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Our union, our future: Tackling racism in our union

2/28/2020
By Monique Redeaux-Smith, Ph.D, IFT Union Professional Issues Director

As a labor union, the IFT is committed to fighting for economic justice, and that fight cannot be separated from the fight for racial justice. Since our nation’s beginning, racism has been used to exploit labor. And while racism has morphed and taken different forms over time, the essential playbook has not changed. Just as in colonial times, racism sows divisions between working-class people and helps maintain the power and greed of an elite few.

Racism is systemic, not just individual. It is a system of power and exploitation that advantages people perceived as white while disadvantaging people of color. We see those advantages and disadvantages in every segment of life and in all our institutions, including schools. We are exposed daily to both explicit and subtle messages of white superiority, which influence our thoughts, perceptions and decisions, even when we are unaware. Hence, we must commit to doing the difficult work of rooting out manifestations of racism in ourselves, our locals, and our organization. 

The future of the labor movement depends on our ability to build solid coalitions across diverse communities of working-class people. 

At the 2019 Convention, IFT leadership recommitted to the fight for racial justice by approving several resolutions that include building awareness around issues of racism and bigotry, supporting initiatives that center people of color (i.e., Black Lives Matter at School Week), advocating for a more diverse staff and leadership, and integrating the interests and concerns of underrepresented groups more fully into IFT’s organizational, political, and legislative agendas. 

Achieving these goals requires work at every level of our organization. One way the IFT is building awareness around issues of race is through professional development offered through the Union Professional Issues Department (UPID). In collaboration with the American Federation of Teachers, UPID has designed a course, The Union Response to Student’s Stress and Trauma, available through IFT’s Union Leadership Institute (ULI). This three-day training-of-trainers includes an in-depth discussion of historical trauma, the ways in which racial biases impact us and manifest themselves in our practice, and strategies we can use to combat these biases to create trauma-informed, restorative school spaces.

In addition to these educational opportunities for members, the IFT staff, officers, and executive board are also engaging in learning sessions around race, diversity, and inclusion. Continually assessing our internal governing and decision-making processes is vital to ensure that we are not replicating the same kinds of injustices we claim to be fighting in the world at large. To help with this internal analysis, a taskforce with representatives from the IFT officers and executive board, staff, and administration has been created to develop continuous education sessions, craft goals and outcomes for increased diversity and inclusivity within the IFT, and assess our progress as we move towards becoming an anti-racist organization.

We were all born into a racist society. Though it is not our fault, racism is all of our problem and dismantling it is all of our responsibility – both those who are victimized by systemic racism and especially those who have benefited from the purposeful exclusion and marginalization of people of color. 

We have seen how collective activism has worked to shift political agendas to advance the interests of working people. We have the capacity to break down the barriers that exclude, isolate and dehumanize – but it will take continuous effort, commitment, and struggle. Luckily, we are the labor movement and fighting back is what we do. We encourage you to join us in the movement for racial justice as we carve out a new path forward and fight for the future we all deserve. 


More information about the UPID course about the Union Response to Student Stress and Trauma is available here. The full 3-day course will be offered this July 15-17 in Peoria and July 21-23 in Westmont. An abbreviated version of the course is also available at ULI North and at regional ULIs in the central and southern parts of the state.
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