Education International provides educators with a tool to support the strengthening of their unions

published 24 April 2023 updated 21 March 2024

Education International (EI) has developed a "Toolkit for Union Building – Making Education Unions More Effective”. This toolkit enables each member organisation to engage in a process of self-assessment, proposing that they experiment with new activities to strengthen their organisations.

The toolkit has three distinct components that users can consult independently or chronologically. The first component focuses on a self-assessment process, the second component includes a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) and the third component takes the user through a planning process based on the theory of change.

Unions caught in a storm

The preamble points out that many education unions around the world are facing challenges, the three major challenges being:

  1. Insufficient budgets to provide high-quality public education, and the growth of the private sector;
  2. Unsatisfactory wages and working conditions, making the profession unattractive; and
  3. Insufficient social dialogue with trade unions.

In addition to the chronically insufficient public budgets allocated to education, other challenges include the anarchic introduction of new technologies and the increased recourse to private operators, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The good news is that unions still have room for action, whatever the political, economic and social constraints of the country. The internal organisation of the union, its strategic priorities, its communication - these are all areas where a union can do things differently," says David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International, in the preamble.

Union renewal as a mindset

Union renewal is a strategic priority for EI, reflecting by the Resolution “Union Renewal: the New Imperative”, adopted by the 8th EI World Congress meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, in July 2019.

The resolution calls for the development of a “union renewal toolkit - a set of flexible resources, able to take account of cultural and contextual differences, which can help affiliates that seek to reflect on current experiences and bring about strategic organisational change”.

According to the toolkit published by EI, trade union renewal involves adopting a constructive stance, considering that one can always be more effective in a challenging context: how to adapt to profound changes? how to reinvent and rethink the way trade unions operate? It proposes that education unions implement a culture of permanent questioning in a collective manner, draw inspiration from the ideas and practices of other organisations and, step by step, move forward in a long-term process.

The commonalities of strong unions

The Toolkit emphasises that there is no single model of a strong union that can be emulated, as each union is the product of its history and operates in a unique political context, so comparisons must be made with great caution. However, based on the observation of unions in different parts of the world, the publication identifies several common characteristics of strong unions.

The toolkit stresses that constant contact with educators at the grassroots level in the workplace, and an excellent knowledge of their needs and expectations can help to implement the necessary measures to give voice to trade unionists and to try to provide concrete answers to their problems.

Another success factor identified is inclusiveness, whether it is women, young people, educators living in remote areas, those on precarious contracts, in other words all the categories usually under-represented in trade unions. Other important criteria include being a transparent and democratic organisation, better communication and building alliances.

Strengthening in a methodical way

EI has created this toolkit, drawing on the diversity of trade union experiences and consulting with affiliates and experts, to support its member organisations on the road to trade union renewal.

The first part of this document explains how to carry out a self-diagnosis of the organisation. The self-diagnosis is a reflective exercise that should give a picture of the situation of the organisation, the structures and processes that make it up and the way it functions in its environment.

The second part helps educators to check where the power lies in the union and how they can work best as an organisation, by asking questions such as: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the union? What opportunities and threats come from their environment and the way the organisation does things?

And the third part describes how to define a strategy for action - from identifying objectives and activities to evaluating and monitoring results. The key question is: what is the change we want to achieve?

This toolkit is yours!

As the publication explains in its prologue, “unlike many global players, who are often organised from the top down, Education International's strength and legitimacy comes from its member organisations”. It is this structure that sustains its actions and enables education unions around the world to take the lead and act as the voice of the teaching profession and the voice of education workers organised at its heart.

Addressing member organisations, Edwards emphasises that “this toolkit is now yours. It is up to you, as organised and committed unions, to bring it to life, to implement it.”