Education union community mourns outstanding advocate for quality education and international solidarity

published 7 September 2021 updated 28 October 2021

Education International is saddened to learn about the passing on 21 August of Margareta Axell (78), former International Secretary of Lärarförbundet, Sweden.

“It is with a very heavy heart that we have to share with Education International’s development cooperation family the news that our very dear colleague and friend, Margareta Axell, has died,” said Education International’s Senior Coordinator for Capacity Building and Solidarity, Nicolas Richards.

Crucial role in Education International’s Development Cooperation Network

“Margareta was a pillar in building up the Development Cooperation Network during the first years of Education International,” he added. “She was also a champion in the fight for trade union rights, democracy, and social justice all over the world.”

Margareta was a major player in developing the antiapartheid movement, the liberation struggles in Central America, and the rebuilding of societies in Southeast Asia. In addition, she helped set up the fundamental criteria for the implementation of development cooperation policies in Education International. “Margareta contributed to organising our development cooperation work in such a way that it was transparent, accountable to every member, sustainable, pro-active and responsive to real needs,” Richards recalled.

Committed to strengthening teachers’ trade union movement globally

For him, she was also a “major fighter and militant in profiling Education International”, through its member organisations, as the voice that legitimately represents teachers in almost every country. “She truly believed in cooperation, and she was committed to strengthening the teachers’ trade union movement all over the world. And she knew almost everybody.”

Wherever there was a teacher’s union that needed support, you would find Margareta, Richards added. She was “active, creative, and courageous”, and had “the knowledge, experience, and wisdom that was needed. And she did not keep it to herself, as she was generous and shared her knowledge with everyone within Education International”.

Distinguished Associate of Education International

Margareta retired from Lärarförbundet at the age of 66 in April 2009. She stayed in Stockholm for a few years, and kept travelling until she decided to move back to the Falköping region, in south-west Sweden, where she was born on 22 May 1943, to be closer to her family. Although retired, she was still active in building up social policies in Sweden.

“For many of us, it was impossible not to think, for many years, what would Margareta have had to say about this or that situation.” This influence and guidance led to Margareta being made a Distinguished Associate of Education International in July 2007, during the trade union federation’s 5th World Congress in Berlin, Germany.

This award is granted to representatives of affiliated organisations who have worked with Education International in the promotion and implementation of its policies, especially in the area of development cooperation. It is a mark of recognition of the contribution the Distinguished Associate has made to the development of Education International. It also acknowledges their role as tutors and organisers on programmes, where they became familiar to many members of Education International’s affiliated organisations.

Strongly engaged in trade unionism and politics at national level

As a student, Margareta trained in the fields of statistics, economics, and political sciences in Gothenburg, where she was also active in the social democratic students’ association.

She started as an organisational secretary in the Swedish union, Sveriges Lärarförbund (SL), in 1970, before being recruited by Svenska Facklärarförbundet (SFL) in 1983. Margareta worked on the merger of SL and SFL which eventually led to the creation of Lärarförbundet.

When Lärarförbundet set up an international unit in 2003, Margareta soon became a key person in this unit, working with colleagues on project in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The focus was clear: supporting the development of teachers' organisations around the globe.

She was also engaged in local politics. She was elected to the Stockholm Regional Council and became chairperson of the municipal branch of the social democratic party in Huddinge, outside Stockholm, and a vice-chairperson of the Huddinge municipal council.

She will be greatly missed

“We will miss Margareta a lot: her sparkling sense of humour, her toughness in defending teachers’ rights, her sometimes stubborn defence of what was right, and her generous way of being always there for those who needed her,” said Education International’s General Secretary David Edwards, paying tribute to a remarkable colleague.

Education International’s thoughts are with her family, friends, and colleagues. She will be greatly missed.