The CNTE includes all workers in schools, from teachers and administrative personnel to cleaning and cafeteria workers. It exists within the SNTE. Its power comes from support from students and community leaders. The CNTE influences contracts, but doesn’t bargain directly for the most part. Only two sections of the CNTE, in Oaxaca and Chiapas, have official recognition. CNTE also has a strong presence in Michoacan, Guerrero, and Veracruz. But smaller sections exist all over the country.
You cofounded the Trinational Coalition in Defense of Public Education. When did that form and why?
We formed in the 1990s to protest the inclusion of education within NAFTA, a trade agreement — as if education were a product for sale! The Trinational Coalition brings together union and social organizations, including rank-and-file teachers, academics, and students, as well as parents and social organizations. We’re working to define the future of public education in North America as humanist, anti-authoritarian, and emancipatory. We develop common agendas and strategies to challenge our own governments and also support each other. Mexican teachers, for example, demonstrated in front of the US embassy when teachers in Chicago went out on strike.
What can we learn from the Trinational Coalition’s success in getting people in one country to identify with people in other countries and act in concert with each other?
First, solidarity is not charity! Solidarity needs to be based on mutuality. In the Trinational Coalition, we have a place for discussion, friendship, and planning campaigns. We’ve organized ourselves horizontally, with equal say for US, Mexican, and Canadian voices. We look for ways to lend strength to struggles in any of the three countries. In 2005, for instance, the union in British Columbia went on an illegal strike. The government threatened to shut down the union’s internet. Mexican members of the Trinational created a website the British Columbian union could use if necessary.
We see two interconnected premises for achieving real international solidarity. First, continuity. The commitment must be long-term and anchored in practice, not just words. The second, trust. And trust comes from sharing practice. Worker delegations across borders, I believe, can help create the personal connections that advance that sharing.
In critical moments of great uncertainty, such as those we’re experiencing in the world today, we need to ensure that public education strengthens the community — the collective — and promotes societies that inspire our children and young people to create a world that benefits us all.