Education International
Education International

Unions’ bridge-building in Africa leads to stronger, more effective organisations

published 18 June 2010 updated 18 June 2010

The 6th Education International African Regional Conference meeting in Cairo, Egypt, on 26-31 January 2007 noted the trend towards unity by unions at the international level with the unification of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL) and the integration of the World Confederation of Teachers (WCT) into EI. This was a major step in achieving unity among teacher and education worker unions throughout the world.

The same conference also expressed concern over the attempts by some governments in Africa to weaken the trade union movement by deliberately creating rival unions. However, it was noted that the fragmentation of many unions was largely due to differences in ideology, dissent over undemocratic leadership, and poor service delivery. Whatever the reasons, the conclusion was that strong, large unions are more effective arbitrators with the employer.

The next EI African Regional Conference will be held December 2010 and it will be time to take stock of the efforts towards meeting the expectations of the conference. The flow of applications for affiliation received by EI point to a continuing trend towards fragmentation of the teacher union movement.

Nevertheless positive developments have been recorded in the African region where unions have taken steps towards working together on cross-cutting mutual issues as in the case of Benin, Senegal and Uganda, for example, in the EI EFAIDS programme. In these cases the unions have both retained their identities and formed effective frameworks for coordinating programmes.

Moreover some unions have moved beyond cooperation, and succeeded in mergers which result in better, stronger unions. The merging of different cultures and interests is a challenging one, but one that can be ultimately rewarding.

Credit in such cases goes not only to the merging organisation but also to the cooperating partners within the EI family, who as well as providing financial support are also generous in sharing their own experiences of merging and the challenges that they met and overcame in the process. Since the African Regional Conference in Cairo, the region realised the successful merger of LINEWU (Liberia National Association of Education Workers) and NTAL (National Teachers Association of Liberia) thanks to the initiation of the teachers of Liberia and the cooperating partners CTF (Canada), DLF (Denmark), Lärarförbundet (Sweden), UEN (Norway) and NEA (USA).

More recently, in March 2010, the three EI affiliates in Zambia, the Zambia National Teachers Union (ZNUT), the Basic Education Teachers Union (BETUZ) and the Secondary Teachers Union of Zambia (SESTUZ), met in Livingstone, Zambia and successfully agreed to merge. This was a follow-up in a process which started in November 2008 when the respective national Executives met and formed a technical committee to guide them on the amalgamation process. The meeting to discuss the merger was attended by the presidents and the General Secretaries of the three unions and it received the report of the technical committee. ZNUT president Henry Kapenda said the three unions were mindful of the desire of the majority of the members to have one united front and the top leadership of the three unions had shown commitment. ‘The nation must note that the current leaders of the three teachers’ unions have gone beyond personal differences to secure the members’ concerns’ he said. SESTUZ president Nyambe Sefulo said ‘teachers could perform better if all the three unions were united’. BETUZ president Victor Mwanza said his union was committed to ensuring that the problems which the teachers were facing were solved. He added that there was need to address issues that had led to the teachers’ union splitting.

Also attending were the EI African regional office and cooperating partners UEN and SADTU which shared their experience with mergers and pledged further support. SADTU Deputy General Secretary Nkhosana Dolopi said that ‘improved conditions of service and quality education must be the driving factor of the amalgamation’. The leaders of the three unions expressed determination to see the merger through.

Emanuel Fatoma, Senior Coordinator in the EI regional office in Africa recalls some successful mergers in the past that have led to some of the strongest teachers unions in Africa. The SADTU merger of 18 unions was a combination of the strong will to have unity among the numerous unions and the support from many cooperating partners especially the Scandinavian teachers unions. SADTU is now a 240,000 member strong organisation and is a powerful voice in South Africa on workers’ rights and education.

Another was the merger in Tanzania of CHAKIWATA and the teachers who belonged to the OTTU (Organisation of Tanzanians Trade Unions). This merger, according to Fatoma, was generated by the Tanzanian teachers themselves. The development cooperation partners (CTF-Canada, Lararforbundet-Sweden, and AOb-The Netherlands) who assisted the organisations separately channelled their assistance to one new organisation as a result. From 1993 when the merger took place, TTU now has a membership of over 170,000 and well developed union leadership structures all over the country. In Uganda, the Uganda Teachers’ Association (UTA) merged with the Uganda National Union of Teachers (UNUT) to form the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU). From a combined membership of less than 5,000 members, UNATU now has a membership of 80,000 members courtesy of the support from CTF, DLF, Lärarförbundet and others.

It may be a while before the amalgamation is realised in Zambia but when it happens, the new organisation will certainly be bigger and the Zambian teachers’ united voice will be better placed to defend teachers’ interests and promote the education sector.