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A New Teacher Union Movement Is Rising

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A revitalized teacher union movement is bubbling up in the midst of relentless attacks on public schools and the teaching profession. Over the next several years this new movement may well be the most important force to defend and improve public schools, and in so doing, defend our communities and our democracy.

The most recent indication of this fresh upsurge was the union election in Los Angeles. Union Power, an activist caucus, won leadership of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the second-largest teacher local in the country. The Union Power slate, headed by president-elect Alex Caputo-Pearl, has an organizing vision for their union. They have worked with parents fighting school cuts and recognize the importance of teacher-community alliances.

In two other cities -Portland, OR, and St. Paul, MN - successful contract struggles also reflect a revitalized teacher union movement. In both cities the unions put forth a vision of "the schools our children deserve" patterned after a document by the Chicago Teachers Union. They worked closely with parents, students, and community members to win contract demands that were of concern to all groups. The joint educator-community mobilizations were key factors in forcing the local school districts to settle the contracts before a strike.

The St. Paul Federation of Teachers involved parents and community members in formulating their contract proposals, which emphasized lower class size, less time spent on test prep and testing, and increased early childhood services. Working with parents they staged a massive "walk-in" to schools when 2,500 people-educators, parents, community members and students-walked into school in unison in a show of solidarity.

The Portland Association of Teachers organized support from religious leaders, the NAACP, and the Portland Student Union. They conducted petition campaigns and generated public support. Ultimately the school board agreed to many of the PAT's proposals, including hiring 5% more teachers to reduce class size, and a substantive increase in planning time for elementary teachers.   


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