Successful trade union cooperation between German and Hungarian unions

published 27 October 2022 updated 4 November 2022

The German Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW) and the Teachers' Democratic Union of Hungary (PDSZ) have engaged in development cooperation activities. These mutual exchanges strengthen the unions and contribute to union renewal.

Strengthening union work

The joint seminar on “strengthening union work" of GEW and PDSZ was held in Frankfurt, Germany, in September 2022 and supported by the Budapest office of the German foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

Its aim was to deepen the cooperation between the PDSZ and the GEW and to exchange views on union renewal and education policy. An important focus of the exchange was the topic of winning and involving young members in education unions by sharing experiences and good practices of membership recruitment and participation. Another relevant area was media and campaign strategies to reach out to new members and to influence education policy. For this purpose, participants visited the GEW head office in Frankfurt and met with members of the executive board of GEW, including its president Maike Finnern and its vice-president Andreas Keller.

Furthermore, the exchange included meetings with representatives from two GEW branches at the state level, in Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate. As the branches are the structures directly working with and supporting union members, they were able to share their experiences and hands-on approach to gain and retain young members, increase union representation in schools, and guarantee quality initial and continuous professional teacher training. “We learned from the exchanges and the school visit to an integrated comprehensive school (Gesamtschule) that social inequality in the education system in Germany is still a big problem as well as how GEW strives to achieve a more inclusive and just education system”, said Erzsébet Nagy, member of the PDSZ board “Young teachers also shared with us how they started to make GEW better known at their schools.”

There was also the opportunity to explore the city of Frankfurt on an ‘anti-fascist’ city walk on the topic "Frankfurt under National Socialism - Places of Persecution and Resistance”. The city walks are organised by the Frankfurt branch of the DGB (Confederation of German trade unions) as part of its local activities against antisemitism.

Outcomes: Mutual benefits

PDSZ noted that GEW is a very organised union with well elaborated materials available on its website and social media accounts.

Erzsébet Nagy from the PDSZ board also had the opportunity to attend the GEW’s Extraordinary Congress in June 2022, which she found “very inspiring, as young members played a very active role”.

On attracting and retaining people in the profession, she admitted that “GEW is very organised despite the shortage of teachers. There are active young members. We were curious about how to make the union attractive to young people and how to retain members. We are also interested in how the union is planning its communication.

On communication issues, she said: “We received a host of great new ideas, much inspiration as to how to use our scarce resources available, how to build our campaigns. We learnt invaluable new ideas about how to approach young people even during their student years.”

GEW education unionists also indicated that they learned from PDSZ colleagues about the current protests and strikes of teachers in Hungary aiming to improve teachers’ working conditions despite strong adverse political pressure. As part of the visit, the PDSZ delegation reported at an evening event about the strike of teachers in Hungary. An interview with Orsolya Kamrás, a seminar participant and member from the PDSZ main board, was also published in GEW’s members’ magazine on the situation of teachers in Hungary.

“In Hungary, teachers are courageously standing up for their rights. It is an important struggle to increase the attractiveness of the teaching profession and a fight for the right to strike, which is still severely limited in Hungary”, said GEW leader Finnern.

She went on to highlight the relevance for education unions of building alliances with communities, students and parents: “We were quite impressed by the level of solidarity by students who organised demonstrations in support of the teachers’ demands in Hungary”.

Finnern added that, like for Hungarian colleagues, the issue of attracting and involving young members is a very relevant and priority one for GEW. The joint seminar was therefore “a good way to exchange experiences and concrete approaches towards increasing the attractiveness of education unions for new members”.

Next steps

Both unions indicated that they would like to continue the cooperation with FES support. Plans have been made to organize a workshop in Hungary in 2023 with GEW officers who could do a presentation for PDSZ activists on campaigning and organising members. “We could use the expertise to develop our own campaign and also use the opportunity to introduce our colleagues from GEW to the situation in Hungary. We would demonstrate our struggle against authoritarian expressions of power of the authoritarian government in Hungary in order to ensure democracy and modern education for all, and improve the situation of teachers.”

The union also recommended that another seminar be organised for representatives of several Central and Eastern European countries. “This would be useful, we could visit each other's countries to get a better understanding of the situation and discuss forms of closer cooperation, and, perhaps, even joint action.” The first contact between GEW and PDSZ took place in the early 90s, when democratic, political and economic changes happened throughout Europe. GEW then held a seminar for trade unions from the Visegrád Group, i.e., four countries of the former communist bloc (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia).