Courtney's mother talking to him about the strike and calling him a scab.

Teaching Civics with Episode 5 of The Mayor: The Strike

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The Mayor is a new sitcom on ABC. It tells the story of an undiscovered rapper who runs for mayor as a publicity stunt. He doesn’t just end up promoting his music career – he ends up being elected Mayor.

As it turns out, the show is a great choice for discussing civics with your students. It’s worth watching some episodes in class or assigning it for homework. The show really found its stride in the second episode, which is full of useful lessons for a social studies class.

Today, we’ll take a look at the fifth episode of the show – “The Strike” – and highlight some ideas for your students to explore.

Plot Summary of The Mayor, Episode Five: The Strike

First, let’s quickly review the plot of this episode. You may be able to stream it on ABC or Hulu, and you can purchase the episode for download at Amazon.

This week, the Mayor faces a new crisis – negotiating a new contract with the city’s bus drivers.

Mayor Courtney Rose starts off the episode by talking about how he wants to make everyone in the city happy. Then, he sits down at the negotiating table with the bus driver’s union. He realizes that everything they’re asking for would require a compromise or cut somewhere else – and he doesn’t know what to do.

So, he does nothing. The contract expires, and the bus drivers go on strike.

Instead of sitting down, making some hard decisions, and settling the contract, Courtney avoids the real problem. He comes up with an ad campaign encouraging city residents to pick up people they see on the side of the road and give them a ride.

This seems to be working well until he picks up a group of men and ends up driving them to city hall to join the picket line. Then, he goes home and his mother calls him a scab. And at that point, Courtney realizes he’s gone wrong somewhere.

He finally finds his way back to the negotiating table, comes to a compromise with the union. He holds a press conference to announce a fare increase and a series of cutbacks on city services. A lot of people are mad at The Mayor, but the crisis is averted and life in the city goes on.

Civics and Government Themes In This Episode

The central idea of this episode is the labor negotiations and strike. Although Courtney doesn’t seem to appreciate the value of the union or the importance of the union’s demands, his mom is the voice of reason. Ultimately, the episode does a decent job of exploring the complicated nature of labor relations and the role of unions.

Why Everyone Needs a Seat at the Table

There’s an interesting scene in the episode where the Mayor’s staff assembles a focus group. They are looking for some agreement about city services that can be cut without upsetting anyone.

Instead, they find that different people like different things – and they don’t agree on much. The young mother likes the parks, because her children need somewhere to play. The old man likes meals on wheels. Another man needs the library to access the Internet.

Perhaps we know this already. But it’s Courtney’s comment about the composition of the focus group that’s really significant. It’s a cross-section of the city – young, old, men, women, black, white, poor, and “not so poor.”

And this is why it’s so important that everyone has a seat at the table. When government is looking to cut things, they’ll take the path of least resistance and cut things that no one is advocating for. Conversely, when there are resources to be distributed, they’ll go to the loudest group.

This is one reason why diversity in government and political participation is so important. This could be a good opportunity to talk with your students about their own local government. Who’s in power? Who’s represented in the various political parties and organizations in town? Is anyone not represented?

Workers and Unions Are the People

Courtney is not unlike some other millenials that I know. He doesn’t hate unions, but he doesn’t really seem to understand them either. His unwillingness to settle the contract and his focus on alleviating the problems caused by the strike suggest that he doesn’t value the union members as part of the community.

That’s why I loved the scene where he picks up the three men downtown, drives them to city hall, and belatedly realizes that they are bus drivers on their way to picket. At the same time, he sees his mother, a postal worker, on the picket line in solidarity with the bus drivers. And in case he was still unclear, she calls him out later for being a scab.

This is an interesting piece of labor education, and it’s especially important because our generation (I’m a millenial myself) didn’t grow up in the labor movement. Our students today are even further removed from the height of the labor. This could be a useful conversation starter to connect what they’ve learned about unions in the history class to the present day.

It could also be a good excuse to talk about parents and other family members who are union members.

Government Requires Compromise and Hard Decisions

The final lesson of tonight’s episode is that government requires hard decisions. You can’t make everyone happy. You also can’t get everything you want, and Courtney is not wrong when he points out to his mother that it’s easier to criticize than it is to compromise.

This echoes in a lot of ways what happened in Episode Two: The Filibuster, where the Mayor and his staff were poring over the budget looking for things to cut in order to save the music program.

At some point, if you are in a position of power you have to do something that is unpopular. You may have to raise taxes or bus fares. You may have to cut programs. But it’s paradoxical to think that you can get everything you want without paying for any of it.

This pairs well with a piece of advice from Machiavelli’s the Prince. If you’re going to inflict pain on your citizens and do something unpopular… just rip off the band-aid and do it sooner rather than later.

What Do You Think Of This Episode?

What did you think about this episode? Do you have other issues that you would discuss with your students?

And check out these thoughts on other episodes from Season 1 of The Mayor, and how they can be used to teach civics and government.

Remember, you can stream the show on ABC or Hulu, and you can purchase episodes for download at Amazon.

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