European unions’ solidarity brings progress on social and policy dialogue, gender equity and union renewal

published 27 February 2023 updated 14 March 2023

Development cooperation (DC) partners of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) – Education International’s European Region – met for a DC Café online and discussed activities related to social and policy dialogue, gender equity and union renewal.

ETUCE DC work priorities

European Director Susan Flocken gave an overview of ETUCE’s development, cooperation and solidarity work in the current context of multiple crises in the region.

“The pandemic had a very harsh impact on education, regarding inclusion, equality issues, and ensuring healthy and safe working environments for teachers,” she said.

She also noted the fact that Europe is confronted with double-digit inflation, stressing that “prices are very high for food, for energy, for housing, and this has had a big impact on teachers.”

She went on to deplore that, “at the same time, we are witnessing severe budget cuts in public education, as increasingly public expenses are being made for military and other uses.”

Mentioning solidarity issues, she talked about the impact of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria: “Our solidarity goes out to those who have lost family, who have been hit by the earthquake, to teachers and to our member organisations that are supporting their members and the people.”

Stressing the severe teacher shortage across Europe, Flocken recalled that the ETUCE is launching a campaign on the attractiveness of the teaching profession, based on 10 key action points adopted at the 2022 ETUCE conference held in Liege, Belgium. “These principles are the roadmap for our campaign, but also for our work for the two upcoming years in promoting the attractiveness of the teaching profession. We want to make sure that unions are recognised as partners to discuss education issues and promote social dialogue as a strong instrument of democracy and that strengthen the ability to unions to take up that role.”

Trade union study circles in Kyrgyzstan

The first presentation was made on development cooperation activities in Kyrgyzstan, where the creation of trade union study circles – small informal groups made up of educators having a shared interest in working together to find solutions to their issues – strengthened the national education trade union’ organisational capacity.

During the week of September 11, 2022, 28 local trade union leaders from the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers of Kyrgyzstan (TUESWK) came together alongside representatives from ETUCE and study circle trainers from Sveriges Lärare/Sweden for training aiming to provide trade union leaders with the foundational knowledge needed to set up trade union study circles for educators throughout the country.

Robert Gustafson of Sveriges Lärare maintained that “solidarity is a core value of our union, and it is rooted in our Constitution and locally between members at the workplace. At national level, in policy work and collective agreements, and even globally, working together and supporting each other as unions across borders through our history of building unions in Sweden, we have learned lessons that we are happy to share with others.”

One important experience, he said, is the power of study circles, to build a strong grassroots organisation, a vivid experience in Scandinavia, Asia and Africa and representing a very effective method. The project started by a request from Kyrgyz colleagues asking for ideas for renewal. Gustafson indicated that, “we have consulted other organisations who have experience in building study circle programs to get inspiration from the way they organised trainings and developed manuals.”.

The aim of the pilot project of trade union study circles in Kyrgyzstan is to have the trainers train other local study circle leaders and support them to gradually expand the project to all regions and implement circles in as many schools and workplaces as possible across the country.

Gustafson observed that other unions may also find more successful ways of fighting for better working conditions, develop digital tools, and engage in more successful union building.

“We, as a union, benefit and get stronger through cooperation with other unions, it broadens our perspectives as we see conditions and trends in other parts of the world,” he said.

Adina Turatbekova of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers of Kyrgyzstan (TUESWK) underlined that participants in the pilot project “gained knowledge on trade union functioning and trade unionism principles. It was very interesting and useful for them, as the study circles gave them an opportunity to get together and discuss their pressing issues. They once again felt the unity brought by a trade union. As members of the study circles, they noted that they gained a great new understanding of trade union engagement. They also agreed that thanks to the trade union circles they were able to learn information regarding their rights and opportunities.”

Cooperation to advance gender equality in Albania

Anxhela Llalla of the Independent Trade Union of Education of Albania (SPASH-ITUEA) brought the voice of participants to the project, recalling that the project was supported by ETUCE in 2019. The project counted 85 participants, members of SPASH-ITUEA and of the Trade Union Federation of Education and Science of Albania (FSASH), from which 46 were women and 12 were under 35. It mostly focused on gender equality and including more women and young people in decision-making bodies, but we also tackled other related issues, i.e. social dialogue and union renewal,” Llalla reported.

We had some challenges, she noted: “In 2019, an earthquake led us to postpone the project and we also had to change the way we were developing it. And when the pandemic hit, we had to make some other adjustments and resort to online groups.”

During the training sessions, participants learned about solidarity work and how solidarity works in ETUCE, and how ETUCE supports member organisations, she said, adding that they learnt about the Norwegian model, how to work on gender equality issues and how Norwegian unions specifically support women leaders.

Llalla went on to stress that participants learned about leadership theories. Women gained skills on communication negotiations, how to influence them, how to be a trade union leader, how to use collective agreements to empower them and get leadership positions at school and local levels, and how to listen to members’ needs and act accordingly.

At the end of all those trainings, participants drafted an action plan to get more women included in decision-making bodies, which was proposed to the unions themselves.

Llalla welcomed the fact that “we we count 8 women in SPASH-ITUEA on the union’s national committee, 15 women in FSASH. SPASH-ITUEA also has two women vice-presidents. This is going towards more gender equality.”

She was also convinced that this development cooperation project on gender equality bore positive results in the regions, and her union registered an increase in members. “We think that it's a result of what participants have gained during these trainings.”

She also found very important that both Albanian unions continue this collaboration, as it has had a great impact on the women who got trained, adding that both Albanian teacher unions will have their congresses by the end of this year. “As we already have some women expressing their will to get more involved in leadership roles, we think that further support and further collaboration will be very important to keep pushing them more into this direction,” she concluded.

Rune Fimreite representing the Union of Education Norway (UEN) remarked that “this was actually a very small project, but still we managed to achieve a lot. DC work is important, and it is important to work together.”

First, he said, solidarity is in many ways a fundamental element in the international trade union movement, and the fact that together we are strong is an important and basic idea to achieve common goals.

Also, DC work reinforces ETUCE and UEN, Fimreite argued, adding that “solidarity and international cooperation is deeply rooted in the Norwegian population; therefore, it is important for UEN members. DC work also implements UEN National Congress and Executive Board resolutions, and it gives UEN important information and contact with what is happening in many places in the world. This gives UEN credibility in meetings with the Norwegian authorities and other actors.”

Discussions will resume during the EI DC Network meeting to be held in Brussels, Belgium, from February 28th to 1st March.