A conference held in Montenegro from 27 – 30 September 2007 marked the start of a new project on Strengthening the Education Trade Unions in the countries that were part of former Yugoslavia.
This project is a joint initiative of 13 teacher unions from Slovenia, the Republic of Macedonia, Croatia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro.
All countries have in common that they face ethnic tensions within the educational sector after the wars that devastated the region in the 1990s. The governments in most of these countries lack an efficient policy on social dialogue and non-discrimination to address these tensions. This situation affects not only union members but society in general.
In order to help solve these problems the project focuses on two approaches: on the one hand, developing and modernizing all existing union structures and, on the other hand, preventing and solving conflicts and ethnic tensions and initiating reconciliation efforts in each country.
The project aims to achieve
(1) equal rights for all teachers working in the national education system without fear of any kind of discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or social issues;
(2) greater efficiency within unions with regard to the implementation of educational plans and programs; and
(3) a higher percentage of women and youth in union membership, to go with the recruitment of qualified young activists to lead projects and campaigns in order to promote the work of unions.
It will take careful preparations and a gradual approach to reach the goal of modernizing unions so that they can be successful in the fight for the rights of all union members.
The conference in Montenegro focused on three key issues:
(1) analysis of the structures of the unions and of the confederations,
(2) distribution of membership fees and
(3) the decision-making process within the unions.
Although for historical reasons the 13 participating unions share the same kinds of problems with trade union organisation and structures, there are differences from country to country. Some unions struggle with the distribution of membership fees, almost 50% of which remain at school level. Others have problems at the top level and find it difficult to pay their fees to the national trade union centres. The overarching conclusion is that all unions, with the exception of Slovenia, experience great difficulties when trying to develop activities at the national level. In many cases, union members refuse to transfer more funds to the national level as in their view membership fees should pay for social and school activities for which the governments do not pay. In other words, funds are scarce when the time has come to develop campaigns, set up a strike fund, develop policies to help teachers negotiate at all levels, start recruiting campaigns or fight for better salaries.
The unions have committed to developing plans with short but measurable steps to address these problems. Changes will take time, as all unions must convince their members that they will need different structures to become more representative, active and efficient.
Each union will develop its own plan. In countries with more than one union, a joint plan will be established to find a common answer to their problems. These plans will be revised and discussed in the next conference, to be held in April 2008.
For the full report from Anita Car, President of ETUC (Croatia), please click on the link below.