The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has long been active in promoting independent, democratic teacher trade unions around the world and its Middle East program has focussed on three countries — Iraq, Yemen and Palestine. The Palestine component is a model for how trade unions can engage effectively, promoting the growth of strong unions as well as the cause of peace.
“In Palestine,” reports the union’s International Update (Summer 2009), “decades of intermittent war and instability have left a disaffected generation loath to commit to formal institutions such as unions. Programs with the General Federation of Palestinian Teachers focus on improving the organizing and communication skills of local leaders and enhancing the ability of the union to provide services that will encourage teachers to join and pay dues.”
The union further notes that “all of the AFT training programs, whether for union leaders or classroom teachers, are non-hierarchical, interactive and presented as an excercise in mutual learning. They are intended to improve educational opportunities for children in Iraq, Palestine and Yemen; enhance the strength and influence of our partner unions; and offer a model of cooperative, democratic social interaction.”
Earlier this year, AFT President Randi Weingarten reiterated the union’s rejection of boycotts — especially the academic boycott of Israel. She wrote: “An academic boycott of Israel, or of any country, for that matter, would effectively suppress free speech without helping to resolve the conflict. An academic boycott is the complete antithesis of academic freedom; therefore, it should not be supported by any individual or institution that subscribes to this basic principle of higher education and, indeed, of democratic discourse.”