The role of trade unions in workers’ education

Published on ILO, the Internationl Labour Organization, Bureau for Workers’ Activities.

The key to trade union capacity building, a 54 pdf-pages background paper for International Workers’ Symposium, held in Geneva, 8–12 October 2007.

Excerpt of Preface: … Unions are faced with the effects of unfair globalization, attacks on their existence by supporters of neo-liberalism, rapidly changing technology in the workplace, undemocratic global governing bodies and expanding informal economies in which people try to make a living as best they can, as well as other challenges such as the worst forms of child labour and HIV/AIDS. Learning how to address these and other issues effectively is the key to the continuing health and growth of the labour movement. And the key to learning in the labour movement is effective union education. Improving the funding of union education, linking it to labour research and workplace issues, making it relevant to a broader spectrum of working people, updating its methodologies and training its practitioners will help the movement learn how to create the new knowledge it needs to face the challenges ahead.


The present paper is not intended to provide solutions to the problems facing unions and union education. Its aim is to provide an overview of the state of union education in the world today, in order to help participants of the Symposium in their discussions. It is based on the deliberations and conclusions of the labour educators who attended two meetings organized by the ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV) in preparation for the Symposium. Among other things, the paper underscores the need for long-term initiatives to make union education more effective, which might be directed at:

  • creating a baseline of information on existing structures, programmes and personnel and identifying union education needs at all levels in the labour movement;
  • promoting dialogue between all the partners involved in union education to improve the coordination of activities, focus resources more effectively and create needsdriven opportunities, especially for unions in developing countries;
  • encouraging innovative pedagogical approaches, delivery instruments and partnerships which promote the creation of new educational programmes, curricula and course materials based on the needs and aspirations of workers and their unions;
  • developing union education networks for knowledge sharing, capacity building and influencing social and economic policies;
  • initiating union education activities to promote the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda.

(full text).

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