Thursday, February 4, 2016

And what about a "progressive" teacher union movement?

What is the difference between a progressive, liberal and Marxist union? The answer, in part, might have something to do with the emphasis on members' stewardship of the union.

Thanks to Xian Franzinger Barrett and his colleagues at the Chicago Teachers Union for inspiring the Caucus of Working Educators (WE), a social justice caucus within the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT). WE is challenging the Collective Bargaining Team (CB) for leadership of the PFT. CB has run the PFT since the 1980s. Ballots go out this week and are due by Feb. 19, 2016.

In this informative 10-min video, Kelley Collings provides a summary of how WE came together, the importance of union member stewardship, and the emergence of hope for the schools and the city.

PFT's Kelley Collings, candidate for VP of Middle Schools

Sharif El-Mekki, a principal with Mastery Charter Schools, has worked in Philly since the 1990s, and shared a few comments on what I will call CB's "old school" v. WE's "new school" unionism:
I'm excited about WE's desire to align with social justice issues that impact communities. They appear to look at the profession as a natural alliance with others who are fighting oppression from various angles. Encouraging.
WE's "new school" unionism has already had an impact on the PFT, the city, and teacher leadership. Should WE win the upcoming election, I expect and hope that they will build on the best of the CB legacy and then continue to innovate.

Back to the question of the "progressive" union. The Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN; ca. 1995) has published a paper called "Three Frames of Progressive Unionism," which emphasizes:
  1. industrial frame
  2. professional frame, and 
  3. social justice frame 
Although the document has changed over the years (i.e. from 2005 to 2011, v. 5), and is arguably less "progressive," I've found that the three frames are helpful tools to understand the sociology of unions. Steve Owens has a lot of knowledge about TURN and may be able to provide more context.

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