Teacher Unions and Social Justice

Organizing for the Schools and Communities Our Students Deserve

Edited by Michael Charney, Jesse Hagopian, and Bob Peterson

Available in:

Paperback: $29.95

Epub: $9.95

Discussion Guide:

PDF: Free

Publication Date: February 2021

ISBN: 9780942961096

Teacher Unions and Social Justice is an anthology of more than 60 articles documenting the history and the how-tos of social justice unionism. Together, they describe the growing movement to forge multiracial alliances with communities to defend and transform public education.

Stepping Stone Award Seal

Winner of a 2021 Skipping Stones Honor Awards

Interested in starting a Teacher Unions and Social Justice study group? Here’s how to get started: 

  1. Get together a group of education activists. We recommend groups with 5-15 participants. 
  2. Get copies of the book! Individuals participating in study groups can get a 25% discount at rethinkingschools.org with code TUSJSTUDY. For groups interested in bulk orders of 41 or more books, email marketing@rethinkingschools.org for special deals. 
  3. Download the Discussion Guide above. It’s free! The discussion guide includes questions and activities designed to help plan for a variety of learning formats. 
  4. Schedule your first meeting. Sessions between 40-90 minutes work well. 
  5. Sign up for the Teacher Unions and Social Justice newsletter to get updates from other groups.


“The fight for justice – the fight for educational justice – is achieved by community wins. As more unions join forces with their communities to engage in social justice unionism the community will win, and we need a playbook. Teacher Unions and Social Justice… is that playbook. It’s packed with ideas, strategies, and the voices of change from across the nation from people who are protesting, marching, striking, organizing, creating, and demanding the schools our students deserve.”  

Bettina Love, Professor of Teacher Education, University of Georgia, Co-founder of the Abolitionist Teaching Network

“An educators guide to finding our voice, taking collective action, and winning on behalf of the schools and communities our students deserve. 

Cecily Myart-Cruz, President of United Teachers Los Angeles

“Timely and relevant, Teacher Unions and Social Justice is part history lesson and part call to action. The editors have effectively woven together articles, interviews, documents, contract language examples, and resource recommendations that remind us of labor’s historical ties to social justice while challenging us to do more by putting social justice and anti-racism at the center of our classrooms, schools, and our teacher unions.”

Becky Pringle, President of the National Education Association 

The stories in Teacher Unions and Social Justice show that teacher union work is social justice work. What I have seen in these locals and many others is that teachers want what children need. This volume is necessary for the reflection, debate, visioning and organizing that will move our public schools to the central place they must occupy in a democracy.”  

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers

“The stories in this book highlight the paradigm shifts, challenges and victories that are vital for the next generation of grassroots organizers ––  educators, students and parents –– if we are ever going to dismantle the educational racism that exists.” 

Zakiyah Ansari, Parent Organizer and Advocacy Director for the New York State Alliance for Quality Education

Teachers Unions and Social Justice creates a clear roadmap for building and wielding the power working people need to restore our social contract, by using common-good bargaining to build solidarity that extends beyond our workplaces and into our communities.” 

Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA

“..this book is centered in strategy. It recommends building coalitions between unions and communities to demand investment in public schools. In the book’s vision, a union’s identity goes beyond its leaders…to promote and publicize the members’ collective action on cultural and community matters of concern.” – Foreword Clarion Reviews



Teacher Unions and Social Justice
Organizing for the Schools and Communities Our Students Deserve

Imagine if Your Union . . .


Why Teachers Should Know History
An interview with historian Howard Zinn

A Hard Lesson from History
Bob Peterson

Organizing in Defense of the Public Sector
An interview with labor union activist and writer Bill Fletcher Jr.

Visions of Justice: Unions and the Community in Historical Perspective
Dan Perlstein

An Agonizing Decision—Crossing the UFT Picket Line
Herb Kohl

Hundreds of Teachers Arrested in 1972 Strike
An interview with a former Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president
John Ryan

A People’s History of the Chicago Teachers Union
Jesse Hagopian

Why Teachers Should Organize
Margaret Haley

Chicago Teachers Union Takes to the Streets Again
Jackson Potter

The 1994 Call for Social Justice Teacher Unionism

The Wisconsin Uprising—2011
Eleni Schirmer

The 2018 Wave of Teacher Strikes: A Turning Point for Our Schools?
Stan Karp and Adam Sanchez

The West Virginia Educators Revolt
Eric Blanc


Social Justice Teacher Unionism
What does it mean to fight for the schools and communities
our students deserve?
Bob Peterson

Industrial, Professional, and Social Justice Unionism
The Editors

Bargaining for the Common Good—An Overview
Saqib Bhatti and Marilyn Sneiderman

Teacher-Community Unionism
How one teacher union brought parents and students into the bargaining
process—and won
Mary Cathryn Ricker

