The Right to an Education: This Won’t Hurt a Bit

Gawker recently obtained the audiotape of a captive audience meeting at a firm in Georgia where truckers are trying to organize a union. Anti-union employers often hold these mandatory meetings, where they subject employees to extended lectures on the evils and ills of unionization.

As captive audience meetings go, this one is relatively benign. The workers speak up, some voice tentative pro-union sympathy, there’s a back and forth, there’s little intimidation, not even of the more informal or implicit variety. That’s often not the case.

Even so, the tape has some creepy moments that reveal the paternalism of management’s opposition to unions and its treatment of workers more generally.

Early in the tape, a manager tells the workers:

We have the right to educate you and we’re going to exercise that right.

Set aside the assumption that management is a wise teacher; the worker, an ignorant student.

There’s a menacing quality to the statement, which is peculiar if you think about it. The right to an education is usually invoked by and on behalf of students, not teachers. It’s a claim to agency by the powerless, not an assertion of prerogative by the powerful. It references an active process—as much as they demand to be educated, so do students promise to educate themselves. Here, however, education denotes an entirely passive process, where the teacher crams information down the student’s throat.

Perhaps that’s why one worker slyly raises his hand to ask, “And those of us who choose not to be educated?” As if he’s talking about root canal or some experimental surgery.

Later on in the tape, another manager says of the captive audience meeting and the “facts” they’re giving the workers:

This truly is for your best interests.

Libertarians and conservatives like to claim that unions violate not only the freedom of the individual but also her dignity and autonomy. That’s because, the argument goes, the union (and its allies in government) presumes to know better than the individual worker what is or is not in her interests. It’s the nanny and the nanny state.

Yet as the tape reveals, it’s management who truly makes that claim. Sometimes explicitly, as is the case here, sometimes implicitly. What, after all, is the premise, if not the point, of the captive audience meeting other than that the worker is not in a position to know what’s good for her?

Captive audience meetings don’t dwell on how a union will hurt management, though there’s that, too. (At one point, a manager tells the workers, “You mentioned for me guys and I know a couple of you all say don’t take it personally. I can’t help take it personally…It does hurt, it does sting.”)

No, the purpose of the meeting is to explain to workers how a union will hurt them. Because they’re not educated, see?


  1. gigiistheone October 30, 2013 at 5:54 pm | #

    Reblogged this on Random Thinking and commented:
    Corey Robin always tickles my brain and encourages me to stay the course.

  2. joeff October 30, 2013 at 6:20 pm | #

    What’s particularly appalling is what an employer can say about a union that is completely legal.

  3. The Raven October 30, 2013 at 7:10 pm | #

    Is that like “Larning yew with a hickory stick?”

    (The word for this, of course, is indoctrination.)

  4. Chris Harlos October 30, 2013 at 10:23 pm | #

    Why is it so hard to comprehend that when workers organize, then, and only then, do they have a fighting chance against owners, managers, the police, the courts. The libertarian/conservative brief against unionism is inane and vicious.

    • Glenn October 31, 2013 at 12:15 am | #

      What is the US Chamber of Commerce but a corporate manager’s union?

      What is law without the threat of violence but merely a suggestion?

      This appears to be a case of state terrorism by the Unitary State of America against the citizens of the several American states, while the Unitary Executive stands idly by.

  5. charliebucket October 31, 2013 at 3:07 pm | #

    Corey writes: “Libertarians and conservatives like to claim that unions violate not only the freedom of the individual but also her dignity and autonomy. That’s because, the argument goes, the union (and its allies in government) presumes to know better than the individual worker what is or is not in her interests. It’s the nanny and the nanny state.”

    And they are so full of it, and it’s amazing that anyone buys that weak argument at all. The intention of course is to disempower and isolate the individual employee in order to render him helpless, almost like a bully picks on a 90-pound weakling, but would maybe think twice about taking on 30 of them en masse.

    There was a video that went viral a few years ago called ‘Battle at Kruger’ which depicted a small pride of lions attacking a massive group of cape buffalo in South Africa. Their method was most illuminating: Pick on the weakest. They isolated a small, weak buffalo calf from the main group and – after a little tug of war with a croc over the thing – were preparing to gorge upon it, while this mass group of buffalo stood by in the background, seemingly doing nothing but stirring nervously and helplessly, but slowly – collectively – moving in while their alpha male made some sorties. Eventually the buffalo masses were stirred to fight back and save their kin.

