Hungary: quality trade union renewal with international solidarity

published 23 March 2022 updated 25 March 2022

With the support of the Syndicat national des enseignements de second degré-Fédération syndicale unitaire (SNES-FSU) in France, the Pedagógusok Szakszervezete-Syndicat des Enseignants de Hongrie (PSZ-SEH) has organised trade union training for its young members.

The development cooperation work between the two unions began in 2019 further to the request of the PSZ-SEH, with whom SNES-FSU has had a friendly and working relationship for many years.

The question of trade union renewal is also a priority for the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), Education International’s European regional organisation.

“For the SNES-FSU, development cooperation is one of the dimensions of our international trade union activity”, explains Sophie Vénétitay, General Secretary of the SNES-FSU. In our internal organisation, we also focus strongly on the task of renewing our activist teams and, at Education International’s World Congress, held in Bangkok, Thailand, “the SNES-FSU delegation saw young activists from many other trade union organisations showing their commitment to these issues.”

Renewal is needed for PSZ-SEH

PSZ-SEH President Zsuzsa Szabó points out that “the ageing of our membership, the loss of working-age members, and consequently the decline in our membership, is a serious challenge for PSZ-SEH. There are very few young people among our members. The majority of our members are over 55 years old. Hence, it is extremely important to rejuvenate our organisation, to appeal to and recruit young people from the sector. They are grouped in the youth group (PSZ Ifjúsági Tagozat).”

She also points out that among the leaders of her union at the local level, “whose work is extremely important to the organisation”, there are very few who still actively work in education, as many are retired.

Some of them were already retired officials of a PSZ-SEH territorial structure from before 2013, when the reform of public education took place. “It may be that these people are not thoroughly familiar with the current problems in education in Hungary. And this means that the union members in the counties with these leaders probably do not have the necessary union support, the overall representation of their interests by the PSZ-SEH,” warns Szabó.

She also points out that the PSZ-SEH will hold its congress and elections in June 2023, while elections at the territorial level will already start in autumn 2022: “After these elections, we want to have as many trained leaders as possible, young teachers. And that means we need to train them!”

Apart from the importance of recruiting young people who are ready to take on trade union work, it is essential to equip them with knowledge, to ensure they are trained to face what is ahead of them in order to provide members with effective and efficient trade union representation, she says.

Szabo regrets that it is increasingly difficult to recruit young people who are ready to commit to doing trade union work as elected officials.

The first concrete activity between PSZ-SEH and SNES-FSU was a study workshop on trade union renewal held over two days in Budapest in May 2019.

This workshop brought together 25 participants from the PSZ-SEH, both young activists from different regions of the country from the PSZ-SEH Youth group and experienced activists, with a balance between men and women.

The discussions revolved around several questions:

  • How can we organise more teachers in schools?
  • How can we collect more membership fees?
  • How do we explain the union's actions and orientations?
  • How is the money used?
  • How can we make sure that information is better shared within the union?
  • How can we put in place a real unionisation policy that is relevant and coherent, and shared and implemented by activists?

Trade union training for activists

There were requests for better trade union training over the long term for activist teams, with medium and long-term objectives.

There were also questions about how to use communication tools to improve exchanges and interaction between members.

“The SNES-FSU is not trying to impose a scheme or a work programme. We tried to answer their questions as best we could about training schemes for new activists”, stressed Odile Cordelier, member of the SNES-FSU international sector and ETUCE vice-president. We explained, among other things, the rights of French teachers to trade union training, and that they have the right to take up to 12 days off for it.”

Thinking about a future programme

“Trade union cooperation is also a motivating factor, it can set you thinking about going down paths you wouldn't have thought of before,” adds Szabó.

The joint workshop with the SNES-FSU generated a clear interest in trade union education among PSZ-SEH members. At the instigation of the PSZ-SEH president, young activists then took part in online training sessions aimed at providing them with a basic knowledge of trade unionism.

“We will have to continue training those who pass the test specially designed for this series of courses,” she said. “Of the 100 people who started the course, 64 have completed it, including 38 PSZ-SEH members. In particular, we need to give them courses in labour law, which is particularly important for the trade union struggle, so that we have trained candidates for the elections.”

She also confirmed her union's wish to continue the training activity started with the help of SNES-FSU.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

Nevertheless, she stresses that the health crisis poses “a real danger to our training project. The number of infected people is rising again in Hungary. It would be advisable to restart the courses as soon as possible, while in-person participation is still possible. If the pandemic prevents us from organising the three-day in-person training workshop, the PSZ-SEH proposes to run three one-day weekend courses in spring 2022.”

The target groups for these courses are:

  • PSZ-SEH members who participated in the course organised under the aegis of the Trade Union Cooperation Forum ( Szakszervezetek Együttműködési Fóruma, SZEF).
  • The members of the PSZ-SEH youth group who participated in the course previously organised with the help of SNES-FSU.

The PSZ-SEH leader believes the following themes should be worked on at these training courses as a priority:

  • Team building activities, personality development, assertiveness, development of communication skills, negotiation techniques.
  • Presentation of the work and results of the PSZ-SEH, evaluation of the actions undertaken since 2018, search for solutions to the challenges we will have to face in the coming years, and activities specifically targeting youth involvement.

Possible cooperation with Slovak colleagues

One possible contribution of SNES-FSU is to promote exchanges between the PSZ-SEH and a Slovak trade union, the Trade Union of Workers in Education and Science in Slovakia (OZPŠAV), another member of ETUCE and Education International, says Sophie Vénétitay.

She noted that OZPŠAV does good work on development cooperation issues and has organised workshops on trade union renewal. She was pleased that there had been “an exchange on the idea of bringing an activist from Slovakia to Hungary to participate in their work on the theme of trade union renewal, which is so crucial in Hungary.”