For liberals, inconvenient truths about Democrats and unions



What makes Nikhil Goyal’s analysis of the dangers in Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education so useful, beyond its incisive discussion of education reform, is that it captures the essence of the conundrum liberals face about fighting Trump on his Achilles heel: the grip the wealthy and powerful have on government which he will tighten.

Liberals can’t go after Trump without exposing their complicity with kinder, gentler versions of the policies Trump wants.  To attack Trump head-on, liberals must go after the ruling clique of the Democratic Party and its pro-business politics. Goyal’s article captures this perfectly by noting how DeVos, ultra-right privateer, will reach across the aisle to Democrat Cory Booker for renewed collaboration on the core education policy they have both advanced:privatization of public education in myriad ways, especially charter schools.

The other reason Goyal’s article is so valuable is his pinpointing the need to transform teachers unions to harness their full power in the fight against DeVos’ plans to destroy public education as a social good. (Disclosure: My book is cited.) Progressives, liberals and radicals have long been wary of criticizing labor, fearful that pointing out unions’ weaknesses will give aid and comfort to their enemies. However, Trump’s successful appeal to union members, clearly exposed during the campaign for the Democratic nomination, has shown the vast gulf between labor’s ranks and its “leaders,” who selected and pushed a candidate for whom many union members would not vote. Though Trump didn’t win a majority of votes of union households, CNN exit polls gave him 48%. And this omits registered union members who didn't vote rather than choosing between two candidates they abhored.

Bernie Sanders argues for taking over the Democratic Party, winning to it Trump’s working class base. But Nancy Pelosi’s lopsided victory as House Minority Leader and Ryan’s quick move to make her election unanimous shows that wresting control of the party is, at best, a very long-term struggle. As Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema noted, the House Democratic Caucus “decided to double down on its failed strategy of recent years…This should be a time of critical reflection and clear-eyed change, not a time to rubber stamp the failed strategy of the past.” The AFT's amazing defense of Clinton and the strategy of pushing her endorsement indicate that the AFT will fight hard to align labor to ideas and individuals who engineered the Democrats' stunning defeat. It seems clear Trump’s victory and the horrifying ascension of toxic bigotry have not shaken the Democrats or labor to change course.

My question to Sanders Democrats and the few unions that endorsed his program is whether the struggle to gain control of these institutions is right without a plan to exit, with a base, if the internal struggle subsumes energy we need for organizing external resistance. If you do have a plan, can you share it with the millions of people in this country who are fearful but want to fight and are looking for leadership but don't think it can come from labor or the Democrats?

Lois Weiner, a professor of education at New Jersey City University, is a member of the New Politics editorial board. You can follow her on TwitterFacebook, and read her blog here on New Politics.



About Author
Lois Weiner
LOIS WEINER is a Professor at New Jersey City University and a member of the New Politics editorial board.
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2 comments on “For liberals, inconvenient truths about Democrats and unions
  1. Abra says:

    Radicals & New Unions

    ” Progressives, liberals and radicals, have long been wary of criticizing labor, fearful that pointing out unions’ weaknesses will give aid and comfort to their enemies.”

    I would like to respond by saying that we absolutely MUST be able to step back and look at ourselves, our unions critically if we are going to be successful and stop Trump’s agenda.

    First, I am a full time Montessori Primary Teacher for the past 16 years and a full time student at Goddard College Education Department. I am also a single mother to two boys (19 & 11). I do NOT have a union. It is my personal mission to establish the first Montessori Teachers Union (NAMTU, North American Montessori Teachers Union) for several reasons:
    1) Montessori teachers have NEVER HAD A VOICE, NO RIGHTS, NO BARGAINING POWER, NOTHING but our altruism that has been USED by the owners and administrators to this very day since Nancy McCormick Raumbusch decided to break away from AMI and found AMS.

    2) AMS & AMI joined forces in 2012 and aligned the curriculum in both math and language to the Common Core, which we all know was pushed and funded by the Gates Foundation. This was the beginning of these two organizations laying the foundation to be in the running for the Race To The Top federal funds that the Obama administration implemented.

    3)In fact, AMI & AMS are already forming lobbying organizations to work with legislators to begin obtaining the billions of federally allocated tax dollars There are also local organizations already forming to organize the business owners and administrators of Montessori schools such as my state of Maryland On it’s About page, it specifically states “To support the administration of Montessori schools in the State of Maryland.” There is not ONE MENTION of the teachers voices.

    4)Montessori’s vision was to educate ALL children not just the elite. The effortless transition into charter school structure DOES NOT SERVE CHILDREN IN POVERTY. I have discovered many inequities while writing a critical essay on Who do charter schools server or benefit?

    5) The Facebook group Montessori For Social Justice is neither Montessori nor Social Justice. It is a front started by Teach for America grads. In an article written by Leah Fable (…) she reveals Sara Cotner (who is a leader at Magnolia and the the co-founder of the Montessori for All school network) “Cotner and her colleagues are also a part of a larger, expanding network called Montessori for Social Justice. It was founded in 2013 with the goal of pushing Montessori’s nationally to focus on all kids, instead of the default focus on mostly wealthier, mostly white students attending private schools. The network’s very active Facebook group has grown to 1200 members, up from 50 at it’s inception.” They are not doing this to “help” poor children. They want to access our tax dollars in exactly the same manner other charter schools do but they are USING Montessori philosophy do it and that is what angers me the most. Montessori left Italy because of Mussolini’s fascist agenda. I had an argument with a school owner on this board and she emphatically stated that Montessori was funded by elitists and she admitted freely that she would gladly accept money from the Walton Foundation if it “helped the children” It is exactly these kinds of people and this kind of disinformation that we are up against.

    6) Recently, the long tentacles of charter school has reached my own school when an administrative assistant who is in charge of raising funds for our annual giving campaign thought it was a good thing to do and take the “low hanging fruit” of the Gates Foundation offer to match donations to our campaign without asking or any oversight. My own school is now on the radar to the Gates Foundation and a short few steps from becoming a charter school.

    Needless to say Lois, I am beyond livid. I am motivated by a passion to not only have A voice but fight for the teachers that are about to have their voices taken away. I want to fight for the authenticity of Montessori philosophy and prove that it cannot coexist within a charter school framework. We also don’t need another disaster to happen in order for neoliberal and neoconservative legislators and business people to completely eradicate public education. Upon reflection, perhaps that is exactly what has occurred with the election of Trump and his subsequent nomination of Betsy DeVos.

    Any wisdom or guidance you may have to offer me, I am all ears and ready to fight. I appreciate your work so much.

    In solidarity,


  2. Lois Weiner says:

    charterization of Montessori schools

    This is powerful information I hadn’t known about in regard to the “charterization” of Montessori schools. I think it would be good to write it up as a piece for the NP blog. We’ll post it and elicit ideas about where you might get help forming that union. You can contact me at my work address: