Trade union organisation, the teaching profession, and the teacher/student relationship sparked fruitful discussions during a study visit attended by teacher union representatives of the Gambia, Indonesia, Malawi, the Philippines, and South Africa. The visit was organised by the Swedish education union, Lärarförbundet, in Sweden, on the occasion of World Teachers’ Day.
From 2-7 October 2019, the nine guests, invited international cooperation partners, met and exchanged ideas and experiences with Lärarförbundet leaders at the union headquarters in Stockholm. The attendees also visited schools, educators, local Lärarförbundet branches, local government and student teacher associations in different Swedish regions.
“One of our key objectives in inviting our partners was to facilitate an exchange of information between the partner organisations and our own colleagues and leadership on issues of common interest, such as recruitment, service to members, gender and youth issues,” said Lärarförbundet’s International Secretary Robert Gustafson.
The Swedish education unionists also organised meetings to inform the general public in Sweden about the situation for different teachers’ trade unions (through seminars and interviews with media).
“We had a very rich exchange of information and experiences both between visiting partners and our own union,” said Gustafson. “And our guests were touched by the interest and empathy for their challenging situations, not least the attacks and persecution on unions and unionists in the Philippines.”
The visiting unionists enjoyed the interactive approach to meetings with group discussions, where many participants had the opportunity to engage and find solutions rather than having one main speaker deliver a message. Several invited international education unionists mentioned that they would implement this approach in their unions.
The unionists recognised:
• The need to keep and organise data, even for large unions, to manage membership better.
• Union work is much more than bread and butter and personal benefits: it is also about empowering students and women and quality education, for example.
• The close involvement by the union in government discussions and committees in Sweden.
• The need to find ways to engage students, e.g. by establishing or (re-)organising a student association/young teachers’ platform.
• The challenge of establishing a well-structured membership service.
• The need to establish a network for continued cooperation. There is a constant challenge of communicating, reaching out through text messages, chat groups, etc.
Focusing on the Filipino country case, participants on the study visit agreed to advocate for a law to be enacted in the Philippines for students to be allowed to join unions. They also commended achievements made during the past year in the Philippines under difficult circumstances.
The study visit also included four thematic workshops – on gender equality and non-discrimination, union renewal, services to membership, and recruitment and retention of members – and a seminar on decent work.
The recording of this seminar can be found here.