Think About Baseball

Education relevant passage from Malcolm Gladwell’s must-read look at the evolving relationship between talent and capital in The New Yorker:

At one of the many meetings that [Marvin] Miller had with each baseball team when he first took over as union boss, a player stood up and hesitantly asked a question: “We know that you have been working for unions for most of your adult life, and we gather from what general managers and club presidents and owners and league presidents and the commissioners office are telling us that they don’t like you.   So what we wan to know is, can you get along with these people or is it going to be perpetual conflict?”

Miller tried to answer as truthfully as he could:  “I said, ‘I think I can get along with most people.  But you have to remember that labor relations in this country are adversarial.  The interest of the owners and your interests are diametrically opposed on many things, and you can’t hold up as a standard whether they like me.’ Then I said, “I’m going to go further.  If at any time during my tenure here you find there’s a pattern of owners and owners’ officials singing my praises, you’d better fire me.  I’m not kidding.'”

Two eduimplications here.  The first is obvious.  All this blather about how everyone’s interest converges on everything is ridiculous.  Sometimes, sure, but not always.  Here’s where a guy like Nathan Saunders, the head of the teachers union in D.C. is refreshing.  Not a lot of window dressing there and that clarifies things.  But the second implication is more subtle.  Sometimes local teachers union leaders do things that could create a pattern of having school administration singing their praises.  If you’re a reformer that’s great, right?  Well, not exactly.  That can create problems with their members and not-infrequently create political space for someone to challenge them for leadership and lead to their being voted out.  It’s happened all over the country.  So part of the labor-management dance these days is enough theater to keep everyone on board.  So on top of a complicated set of policy issues there is a complicated set of politics, too.

One Reply to “Think About Baseball”

  1. Yes, there’s always theater in politics, but I think you’re missing the forest for the forest fires. For a reasonably healthy way of looking at the conflict over the long term, see Bernard Mayer’s Staying with Conflict: A Strategic Approach to Ongoing Disputes.

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