Activists launched a new left group within the NEU at the union’s annual conference.
More than 140 people met to discuss creating fighting unions at the NEU Left meeting on Sunday evening, before the business of conference had even begun.
Jen Johnson from the Chicago Teachers’ Union described how teachers had built a rank and file group there. She said it was driven by frustration at the failure of the union to take action to defend teachers’ jobs and stop school closures.
Jen said ordinary teachers began to organise by holding small meetings in living rooms and in schools, beginning with just 10-15 teachers. But it went on to “take over the union”.
Mass strikes in Chicago in 2012 succeeded in pushing back a number of planned attacks on schools.
Jen said the rank and file group is “absolutely grounded in the left”. “But we have a big tent and it creates tension,” she added.
“So we have to talk about how to pull people left.”
Jen argued that teachers have to fight to build movements that are “radical and audacious”.
Paul McGarr, an NEU rep in east London, said teachers in Britain and the US face similar issues. He said one key issue is attacks on school funding.
“That damages working class children in a way that’s almost unbearable to watch,” he said. Paul said the campaign over school funding had been good but said teachers need to thrash out how to turn campaigning into “real victories”.
And he said the new NEU Left group had to “look forwards and focus on what unites us”.
Teacher Mehreen said the meeting was “inspiring”. “It’s great to hear about what teachers have done in the US,” she told Socialist Worker.
“They haven’t just taken action for themselves, but they have done it for the students. The left is a broad church and we have to have a group that’s inclusive, rather than lots of little groups.”
Teacher Nalini said the formation of the NEU Left was “long overdue”. “We face lots of issues, such as black children being excluded and unconscious bias in classrooms,” she told Socialist Worker.
“I hope the new NEU Left can help teachers, especially new teachers, to understand these problems and do something about them.”