In 2014, public-employee union leaders and community organizations gathered in Washington, D.C., and came up with a strategy to advance what they called “bargaining for the common good.” The new approach included using the collective bargaining process as a way to challenge the relationships between government and the private sector, working with community allies to create new, shared goals that help advance both worker and citizen power, and recognizing that militancy and collective action will likely be necessary if workers and citizens are to reduce inequality and strengthen democracy.
According to the left-wing American Prospect, a burst of activity followed the conference. In 2016, labor organizer Stephen Lerner said, “It’s been amazing to see how many unions, community groups, and people have adopted the ‘bargaining for common good’ frame and language.”
Writing in the Marxist People’s World Daily in May, Joseph McCartin explained that bargaining for the common good is necessary because “financialization, privatization, increasing inequality, and, most recently, judicial attacks on unions’ ability to collect fees from the workers they represent, which culminated in the Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision, have undermined traditional bargaining. Bargaining for the Common Good responds to these changes by recasting unions as defenders not only of their members but the community’s very well being.”
Teachers union leaders have been especially vocal in their support of bargaining for the common good. Chicago Teacher Union boss Jesse Sharkey, a leading member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization until its dissolution earlier this year, led an 11-day strike which just ended. The union’s laundry list of bargaining issues included the usual ones—higher teacher pay and better working conditions—along with more radical political demands such as “sanctuary school” protections for “undocumented” immigrants and affordable teacher housing. (The former made it into the final contract, but not the latter.)
In California, United Teachers of Los Angeles leader Alex Caputo-Pearl has been described by Socialistworker.org as a “veteran union militant and community organizer” who believes strongly in “social movement unionism,” which is just another name for bargaining for the common good.
Caputo-Pearl says that the movement is “explicit about fighting for racial and social justice. It’s explicit in fighting against privatization. It’s explicit in taking people on who need to be taken on, including a lot of Democrats.”
Caputo-Pearl in early November orchestrated a successful push to have UTLA endorse Bernie Sanders for president in 2020. In anointing the avowed socialist from Vermont, Caputo-Pearl cooed, “Sanders is the first viable major candidate in 25 years in the Democratic Party to stand up against privatization . . . and to stand up for a massive redistribution of wealth to schools and social services.”
After the union endorsed Sanders, Jacobin, a socialist magazine, interviewed UTLA Treasurer Arlene Inouye, who discussed the need for “a massive redistribution of funds to schools and social services.” UTLA leadership, she added, is “thrilled Bernie put himself forward to fight for all of us. His comprehensive agenda includes critical issues like stopping climate change, canceling student debt, passing Medicare for All, and stopping the criminalization of immigrants.”
Also in the Golden State, California Federation of Teachers President Jeff Freitas recently penned, “Union work is social justice work,” which encompasses bargaining for the common good. He stresses that his union “advocates for issues that reach far beyond the classroom,” including “racial justice, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and climate justice.”
As teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci explains, the public-sector unions got a jolt when the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruling ended the practice of extracting agency fees from nonmembers. So they began a strategy they thought would make them appear to be altruistic as a way to appeal to new members. The National Education Association began to offer training to its activists on bargaining for the common good, and “the spate of teacher walkouts in 2018 helped boost the notion that the unions’ actions were for public benefit.”
And the press, of course, bought into the new approach lock, crock, and barrel.
With the advent of bargaining for the common good, the union elites have set themselves up as the avatars of righteousness—selfless do-gooders who are taking a stand for the benefit of us all. All too often, in reality, they are nothing more than plain old socialists. Their goal is to radically redistribute wealth, destroy the private sector and expand the size of government to Soviet-era proportions. And the appropriately named #RedforED leaders are angling to be the Politburo.
It remains to be seen how many teachers and other public employees will accept the unions’ far-left politics and continue to pay dues money to these organizations that are hellbent on destroying the country as we have known it for almost 250 years. To date, the great majority of teachers and other public-sector workers have shown little interest in changing what has become the new normal.