Friday, June 02, 2006

Union? or Guild?

Union? or Guild?

You know, I'm pretty pro-union. Raised in a union family. Boycotted lettuce and grapes. Joined every union I was asked to join. I've been a member of the NEA and the AFT. But I was thinking today about the teaching-to-the test mentality, which I think makes it far easier to hire less-qualified K-12 faculty. And I was also thinking about the commodification of education, which most of the college faculty bloggers have mentioned at one time or another. I think the 'prove you deserve funding by raising test scores' syndrome is part of the commodification, if not as clearly. And then I thought, The NEA and the AFT are Labor Unions.

I am not labor, except in the strictest sense. I am a professional. I feel bound to do my best because I want the respect of my colleagues and because I have a very real and realistic worry that not doing my best will result in my not being promoted or even in my not keeping my position. Coincidentally (becaue we all know I'm all about the peer validation), I can't do a crap job because I feel guilty and it drives me into a downward spiral of self-loathing.

That's me and most of my colleagues at 4-year institutions, most of whom are not unionized. It's also a lot (but proportionately fewer) of my CC colleagues, all of whom are unionized/represented in collective bargaining agreements (not all in the whole country -- I'm talking about the ones I know). From what I can tell about K-12 faculty (and I tend to see this through the eyes of K-12 faculty friends, who are like-minded, so take it with a grain of salt), that attitude is rare after a faculty member is firmly entrenched -- with tenure based on seniority, etc.

So I'm asking -- how much has the transition of faculty from professionals to labor helped to create this system of commodification. If faculty are going to act like their jobs should have contracts similar to those of auto workers or longshoremen, is it any surprise that our fellow citizens should see us that way?

What if we scrapped the labor union model and instituted a guild model with all of the training, peer review, and accountability of the ideal guilds we teach about, as well as having the rights to collective bargaining and strike?

Just asking.


Bardiac said...

The law's anti-union for faculty where I am (though the legislature may change that), so I'm not part of a union.

A guild structure would imply that apprenticeships would involve real mentoring. I think that would be potentially GREAT for graduate students and junior faculty.

But, alas, experience has taught me not to trust anyone to police themselves. I think the sexism in my graduate department, the sexual harassment by people in power, and other BS were known among faculty members, but they didn't do anything about the problems (or perhaps think they were problems).

I have a feeling those "ideal" guilds didn't do such a good job of protecting the people involved, either. They did a great job trying to protect the flow of money.

You may be right, though, that unionization has contributed to the commodification of education. I don't think it's been amongst the most important forces, though, since so many other professional folks across the blogworld talk about feeling commodified without any union associations. I think the capitalist system is doing what it "needs" to do.

Ancarett said...

We have a union here and it really isn't about the commodification of the intellectual culture. I think it's just because unions are less reviled in Canada and we're able to see them as tools for the workplace relationship that don't have to unbalance to equation.

The guild system operates in a parallel but unofficial sense, however, in any case. I agree with Bardiac, however, that I'm reluctant to put too much power into the hands of faculty mentors -- at least without a clear system of accountability.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Oh, I agree with both of you on th eaccountability thing. THat's one of the reasons I really believe in regular post-tenure review.

Dean Dad said...

Hmm. The for-profit colleges have taken 'commodification' to the next level, and have done so while being virulently anti-union. I don't think there's a causal link between unionization and commodification, though I don't think one stops the other, either.

I shudder at the guild analogy, though. Most of the abuses of the current system are excused on the grounds of 'apprenticeship.' I'd rather be done with the apprenticeship model altogether, and move to the next thing. Guilds protect incumbents at the expense of anything new. We already have tenure for that.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Well, tenure shouldn't work that way. And mostly, I'm talking about K-12, where I don't really understand the tenure system anyway.

And note -- I said the ideal guild we talk about -- not the ones that often existed. I was lucky enough to attend a Grad U where we really were treated as apprentices -- or at least not labor that needed and deserved unionization.

I don't really have any answers, either. It's just something that I was thinking abvout. If our contracts treat us as "labor" rather than skilled professionals, does that make it easier for others to treat us as labor, and not as skilled professionals?

Emma Goldman said...

As a matter of fact, I wrote half of my dissertation about how and why teachers formed/joined labor unions, and, more specifically, about the debate about whether they were "workers" or "professionals." If you're really interested, I'd be happy to send along those chapters.