, and what the effects of that were, as opposed to trusting the legislators who are trying to cut the school budget again. And so the result of that, insofar as the adversaries in a teacher strike are the public and the teachers union, since the public is the one foot the bill. If you do a teacher strike as a political campaign, in this way, as a kind of Democratic campaign, then what you actually do is you can build trust between those two sides. And that’s also a strategically effective because if, if the public trust teachers to steward his resources, well, for a purpose that they support, they’re going to be much more willing to support, putting resources into that.

Eleni Schirmer  34:15

I’ve been interested in a few small techniques that teachers have used to, to sort of in recognition of that principle, that you just articulated, Tony, which is like some of them are open bargaining sessions, public, you know, getting as many people 100 people in the room during a public bargaining session. 100 teachers sitting on the table and 200 parents in the room or whatever, is like one of these things to recognize that it’s not this kind of niche, exercising a very important democratic function. In some ways. Students don’t have a bargaining table. Parents don’t have a bargaining table. Teachers have a bargaining table, but they can speak for they must speak for students and they can speak for parents if that potentially if they’ve sort of the chains of trust and connection have been made. This is kind of part of a bigger project and movement that’s taken off in around referendum called bargaining for the common good that and that’s one of the principles of sort of public big, open bargaining sessions.

Tony Laden  35:17

That it’s really interesting. And yeah, that seems like it also forces you as a as a union to hold the good faith, you’re claiming in your public relations, right? It’s to say, but the public relations isn’t just isn’t just merely public relations merely spin, it’s, it really is, you know, come, come watch what we do at the table, right. We’re speaking the language inside the room and outside the room, and it’s the same language and that builds up trust and constrains the union to be behaving in ways that are publicly defensible, so, ethical.

Eleni Schirmer  35:51

Absolutely. And this is a point that I think you made earlier to, which is like, sort of, you can imagine when a way, if you see a bargaining table with 100 people at it, that that wasn’t their first time gathering. That was sort of step 10, of a 12 step program that they had enacted, and there had been a bunch of conversations prior to getting people to the table to sort of have, you know, really democratic rank and file conversations around what is happening in schools. I mean, I guess the the simple point is, like, unions aren’t really a thing. You know, unions are a container. They’re not really anything on their own, per se, they’re incumbent on the sort of the energies and the wills of the people who join them. And so to talk about teachers unions is good or bad, or ethical or not ethical is not quite probably articulating it exactly, because it’s not really the teachers union anymore. And it’s like, it’s a container, it’s a Tupperware like, it’s what’s it’s, it’s about what’s inside.

Tony Laden  36:59

You mean a vessel? [laughs]

Eleni Schirmer  37:00

A vessel is sort of a more poetic way than Tupperware. When I go to a restaurant, I’ll ask if they can put my leftovers in a vessel please.

Tony Laden  37:14

So I have just a quick question about the open bargaining thing. Which is due when so unions invite basically, non members interested parties into the room to sit at the table to sit, you know, behind the table? Do they also caucus with him in the break?

Eleni Schirmer  37:31

I think so, yeah, I think so.

Tony Laden  37:33

Because that’s another sort of way of being democratic, it’s like, right, so in a union negotiation, what will often happen is the two sides will present opinions, and then they’ll, they’ll like, maybe argue about something and why something is important, and why some language won’t do. And then each side will like pull apart and say, Well, look, we’ll have to caucus with my side and figure out whether we’re willing to accept that or not. And then, so like, who’s in the room in the caucus can matter as much as who’s at the table in the bargaining. And so to but unions, I take it, are not generally in the habit of including non members in their caucuses, for sort of obvious reasons. But if you’re again, if you’re thinking of yourself as articulating a democratic principle, it makes total sense to have non members, but members of the public, in the caucus.

Eleni Schirmer  38:20

Totally. That can really shake up a lot of union structures. I think that there’s a lot of sort of ossified union leadership that’s not pleased with that, you know, their power comes from being the guy, you know, being one of three people at the bargaining table, and the intermediary between the caucus or whatever amount, and with you to do this kind of democratic, like radical union democracy experiment can really challenge some of the bureaucratic structures of unions.

Tony Laden  38:47

And I was thinking, at one point in this conversation, the conclusion of this whole discussion is, in addition to the fact that if a teachers union wants to be successful at strikes, it should be ethical. It turns out that if an industrial union wants to be successful at strike, it should do it ethically, as well. So, in some sense, this isn’t a you know, there is a way in which the the structural difference isn’t actually that great, because the steel workers are performing a public service. Right. And so they need the public on their side eventually.

Eleni Schirmer  39:19

Everybody be ethical! What’s your problem? [laughs] This is like this is perhaps like an unnecessarily level of nuance, but I think that that does the the differences, like further sort of blur, like the, you know, when you start to probe a little bit more deeply, and actually how schools are financed, because this has become sort of one of my new research areas that schools are increasingly financed through debt and private, you know, there is a lot of money from schools comes From less from taxes and more from debt, borrowing money from private firms, and that puts creditors and financial actors and as sort of the having a final say over a lot of public, you know, public school governance and decision making things in the same way. So in some ways, you know, to my knowledge, there hasn’t been a teacher strike that’s gone on strike against the banks that sort of have the final say, over the budget. But in my dream world, that will happen. And you know, that because that’s, you know, one of the mechanisms in the same with the same way that steel workers would strike against the capitalist clock, but you know, the creditors that are sort of extracting the last bit of value from from their labor, sort of just the, the actual, like, what is actually public money coming into schools and what is actually sort of private money, whatever that means, is, is not quite as I think it’s blurrier than I’m comfortable with.

Tony Laden  41:18

I was thinking that the moral of this podcast is that if you bring a philosopher into a conversation, we’ll end up with a position where Aristotle was right. To think that the good life is the good life, right? I mean, the good life is the moral life. So the way to be successful in life is to be ethical. All comes back to Aristotle. Patron Saint of teachers unions.

Carrie Welsh  41:50

Thanks for listening, and thanks to Tony and Eleni for such a great conversation.