Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Power in a union

1) The big difference compared to England is that each teachers' union branch negotiates locally for their 'contract'. This does lead to different pay scales and bargaining can be tough. In San Francisco the union was on the brink of calling a strike (the Board of Education had voted 4-3 to bring in strike breakers) but at the eleventh hour a settlement was reached.

2) Although there are two competing unions the AFT and the NEA, San Francisco is unique because all teachers are in the United Educators of San Francisco, but they send delegates to both conferences.

3) The union works hard to build support, they organise Union Building Committees in schools and they meet every month with the Principal (Headteacher). They hold days where teachers wear the union T-shirt, regular newsletters keep the membership informed and they use phone banks to communicate with them.

4) Over 30% of children in San Francisco attend private schools. It is the wealthiest city in the world, average income $37,000 per annum and house prices average $600,000, but the wealth divide is huge there are thousands of homeless people.

5) George Bush's 'No Child Left Behind Act' has introduced children and teachers to the joys of high stakes testing. All the same problems we are familiar with in England - teaching to test, narrowing the curriculum, de-skilling teachers, stressing pupils, league tables to 'name and shame', the media identifying 'failure'. When will they ever learn?

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