UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Intercambio : social justice union internationalism in the B.C. Teacher’s Federation Kuehn, Larry Morris


The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation has a long history of internationalism reaching back to the 1920s, soon after it was formed as an organization. The strategies and approaches to international work have evolved over the decades, reflecting changes in social conditions and the dominant ideas in the organization about the nature of unionism. The strategy that has framed the work over the past quarter century is characterized as intercambio. This is taken from the Spanish word meaning exchange or interchange. Intercambio is aimed in both its intentions and activities to reflect solidarity, mutuality and reciprocity in relationships between the BCTF and the unions in with which the BCTF works. Although elements of interchange have characterized BCTF internationalism from the beginning, the forms and depth of exchange by the end of the 20th Century were much more developed. These changes took place not so much by following a theory as by learning from the practice of international work. Not all international experiences moved in the direction of intercambio. Ideological competition during the Cold War overwhelmed reciprocity and brought what has been called "union imperialism" as a common feature to the broader international labour scene and international teacher union organizations. This competition affected international teacher union relations, including the international teacher organization to which the BCTF was affiliated through the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. With the exception of this Cold War interlude, the evolution toward an intercambio strategy for the BCTF took place in three phases. The first was a post-World War I anti-war internationalism that brought the idea of peaceful relations among countries and peoples to both organizations and classrooms. The second began in the 1960s with the youthful idealism of that period being expressed through what might be called development solidarity with then recently post-colonial societies. The personal experiences and rewards of making a contribution deepened the commitments of teachers to internationalism. The third phase has been one of developing a strategy of intercambio. This has involved building structural relationships between unions on both a bi-lateral basis and in coalitions of unions. The meaning of intercambio as a strategy is explicated further through the description of specific programs and activities. The feminist and gender equity commitments in B.C. carried over to the support of women’s programs with Latin American unions. Commitments to anti-racism and equity both at home and internationally are reflected in union training projects in South Africa, Namibia and Cuba. Intercambio in the context of globalization and trade agreements is explored through looking at transnational coalitions in the Americas, the Tri-national Coalition in Defense of Public Education [i.e. Tri-national Coalition in Defence of Public Education] and the IDEA Network. Finally, some personal experiences are described to give insight into my own participation in shaping and being shaped by the BCTF’s intercambio internationalism.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.