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The political participation of public school teachers in new democracies has generated heated debates. In some countries, teacher strikes shutter schools for months each year; in others, teachers' unions have become powerful political machines and have even formed new political parties. To explain these contrasts, Mobilizing Teachers delves into changes in education politics and the labor movement. Christopher Chambers-Ju argues that union organizations fundamentally shape teacher mobilization, with far-reaching implications for politics and policy. With detailed case studies of Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico, this book is the first comparative analysis of teacher politics in Latin America. Drawing on extensive field research and multiple sources of data, it enriches theoretical perspectives in political science and sociology on the interplay between protests, electoral mobilization, and party alliances. This title is part of the Flip it Open Programme and may also be available Open Access. Check our website Cambridge Core for details.
Do labor unions still motivate their members to participate in politics, or have social and economic changes undermined their political importance? This question is important to revisit, as globalization and economic reform have weakened many popular sector organizations in Latin America, reducing some to mere patronage machines. This article examines the case of the teachers’ union in Bogotá, Colombia to assess whether and how labor unions are able to promote the political activation of their members. Employing a multimethod research design that begins with a quantitative analysis of a survey of Colombian teachers, this study finds that union affiliation is associated with higher levels of motivation to vote. It then uses evidence from interviews to show how union advocacy and internal elections for leadership positions shape political behavior, contributing to civic engagement. This research engages with broader debates about democratic quality and political representation in contemporary Latin America.
In Mexico there have been severe challenges to the modernization of the public school system and the implementation of much-needed reform. The backwardness of Mexico's education sector has persisted into the twenty-first century. Public education has exhibited a jarring lack of transparency as monitoring and evaluation systems have, at least until recently, been extremely weak. The sector has displayed major teacher payroll irregularities, chronic teacher absenteeism, and patronage-based practices in teacher hiring and management. In 2014, The Economist reported that 13 percent of the teacher payroll – or 298,000 teachers – did not show up for work. In the state of Nayarit, a local boss of the teachers’ union and his family members simultaneously held positions as salaried classroom teachers, school principals, and district supervisors – and enjoyed a sizable income stream – without performing any of the duties that these positions entailed (del Valle 2014c).
These types of practices have contributed to the low quality of public schools. National and international standardized tests show that Mexican public school students have not learned basic skills in reading, math, and science. Mexico had the lowest average score of all OECD countries in those subjects on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). While socio-economic status heavily influenced these results (OECD 2013), the politicization of schools has surely also impacted achievement.
The political clout of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) helps to account for the backwardness of public education and the inability of governments to enact significant changes in policy. Since the union was founded in 1943, SNTE has incrementally expanded its patrimonial power over the public school system. According to Max Weber, patrimonial power is a traditional form of domination in which a leader, who is not constrained by legal-rational rules, uses his or her official power to serve personal ends (Weber 1968). Embodying the concept of patrimonialism, union leaders exerted influence over the appointment of high-level officials in the education bureaucracy, placed union loyalists in significant administrative positions in schools, and influenced teacher hiring and promotion up the salary scale. Only in 2013, after the implementation of landmark education laws that reasserted the state's authority over the education sector, were there signs that the union's political power may have reached its limits.