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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 2, October 2006

International solidarity in Surrey

by Jacqui Birchall and Julia MacRae

Surrey is a large local with more than 4,000 members, and the capacity to fundraise, make donations, find interested members, and host international visitors is perhaps easier than in other locals. However, Surrey’s international solidarity work is done by only a few people so even in a much smaller local, effective work can be done. The work is inspiring, not only for the people involved, but also for the general membership, for a few reasons:

  • Getting to know the problems of teachers in other areas of the world puts some of our grievances and struggles into perspective. 
  • We can see commonality in our struggles and those of teachers across the world.  
  • Strategies used by "far away folks" can be used locally.  
  • Globalization and the threats to public education are more deeply understood. 
  • Pride in union work is increased. Teachers know their union is doing vital work on a global scale and participating in solidarity.  
  • Solidarity actions by our partners in the south can help us practically or symbolically in our struggles here, e.g., Costa Rican, Honduran, and Mexican teachers picketed Canadian embassies during our recent strike.

History

Surrey has often made donations for disaster relief or for union support in the third world. Various teachers have traveled with Project Overseas through the CTF and brought back a little of the far away to their classrooms.

We went through a process of forming an official International Solidarity Committee. The committee works through Co-Development Canada to support an on-going project in Honduras, on non-sexist pedagogy, and advises the STA executive on emergent international solidarity issues.

We also keep members informed of the work we are doing, create workshops to be delievered at our convention, and host international union visitors.

Getting started

We formed a standing committee of the association. This includes an eight-member committee, a committee budget ($1,600, the same budget as all the committees) for the year’s activities, and a budget of $5,000 to be distributed to International Solidarity projects.

We advise the STA executive of the suggested distribution of these funds, based on our committee mandate.

Rules for disbursing of funds

  1. Projects are specifically teacher union to teacher union.  
  2. Money is not used for Canadian committee members travel expenses, should there be any travel associated with the committee.  
  3. 3. If the money is not used in a year, it goes back to the local. 
  4. 4. Not all the money should be used on committed project funding, some should be saved for natural disaster relief or emergent issues, such as a third-world union that is attacked or threatened.

The committee meets about seven times a year. We try to pick a focus for our work in Canada in any given year. In 2004–05 our focus was on Colombia. We organized a speaker (Colombian political refugee) to speak at our AGM, we distributed information pamphlets to all our members, and we hosted a workshop on the teacher union activism at our convention. This past year our focus was preparing for the World Peace Forum. We invited and funded Maria Trejos from the Costa Rica Teachers’ Union as a speaker for the World Education Peace Forum. Maria spoke on non-sexist pedagogy. We funded this project with the help of an Ed May grant through the BCTF. Maria visited elementary schools in Surrey on June 19 in the company of Rosario Avila, past president of the Honduran teachers’ union, and the president of the Namibian Teachers’ Union, Ndepewa Nghipandulwa. Avila was president of the union when the right-wing government attacked the teachers’ union members. Members of the BCTF flew to Honduras to successfully protect Rosario and her executive members from the government forces during those difficult times. Members of our committee traveled to Honduras last summer to visit union representatives and Honduran schools. Teacher union representatives praised the BCTF members for their help during the difficult times with the government, and told us that their office building was only possible because of that aid. This is the same executive that visited the Canadian Embassy in Tegucigalpa to protest the BC government’s treatment of striking teachers last fall.

Last summer military forces attacked the Guatemalan Teachers’ Union offices and their office equipment was destroyed. We immediately forwarded $500 to help replace lost equipment. We were not the only donors in Canada and the Guatemalan government quickly learned that international support for the teachers is so strong that destroyed offices are quickly replaced.

At our most recent meeting we hosted the head of the Colombian University Teachers’ Union, Carlos Gonzalez. As we have said before, life is very difficult for Colombian union leaders, especially teachers. The Colombian government supplies Gonzalez with a bullet-proof vest, a bullet-proof car, and bodyguards. Even within the grounds of the university where he teaches, it is possible that students are working for the paramilitary organizations that target union activists.

We hosted a table at the STA convention and had a raffle to raise money for Red Sepa Women’s Network. We have an on-going commitment to the union in Honduras, to help fund for three years ($3,500/year) their non-sexist pedagogy project. This money is sent through CoDev, which is able to match our funds with CIDA money and combine it with other donors, and monitor the project.

We attend CoDevelopment Canada’s annual dinner in June. It is a great opportunity to catch up with other activists in the field of Latin America solidarity. Visit www.codev.org for more info.

Jacqui Birchall and Julia MacRae teach at Fraser Heights Secondary School, Surrey, and are members of Surrey International Solidarity Committee.


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