Smearing teachers' unions

When I was a cub reporter in Hudson County, N.J. in the late 1970s, uncovering mob influence in local unions was one of my tasks. A fearsome character named Tino Fiumara was said to rule the docks in Hoboken, and the Provenzano family, suspected in the death of Jimmy Hoffa, controlled the New Jersey Teamsters from their office in Union City.As much as I labored to report on the power of the mob in local and state government, in unions and in industries such as toxic-waste disposal, it never would have occurred to me to extend my suspicions to the New Jersey teacher's union - as Peggy Noonan does in a Wall Street Journal column that is part of the ongoing enterprise of smearing teachers' unions. She likens the New Jersey teacher's union to Johnny Friendly, the corrupt labor boss in the movie On the Waterfront.Jim Fisher, author of On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York, responds to this on his blog The Irish Waterfront:

Can you imagine how much more hysterically her piece would have read had Ms. Noonan reported that the head of the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, had once engaged in a friendly sit-down with a capo of the Genovese family, the most fearsome gangster in New Jersey for decades?

He was referring to Chris Christie's visit to a Texas prison to speak with Tino Fiumara, a distant relative.More to the point, as Fisher notes, is that Noonan pays no notice to Catholic teachings about the right of workers to organize. Noonan wrote an admiring biography called John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father. She does not seem to remember that John Paul defended workers' freedom to join unions.It's true that teachers' unions should be held accountable, especially given their influence in government. But smearing them is not the way to do it. Johnny Friendly sold out his workers, depriving them of basic human rights and dignity. That's quite the opposite of what the teachers' unions have done.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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