New ways for education unions to shape learning and working conditions, develop and enact policy, and enhance professional knowledge and professional learning were outlined at the 12th Education International Research Network.
“Changing unions in challenging times: international case studies in union renewal” was the theme of the presentation by Howard Stevenson from the University of Nottinghamat the Education International’s Research Network held in Brussels, Belgium, on 12 May. Recognising the scale of challenges confronting teachers, he said that recruiting, retaining, engaging and mobilising people is a crucial issue for education unions.
The challenge, he noted, is to move members towards an activist base, understanding the difference between activist, engaged, connected and disconnected union members.
Among the different strategies unions are adopting, he mentioned labour-management partnerships, political action, reform of union structures, coalition-building, and international solidarity.
For a “new democratic professionalism”, he outlined three key ideas: shaping learning and working conditions, developing and enacting policy, and enhancing professional knowledge and professional learning.
Stevenson also focused on three case studies, one each from Scotland (Educational Institute of Scotland), Kenya (Kenya National Union Teachers), and New Zealand (New Zealand Educational Institute-NZEI and Post Primary Teachers Association).
The NZEI, he stressed, made a conscious choice to build a different organisation to shape policy and collective bargaining.
In terms of union renewal, he explained that the way unions organise started to change, from centralised to decentralised collective bargaining.
The main aim of teacher union reforms, according to Stevenson, is to improve ways in which teachers are able to influence, make judgement, shape the way in which they work, and decide upon what is the professional knowledge that makes their profession a profession.
Vibrancy brings loyalty
“Collective bargaining requires collective organisation,” he insisted. He added that “when there is a vibrant union culture at the workplace, the loyalty towards the trade union is high”. Therefore, “you need trade union capacity at local level”.
He concluded by highlighting that new trade union activism is shifting from structures to networks, and must take into account an increased role for social media.