Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Chris Howell

Committee Member(s)

Marc J. Blecher
M. David Forrest


Teachers unions, Social movement unionism, Organizing unions, UTLA, CTU, Chicago Teachers Union, Corporate education reform


This thesis examines teachers’ unions transformations from a service model to a social movement unionism model in response to corporate education reform and the efficacy of their resulting strategies and campaigns in combating corporate education reform, securing gains for membership, and building a broader class-focused politics. The thesis hopes to answer these questions: How does a reform caucus unseat incumbents, and once in that position of leadership, how does a union effectively rollout a reform project that changes members’ understanding of the union and their relationship within it? How does a teachers’ social movement union build coalitions and gain public support? What strategy does a SMU take to achieve its goals, does it work, and why? Can SMU effectively challenge bipartisan corporate education reform and develop support for a new class-based politics?

The paper is divided into four primary chapters based around two case studies on the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) with an introduction and conclusion. These two cases were chosen primarily as two different unions operating under similar circumstances, they are the third and second largest school districts in the continental U.S., they are both located in states considered Democratic, they have similarly underfunded schools and suffer from aggressive corporate education reform coming from the heads of the cities and schools. The unions are also two of the most successful examples of teachers union’s transforming into a SMU and each then using a comparable strategy to achieve their demands.

The first chapter provides a theoretical understanding of SMU and corporate education reform to be used to provide context and a framework for analyzing the case studies. The section will first explain the rise of SMU in the U.S and its main features, then explain the ideology behind the corporate education reform agenda and then the policies and impacts of the project.

The next two chapters are the two case studies and they follow the same chapter structure divided into three sections. The first section provides the context of the public schools system by examining budget crises and their causes and corporate education reform in the city. The second section tracks the reform caucus’s rise to union leadership and their internal mobilization. The third section explains the unions’ contract campaigns, strategies and actions towards the district under each leadership.

The fourth chapter is the analysis of the two case studies. Following a similar structure to the previous chapters, this section analyzes the similarities and differences in first the context of the unions, then the strategy of union reform and coalition building, then each unions’ external contract campaigns. This chapter will then draw out the significant lessons from the analysis of each section and evaluate SMU as a stronger model for teachers unions and as a potential way of bring about political change.