    That’s what unions are for.

    Video of ‘Battle at Kruger’:

  6. Blinkenlights der Gutenberg October 31, 2013 at 8:51 pm | #

    In my own fantasy of this incident I would stand up in front of the television and declare that if we had a union, we wouldn’t have to let them force us to watch this condescending bullshit.

  7. Glenn November 1, 2013 at 2:40 pm | #

    Growing number of part-time professors join unions

    Thousands of part-time college professors are joining labor unions, a growing trend in higher education that’s boosting the ranks of organized labor and giving voice to teachers who complain about low pay and a lack of job security at some of the nation’s top universities.

    Kip Lornell, an adjunct music professor at George Washington University in the District of Columbia, has been teaching students for 25 years and is the author of 13 books on American music. He earns less than $23,000 a year teaching three classes at GWU. By contrast, a full professor at the university earns an average salary of $156,000 a year, according to data compiled by the American Association of University Professors. – See more at:

  8. dcb November 2, 2013 at 7:40 am | #

    Here’s a nice explanation of the difference between educating and unionbusting
    from Erich Fromm’s prescient meisterwerk “Escape From Freedom”
    (first published in 1941):

    ” ….there is a fundamental difference between a kind of superiority-inferiority
    relation which can be called rational authority and one which may be
    described as inhibiting authority.
    An example will show what I have in mind. The relationship between teacher and
    student and that between slave-owner and slave are both based on the superiority
    of the one over the other. The interests of teacher and pupil lie in the same
    direction. The teacher is satisfied if he succeeds in furthering the pupil; if he
    has failed to do so, the failure is his and the pupil’s. The slaveowner, on the
    other hand, wants to exploit the slave as much as possible; the more he gets out
    of him, the more he is satisfied. At the same time, the slave seeks to defend as
    best he can his claims for a minimum of happiness. These interests are definitely
    antagonistic, as what is of advantage to the one is detrimental to the other. The
    superiority has a different function in both cases: in the first, it is the condition for
    the helping of the person subjected to the authority; in the second, it is the condition
    for his exploitation.
    The dynamics of authority in these two types are different too: the more the
    student learns, the less wide is the gap between him and the teacher. He becomes
    more and more like the teacher himself. In other words, the authority relationship
    tends to dissolve itself. But when the superiority serves as a basis for exploitation,
    the distance becomes intensified through its long duration.
    The psychological situation is different in each of these authority situations. In
    the first, elements of love, admiration, or gratitude are prevalent. The authority
    is at the same time an example with which one wants to identify one’s self
    partially or totally. In the second situation, resentment or hostility will arise
    against the exploiter, subordination to whom is against one’s own interests. But
    often, as in the case of a slave, this hatred would only lead to conflicts which
    would subject the slave to suffering without a chance of winning. Therefore, the
    tendency will usually be to repress the feeling of hatred and sometimes even to
    replace it by a feeling of blind admiration. This has two functions: (1) to remove
    the painful and dangerous feeling of hatred, and (2) to soften the feeling of
    humiliation. If the person who rules over me is so wonderful or perfect, then I
    should not be ashamed of obeying him. I cannot be his equal because he is so much
    stronger, wiser, better, and so on, than I am. As a result, in the inhibiting kind
    of authority, the element either of hatred or of irrational over-estimation and
    admiration of the authority will tend to increase. In the rational kind of
    authority, it will tend to decrease in direct proportion to the degree in which
    the person subjected to the authority becomes stronger and thereby more similar to
    the authority…………….. it is only in an ideal relationship between teacher and student
    that we find a complete lack of antagonism of interests.”

    (from pages 162-164 in the Holt paperback edition)

  9. Timothy Shortell November 5, 2013 at 11:02 am | #

    It seems to me that this is the same approach that Republicans are trying to use with voters. We know what is best and if you would only listen to us and accept our worldview, you’d see that too. Of course, they are combining that “teaching” approach with an active campaign to disenfranchise voters who (they believe) won’t come around.

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