Improving Our Practice: A Cincinnati High School Forges Ahead as a Teacher-Led School
David Levine

Improving Our Practice: Peer Assistance and Review in Seattle
Drew Dillhunt

Improving Our Practice: Parent-Teacher Home Visits in St. Paul
Nick Faber

The Six Pillars of Community Schools
Public schools as greenhouses of democracy

Community Schools, Teacher Unions, and Black Lives Matter
An interview with Jennifer Johnson of the Chicago Teachers Union

Why Community Schools?
Kyle Serrette

Resources on Community Schools

“You Have to Stop. You Have to Create Space”
A union takes the lead in implementing restorative justice
Leigh Dingerson

Teacher Strikes Boost Fight for Racial Justice in Schools
Samantha Winslow


The Power and Challenges of Social Justice Caucuses
Michelle Strater Gunderson

Lessons in Social Justice Teacher Unionism
An interview with former Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis

The Seattle Educators’ Strike
Jesse Hagopian

You Need Rank and File to Win
How Arizona teachers built a movement
Noah Karvelis

New Teachers Energize Their Union!
Gabriel Tanglao

Social Justice Unionism Comes to Baltimore
Rachel M. Cohen

How One Elementary School Sparked a Citywide Movement to Make Black Students’ Lives Matter
Wayne Au and Jesse Hagopian

Organizing a Caucus in Philadelphia, Step by Step
Larissa Pahomov

“It’s Not Magic. It’s Organizing”
The powerful journey of North Carolina teachers
Eleni Schirmer


A Revitalized Teacher Union Movement
Reflections from the field
Bob Peterson

Three Theories of Change: Organizing, Mobilizing, and Advocacy
Eleni Schirmer

Lessons from the Los Angeles Strike
Arlene Inouye

Walk the Line
On the ground during the historic Los Angeles teachers’ strike
Lauren Quinn

Trusted and Respected: Seattle’s Site-Based Organizing
John Donaghy

Media Advice for Social Justice Union Leaders
Scott Stephens

Using Social Media as an Organizing Tool
Leigh Dingerson

Before the March, Before the Strike: The Art Build
Joe Brusky and Kim Cosier


Confronting the Education Debt
Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS)

The Dangerous Narrative That Lurks Under the ‘Achievement Gap’
And the counternarrative about Black student potential
Eric Higgins

The Many Faces of Privatization

Resources on School Privatization

Unite! Resist! And Win!
Organizing against public school takeovers in Milwaukee
Amy Mizialko

The Fight Against Standardized Testing
How a rank-and-file caucus ignited a national movement
Jesse Hagopian

Fighting the Tests in the Land of Enchantment
Lisa Guisbond and Monty Neill

Resources on Standardized Testing

Building Community-Labor Solidarity Against Privatization in Puerto Rico
Patrick St. John

Throwing Books at Bullets
Despite violence and intimidation, Colombia’s teachers have been a bulwark for workers’ rights
Bob Peterson

Education and Social Justice: A Global View
An interview with Angelo Gavrielatos

“We Won! Now We Keep Fighting”
Winning investment in the schools Massachusetts students deserve
Leigh Dingerson

Teacher Strike Threat Backs Off ExxonMobil
Barbara Madeloni


Teacher Unions and Anti-Racist, Social Justice Teaching
Bob Peterson

A Union Promotes African-Centered Teaching
Michael Charney

Key Principles of Equitable and Social Justice Classrooms
Reparations Can Be Won—And Must Be Taught:

Lessons from the Chicago Public Schools’ Reparations Won Curriculum
Jennifer Johnson

Teacher Unions for Climate Justice
Bill Bigelow

Books and Curricular Guides on the Labor Movement and Labor History


The Schools All Our Children Deserve: The Principles That Unite Us
The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS)

Building Racial Equity Teams
An excerpt from the 2019 Seattle Education Association contract with
certificated non-supervisory employees

Teacher Home Visit Project
An excerpt from the 2017 St. Paul Association of Educators contract

Restorative Practice
An excerpt from the 2018 Boston Teachers Union contract

Pilot Program—Exemption from Administrative Searches
An excerpt from the 2019 United Teachers Los Angeles contract

Structure Tests: A Visual Example
Jane McAlevey

Labor and Education Justice Organizations

Worth the Read
Books about teacher unions and social justice unionism

Meet the Editors


“Rethinking Schools just published an excellent new handbook, Teachers Unions and Social Justice: Organizing for the Schools and Communities our Students Deserve. I call it a handbook because it was written as a guide for teachers union social justice advocacy and organizing. But it is also a handbook for activists, writers, and bloggers strategizing to confront the recent collapse of public education funding, the alarming growth of school privatization at public expense, and the message, spread for too long, that holding schools accountable according to business principles is more important than educating children.” – Jan Resseger, Feb 10, 2021