Fruitful cooperation between education unions from the French-speaking world has brought tangible results with the production, printing and distribution of a trade union newsletter, a valuable communication tool ensuring that trade union action gets noticed and supporting the maintenance or increase of union organisation in education.
Since 2017, bilateral cooperation between the Chad Teachers’ Union (SET) and the National Secondary School Education Union (SNES-FSU) in France has contributed to the production and distribution of a quarterly union newsletter on paper. This makes SET one of the rare trade unions in French-speaking Africa to have its own regular union newsletter.
This type of communication is particularly important in a context where many African trade unions are being accused of all kinds of evils. In fact, having its own form of expression without depending on rather unreliable and often paid-for or otherwise compromised media intermediaries means the union can show its real activities, publicise its demands, give an account of negotiations and progress at its Congresses, etc. In schools, the trade union newsletter has become a valuable tool for starting discussions and led to teachers joining the union.
A controlled manufacturing and distribution process
“The editor organizes meetings of the editorial committee and establishes a timeline to ensure the quarterly frequency is maintained,” explains Bolmbari Ngolaou, who is in charge of communication for SET.
He continues: “The editorial committee suggests and chooses the articles. Priority is given to current problems in education. For example, the June issue being prepared is going to deal with the issues of the social peace and the end-of-year school examinations.”
Getting an issue of the trade union newspaper started is not without its problems. “Sometimes there are too many articles and we have to choose. It is also sometimes necessary to send several reminders to writers to chase all the articles. It is particularly difficult to get activists in the provinces to write articles, although it is important that what happens locally is known about throughout the country,” says Ngolaou.
Then, the editor reads the articles, corrects them if necessary, enters them and sends them to the translators. In fact, each edition is bilingual in French and Arabic (eight pages in each language). This stage often takes time.
SET pays for the services of a journalist for page layout but “with training, we could take care of that ourselves”, says Ngolaou.
Once the writing and layout has been completed, SET sends the issue to the printer, for a circulation of 2,000. The Chad trade union calls on transport agencies to take the bundles to the 20 provinces. The number of copies depends on the representation SET has in each of them.
Local activists are then in charge of distribution in schools and among managers. Nationally, copies are also deposited with the ministry and the president’s office.
“When the newspaper was launched 20 years ago, it was decided that it would be given away rather than sold,” stresses Ngolaou. “From what we can see, people like the newspaper even though the culture of reading is not widespread in Chad.”
An aid to unionisation
As for the link with unionisation, he acknowledges that “for the moment it is very difficult to establish the precise connection. “In fact, SET has been through a difficult time over the last few years, which have seen a serious drop in membership. The recent congress should help give us a new start. To improve the perception of the newspaper still further. A tour of the regions by union leaders would definitely be useful.”
Finally, Ngolaou notes that “the fact that we deal with current issues helps get people interested in the newspaper. It has also proved effective in some specific cases: denouncing embezzlement has led to dishonest people being dismissed from their posts.”
He stresses that “the editorial policy covers everything concerning schools and teachers. Columns like ‘Le carnet de l’enseignant’ and ‘L’abécédaire’ also offer tools for training teachers”.