In the first part of this article, Jackson Potter explains contributions of teacher union leaders in Los Angeles, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Canada, organized in the Trinational Coalition In Defense of Public Education in 1993. They assisted in the development of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), its subsequent victory in the elections of the Chicago Teachers Union, and its inspirational strike in 2012. Jackson describes the subsequent history here. 

At the 11th Trinational, it was obvious that teachers across the Americas were experiencing increasingly similar conditions and threats. One of the clearest examples was the prevalence of high stakes tests in teacher evaluation and the ranking and sorting of schools and students. Many speakers talked about the need to target the corporation Pearson, for its ubiquitous role in all of our countries in the sale and creation of learning products and tests that narrow curriculum and provide new profit schemes for their education businesses.

There was  also a growing concern among Trinational participants about state repression against youth of color. This takes the form of an education system that disrespects indigenous values in Canada and Mexico, the continued impunity for the killers of the students, who were studying to become teachers in  Ayontizapa, Mexico, or the vicious attack on students of color in the U.S. through the continued investment in the carceral system and school to prison pipeline.

Increasingly, there is a common experience for disadvantaged youth that transcends our borders.
Solidarity actions have continued where the BCTF, OSSTF (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation), UTLA, CTU and CNTE will regularly make declarations of support to one another and send letters and delegations to our respective embassies on behalf of our brothers and sisters abroad. The latest efforts have focused on supporting the CNTE in their 2013 protests in Mexico City. The Trinational has also worked in solidarity with the CNTE to hold the Mexican state accountable for the murder of 43 students from the teaching college of Ayontizapa and halt the continued repression of teacher union leaders in the province of Oaxaca.

Perhaps the most dangerous threat to U.S. public education, and simultaneously the most promising form of solidarity, has emerged in Puerto Rico.  The island’s government has amassed a massive debt to banks and hedge funds that are using the crisis to demand unprecedented cuts to schools and public services. Chicago similarly is besieged with debt payments from exotic financial instruments called toxic interest rate swaps and capital appreciation bonds, where Bank of America and others swindled the school district and city out of hundreds of millions of dollars. There is a growing possibility for teacher unions across the continent to band together and force banks and corporations to pay back money they have stolen and demand progressive taxation policies to restore funding and equity for our schools.”

Already the admittedly  limited praxis of North American teacher unions has inspired the CTU and others in the U.S. to expose the harms imposed by decades of failed neoliberal education policies. A relatively new coalition, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, (AROS) a collaboration between the NEA, AFT and community organizations, has recently formed across dozens of cities across the U.S.  AROS, like the Trinational, is dedicated to defending public education against austerity and privatization while offering the alternative of sustainable community schools to fortify public education. 

Partly as a result of our coalition work, the public has become much more skeptical about the merits of charter expansion, schools closings and high stakes testing than they were two decades ago when the Trinational first convened. We are developing and promoting a vision for a “publicly funded public education” that extends beyond k-12 education, beyond public sector unions and connects with Black Lives Matter, anti-deportation organizations and community forces to harness the growing demand for racial and economic equality across the hemisphere.