(Re)Forming Unions for Social Justice

A Critical Autoethnographic Inquiry into Racism, Democracy, and Teacher Leadership



teacher political activism, teachers unions, social justice unionism, teacher leadership, neoliberal education reform


Within the contemporary anti-union environment fueled by neoliberalism, teachers are organizing and educating each other in order to push back against the corporate reform agenda and envision a public education that supports all students. Using a critical autoethnography methodology, the author narrates her participation in social justice unionism through a series of episodes and then performs the analytical practice of co-reading with critical social theories. This article illuminates intersections of democracy and racism with neoliberal education reform and practices of teacher leadership. It concludes with implications for social justice caucuses and social justice unionism.

Author Biography

Leah Z. Owens, Department of Urban Education, Rutgers-Newark

Leah Z. Owens, Ph.D., is a teacher-scholar-activist. Her K-12 teaching experience is in high school English. Teaching in Newark Public Schools shaped her political consciousness in a way that centers antiracism and justice. Dr. Owens is a former elected member of the Newark Board of Education and a co-founding member of Newark Education Workers (NEW) Caucus. Her research interests include critical democracy, teacher education, and teachers unions.






Contemporary Educator Movements: Transforming Unions, Schools, and Society