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Statement by Dennis Van Roekel for Education International

I believe we have reached a seminal moment in the history of the international teachers’ union movement. From this point forward our common future will not only be defined by how well we respond to the political, social and economic forces enacting upon us, but also how effectively we articulate our own plan for action. Only then can we move beyond an externally imposed narrative and into an era where we take authorship of our future.

As President of NEA I have sought to build greater coordination within the labor movement. Our hard earned human and trade union rights are under attack, and in many parts of the world our existence as unions and unionists is in grave jeopardy. We are the largest of the Global Union Federations and we must lead in the global labor movement by demanding and defending equality for all workers everywhere. We can never remain silent or idle.

Whether that means bringing pressure on the international financial institutions that artificially depress wages or on foreign governments that jail or target unionists, silence and inaction are the way of extinction. Likewise, when governments in industrializing countries join with donors in industrialized countries to pass the buck on their responsibility for obtaining Education for All - we must be there to hold them accountable.

I believe we are on the cusp of major changes in public education.  We have to take ownership of our profession and enact those changes for the betterment of students, parents and community members, instead of being the convenient scapegoat. I am constantly struck by the similarity in approaches I see across the world that the GERM – the Global Education Reform Movement – has brought to our shores.

Much of the GERM is spread by free market zealots who see commodities where we see a public good, and profits where we see rights.  We need to elevate the knowledge and expertise of educators on an international scale and propose alternatives. Educational development is not a horse race with countries jockeying for pole position on international rankings. That’s why NEA developed the idea for an International Summit on the Teaching Profession and why we must continue to use that space effectively. We as teachers’ unions must be at the table as independent and strong equals capable of putting forth our own proposals and our best ideas.

I believe that Education International has passed through important phases over these last six World Congresses. We have coalesced around our principles and consolidated our efforts. Yet this is still only the beginning of our potential.  In these next years, as we deal further with the fallout of the global financial crisis, our resolve will be further tested as understandable tendencies for insularity and inward looking will pull us domestically while many of the sources of greatest challenges and opportunities will expand globally.

When we in the United States made an urgent action appeal as anti-union governors led a charge to strip workers of the right to organize and bargain collectively, the EI family responded overwhelmingly. It gave me pause as I considered that teacher unionists who are fighting for basic human and trade union rights in many countries would stop and send notes of solidarity to our members and condemnations to those governors. 

The more we recognize the interconnectivity of our lives, our struggles and our victories, whether in our schools and union halls, or negotiating tables and town squares, the greater will be our potential to collectively enact the kind of transformative global change that we seek.

By believing in and acting through Education International, we have perhaps the greatest opportunity to turn back the rising tide of inequality, environmental degradation and alienation that any multigenerational, multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural labor movement ever had.