The National Education Association has always been an outlier in the world of organized labor. A member of neither the AFL-CIO nor Change to Win, the union experienced consistent and substantial growth during the same decades industrial union membership was disintegrating.
The last couple of years have provided the first opportunity to observe NEA’s actions during a period of declining membership. It appears the teachers’ union is following the AFL-CIO model for remaining relevant despite dwindling numbers – accelerated political action.
One of the constant internal battles in the labor movement has been over organizing vs. political action. Do you devote resources to growing membership in order to increase political clout, or do you increase political contributions in order to establish a friendly organizing environment? Although there have been fits and starts in both directions, overall the latter choice prevailed.