Barriers of Individualism

Barriers of Individualism

Consider the teachers’ strikes which have become a familiar part of the opening of the school year around the United States every September. Negotiations stall. The union sets a strike date. The school superintendent places a notice in the local press for substitutes. There is never any lack of applicants. School remains at least formally open while the teachers picket outside. And then there is a settlement and they go back to work.

To relate this scenario to an Australian audience, as I had occasion to do several times during a recent semester at Sydney University, is invariably to evoke titters of laughter or a shocked silence, followed by a flood of questions. How was it possible for a public official to try to break a strike? (Australians generally knew about the PATCO strike of 1981, but discounted it as an aberration of a generally unfathomable Reagan administration.) What kind of people were Americans that they would scab on one another? And, anyway, where was the labor movement? Why was there no sympathy strike to keep the schools properly shut down? This incredulous reaction exposed to me in an especially forceful way what any observant American visitor to Australia quickly discovers—the immensely different place accorded the labor movement in the two societies.

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima