Teachers’ unions have been called many things: corporatists, clientelists, rent exploiters, and vested interest groups; generally bent on capturing the educational agencies of the government of their country. This is expressed by Ben Ross Schneider, in an article that has just been published online, Teacher Unions, Political, Machines, and the Thorny Politics of Education Reform in Latin America (Politics and Society, DOI: 10.1177 / 00323292211002788).
To make his analysis of educational policy in Latin America, Schneider cites studies of teacher unionism from various parts of the world. He comments on the works of Merilee Grindle, Terry Moe and Suzanne Wilbor and many Latin Americans, who agree that it is a very common fact in the political life of all countries that teachers’ unions are well organized, active in political parties and, therefore, , play a central role in educational policy.
And there are vigorous teacher unions, such as the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Association of Teachers (AFT) in the United States, the Unitary Union of Workers in Education of Peru (SUTEP), but none as powerful as the National Union of Education Workers of Mexico.
Schneider debates with pluralistic authors who think that union leaders go to great lengths to please their membership. He argues that in unions that are political machines rather than interest groups, such as the SNTE, union members should be concerned with flattering their leaders. And of course, if your income and professional career depend on them.
Schneider’s study compares the actions of unions in Latin America, the power relations that exist between leaders and their rank and file, as well as between them and governments. All unions in the region gain prerogatives in hiring, job mobility, vertical promotions, and other organizational benefits (for example, automatic payment of union dues for government-employed teachers) that give union leaders autonomy and influence over the members. Therefore, leaders generate their own interests, which they defend vigorously.
These waivers shift power within union organizations from members to leaders in ways that make teacher unions even more valuable in politics. These leaders can contribute votes, campaign work, and rallies. This was well known by the hegemonic group in the regime of the Mexican Revolution, where the teachers were the “electoral plumbers” of the PRI (Jonguitud Barrios dixit).
Not only in Mexico, but in the rest of the continent and in other parts of the world, teachers’ unions are increasingly at the center of efforts to understand (academics) and plan (civil service) educational policy. But more here than anywhere else. Perhaps the SNTE is the most studied teachers’ union in international literature. Sure, there are more NEA and AFT studies, but they’re domestic.
Schneider supports each argument with evidence, stakeholder testimonies, and bibliography. Discuss why teachers are well organized, internal causes, a certain spirit of protest, but mostly because their leadership makes concrete gains.
All political relations between governments and teacher unions are thorny, but those in Mexico, with the addition of the National Coordinator of Education Workers, are more rugged. It seemed that the thread was going to break in the government of Peña Nieto. But the Fourth Transformation has arrived and things are flying fast to the previous lane.