School library of Gbonvié, in Togo. GODONG / Reporters, 2013
School library of Gbonvié, in Togo. GODONG / Reporters, 2013

Trade union unity in Africa: Why is it important and how can it be achieved?

published 24 November 2017 updated 8 June 2018

In Africa, teachers’ unions are evolving amidst a particularly difficult context marked by democratic failures, infringements on human rights, and growing poverty.

These factors limit the abilities and impacts that regional trade unions have on improving conditions for teachers, students, unionists, and on improving national education systems. As a result, trade unions struggle to attract and retain members, which keeps their numbers relatively low. As a result, these smaller unions remain vulnerable, fighting to stay just to active in the country; this is just one factor that inhibits co-ordination among and within trade unions to achieve their objectives at the national level. This is a vicious cycle that must be broken.

To this situation is added fierce competition in a union landscape that has sometimes mushroomed to the point where it includes several dozen unions. It is precisely due to the issue that many unions remain small, scattered, and vulnerable that the issue of redundancy presents itself. Many teachers and education personnel prefer not to join these crippled unions that show to be relatively ineffective in achieving changes for the profession. The result is that new trade unions spring up as an effort to ameliorate the ‘ineffective’ unions—a vicious phenomenon that only prohibits the strengthening of trade unions.  This phenomenon is to be mainly observed in the French-speaking countries of Africa, for both historical and political reasons. The issue of  fragmentation of trade unions is one that must be urgently addressed, so that these organisations can grow to be effective, inclusive, and capable of initiating great change in their respective countries. It is for this reason that the African Regional Committee took the policy decision in September of 2016 to give absolute priority to the ‘trade union unity’ initiative, in an effort to strengthen the initial efforts that have been made since 2012 in several countries (e.g., in Senegal, Niger, Cameroon, Benin and the Ivory Coast).

(Video with subtitles in English)