The continuation of the program led by Education International in Senegal and Ivory Coast has the aim of spreading unionisation,getting young activists involved in union activity, and strengthening trade union unity.
Since 2015, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation has made it possible for Education International (EI) to organise training workshops for young union activists from several French-speaking African countries.
The young activists who took part in the workshops held between 2015 and 2017 described the difficulties they had faced in trying to raise awareness of the youth issue in their organisations and to implement the action plans that they had put forward. Some managed to overcome these obstacles and achieved some very interesting and concrete results, such as the creation of the position of National Secretary for Youth. The General Secretaries of the Trades Unions, for their part, recognised the benefit to be gained from this training.
"I noticed that, as a result of the workshops, young people were taking a much more constructive approach", said Siaka Traoré, General Secretary of SYNESCI, Ivory Coast. "When I went on a tour of the regions, I noticed that, when the young activists were speaking to their colleagues, they got their message across more effectively", said Paul Gnelou, General Secretary of SNEPPCI, Ivory Coast.
Engaging young activists
The first workshop of the 2018-2020 program ("Young Teachers for Quality Education and Effective Unions - Capacity Building for Leadership and Unity and the Rejuvenation of Education Unions") was held from June 19 to 21 in Dakar, Senegal, and was attended by two young people (one man, one woman) from each of the six EI affiliates in Senegal and Ivory Coast.
Over a three-day period, the participants, working in groups, set out the attributes of a union activist, identified all the implications and value of the payment of union dues, mapped out the paths towards unity, analysed the differences between public and private education, and covered related issues from trade union rights to the quality of education. There were three days of detailed discussion and intense debate, which brought to fore other issues, such as the link between trade unionism and politics, the strategic need for trade unions not to limit themselves to salary and career issues alone but to address issues of working conditions, along with other professional issues and training conditions for young people.
Recruiting young members is a vital issue for the unions
Why is it important for the unions to recruit young people? The young participants gave lots of reasons. "Many young people are really keen to do this job", said Abdoul Khadry Ghassama, of SELS, Senegal. "It's important to have more young people, as they bring in fresh ideas", said Joelle Zobo, of SYNAFETP, Ivory Coast. Young people also have more time. "They are happy to do volunteer work", observed Abiba Diarrassouba, of CNEC, Ivory Coast. As a result, they can really contribute to the spread of unionisation. "They have fewer constraints to prevent them travelling to the most remote areas of the country", added Aissatou Seck, of SELS, Senegal.
How can more young people be recruited?
Seydou Kasse, of UDEN, Senegal, also recommends, "starting with awareness campaigns in training centres, letting young people know that they have the right to join trades unions". At all stages, from their very first placement, the union should be involved: "When a teacher is assigned to a district, the Secretary General of the union branch should welcome them, offer them support for their classes, and so on. They shouldn’t necessarily talk to them about union matters directly, but help them if they have problems finding accommodation, for example", said Julien Yoman, of SYNAFETP, Ivory Coast. Trade union training is fundamental: "Through training and promoting awareness, we can convince young people that they can help to ensure that progress is maintained," said Mame Yacine Niang, of SYPROS, Senegal.
The use of social networks, in which young teachers have a very high presence, can be an interesting approach. "For example, you can create a discussion group to promote an idea. And then suggest topics that are of interest to young people. If we create a framework of dialogue, youth will realise that they are being listened to and they will come to campaign in the union", added Julien Yoman.
Union leadership also has a responsible role to play because, "if the union wants to be sustainable, increase its power, and be dynamic, it is good idea for the union to have a genuine recruitment policy. Leaders must realise that trade union action cannot be sustained without the involvement of young people", said Jules Goué, of SYNESCI, Ivory Coast.
Some interesting possibilities
The General Secretaries of Senegal's affiliated unions believe that young people can play an important role in the gradual progress towards unity. They have proposed the creation of a youth group within EI’s organisational structure in Senegal, the Union Syndicale pour une Education de Qualité (Trade Union for Quality Education - USEQ). This group could, in line with the unions’ priorities, initiate and lead specific activities for young teachers.
In addition, it was pointed out that they need to make time for the young people to meet, between the two annual workshops. And, more generally, the affiliates will need to find ways of scaling up operations by drawing on the core of young people who participated in the training. The Africa Regional Conference, to be held in November 2018, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, will be the next step in the overall process of strengthening the unions through generational renewal.