Education trade unions building capacity for renewal beyond COVID-19

02 December 2021

The COVID 19 outbreak is a public health crisis quite different than anything Europe has faced for many years. As education personnel and their trade unions grapple with the outbreak, we are supporting and informing member organisations in any way we can.

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On 18 and 19 November 2021, ETUCE in cooperation with the European Trade Union institute (ETUI) held the training seminar titled “Together in the union, for quality education – trade union capacity building for renewal beyond COVID-19”. Building on the core outcomes of the “Your Turn!: Teachers for Trade Union Renewal” project, and moving forward on the implementation of the ETUCE Action Plan on Organising and Renewal, as well as on the priorities set in the ETUCE Work Programme 2021-2024, the training seminar gathered education trade union representatives from 10 countries across the European region to share knowledge and develop skills around the issue of trade union renewal. The representatives discussed various topics such as diversity within union structures (including young members), union members’ activism and leadership (including on such issues as environmental sustainability), teachers’ challenges in their profession, and unions engagement with the community.

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Two experts shared their experience and knowledge with the participants. Christian Chevalier, former General Secretary of UNSA-Education (France) and an expert on renewal, and Howard Stevenson, professor at the University of Nottingham (UK) and the author of the Your Turn! research report. Christian Chevalier presented UNSA’s successful strategies towards trade union renewal. He highlighted the importance of recruitment, systematic training, proximity with teachers, improved communication, and adaptability to the COVID-19 pandemic limitations. Howard Stevenson explained how education trade unions can better organise with community and build alliances, presenting some of the findings of the research report.

Following a presentation on concrete communication strategies (as outlined in the Your Turn! handbook for critical reflection) that trade unions can implement to better engage with under-represented individuals and foster activism, working groups discussed the importance of involving migrants, LGBTI people, teachers with short-term contracts, and staff accompanying students with disabilities into union work. Advisory panels and committees, specific trainings, or short news on social media and the union’s website were proposed as possible channels for better engagement with vulnerable groups in order to stimulate the union renewal.

Smaller working groups provided participants with the space to discuss trade unions’ needs in organising and recruitment of new members, as well as possible alliances that can be made at all levels (international, national, regional and local) to maximise their bargaining power. Participants mentioned students’ unions, scientists and research institutions, civil society, families, trade unions from other sectors, and media among possible allies.

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Training participants also had the opportunity to present and learn from examples of actions that can be integrated in the trade union agenda to tackle sustainability and climate emergency. It is indeed crucial for education trade unions to address societal challenges in order to stay politically relevant and continue engaging and attracting members. Three sets of union actions were highlighted: first, demanding that curricula at all levels of education address climate change and environmental issues; second, developing more union activities on these topics; and third, making work settings more environmentally friendly.

Susan Flocken, ETUCE’s European Director, closed the seminar with a discussion on the future of trade union renewal actions. She reminded participants of ETUCE’s commitment to help their member organisations moving forward and amplifying their bargaining power despite current uncertainties and changes.