The importance of trade union unity in terms of development cooperation activities in Africa was underlined during a recent meeting between African education unions and their development cooperation partners.
Unity and the need for better coordination and harmonisation of development cooperation (DC) work and activities were at the heart of a planning meeting in Accra, Ghana, attended by African education unions and partner educator organisations. The meeting, organised by the Education International African Regional (EIRAF) Office, from 20-22 March, included representatives from partner organisations, such as Lärarförbundet (Sweden), Utdanningsforbundet (Norway), the Danish Union of Teachers and the Danish National Federation of Early Childhood and Youth Educators (Denmark), and the Centrale des syndicats du Québec(Canada).
Participants identified the needs, financially and in terms of activities, and attributed DC projects, following up on political priorities adopted by the EIRAF Committee.
Funding partner organisations learnt about target themes devised in accordance with these priorities for more efficient action and support in the context of restrictions around human resources and financing.
“This meeting was important for us to update the EI Africa Regional Committee’s action plan and priority areas and, together with development cooperation partners, to look at the budget and adopt the general programme of priorities for Africa,” said Wilson Sossion, Secretary General of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and President of the EIRAF Committee.
“This has been a wonderful brainstorming session, because we could align the agenda set by our regional governing body with those of the DC partners,” he added.
Unity was chosen as the main priority by the EIRAF Committee in September 2016 as “the cornerstone driving the programmes within the continent”, Sossion said, because “the capacity of the labour movement in Africa, within the teaching service, to advocate and drive its agenda has been heavily affected by splinters that we can avoid, and by the fact that trade unionism generally is collapsing in many countries”.
The EIRAF Committee has realised that “we cannot talk about the sustainable development agenda or the Global Response against the privatisation and commercialisation in and of education in countries, at the national level, where teachers are deeply divided, where there are many unions, where unions are cannibalising each other, and therefore they have lost focus in facing the government as a united voice”.
Sossion added that African education unions are trying to rediscover “a united voice of teachers within their countries. It came out very strongly that we cannot advance anything unless we address unity”.
The traditional spirit of the labour movement, he noted, which is power in numbers, and speaking with one voice, has been lost due to structural weaknesses.
“We will address the key sources of weaknesses, the key causes of splinters and we will look at the capacity of various union to run their affairs democratically and transparently and to engage members directly,” he highlighted.
Sossion said the benefits of a more united teaching force are clear: their voice vis-à-vis governments, vis-à-vis their employers, will be respected, and members, learners, and ultimately the education community as a whole, will benefit from it.
The key agenda of African education unionists – to deliver quality public education in the whole continent, which requires a lot of effort to urge governments to adopt proper legislation – cannot be achieved unless the unions are very strong, he said.
African education unions will “now be able to achieve the sustainable development goals’ agenda, as well as the agendas around school-related gender-based violence, the Global Response or the early childhood education while, at the same time, enriching unity and cooperation among the trade unions within the continent”, Sossion added.