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6 October 2017

ETUI conference on trade union education and training: will a new turn of the wheel bring us to a more social Europe?

Between 4 and 6 October 2017, the ETUI brought together around 100 trade union leaders, instructors, researchers and trainers to debate the importance of training and education for the trade union movement during its annual EduDays conference. This year’s event, which took place under the motto ‘Training together = training better’, was held at the Training Centre of France’s General Confederation of Labour [Confédération Générale du Travail, CGT] in south-west Paris.

In his keynote address, Philippe Pochet, General Director of the ETUI, looked ahead to the ‘historic moment’ soon to be enjoyed by Europe’s trade union movement, explaining that there had been a regular resurgence of the debate on the social dimension of the European Union every 15 years since the signing of the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community – which eventually developed into the European Union – in March 1957. The abortive attempts to adopt a European Constitution laying a genuine cornerstone for a social Europe date back to 2004.

Thirteen years later, the debate on the European Pillar of Social Rights suggests that the wheel is about to turn again, and that this is an opportune moment for progress in the social arena. Before any such progress can be made, however, trade union organisations must take this opportunity to ensure that workers’ voices are heard loud and clear at European level. According to Mr Pochet, ‘If we miss this chance, we risk losing yet another battle.’

The fight for a more social Europe must be fought on the main stage of European politics, since there is little hope of significant progress as far as collective negotiations are concerned. ‘We face unwillingness on the part of employers,’ said Peter Scherrer, Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), with reference to several items on the European social dialogue agenda, before also referring to the stalemate reached in negotiations on work/life balance and maternity or paternity leave – ‘all the things which really matter to workers’.

Specifically addressing the topic of the conference, Mr Scherrer said that training was ‘one of the ETUC’s founding principles’.

This was undoubtedly music to the ears of Ulisses Garrido, Director of the ETUI Education Department, who presented a number of the achievements chalked up by his team of trainers over the seven years he has spent in his post, dwelling in particular on initiatives to bring pedagogical practices into step with the relentless march of technological change. Vera dos Santos Costa, who will take over the helm from Mr Garrido on 1 November, intends to follow in her predecessor’s footsteps by tackling the challenges posed by the ‘digital revolution’ in the field of trade union education and training.

The achievements of a number of trade union trainers employed by ETUC member organisations were honoured on the first day of the conference, when a representative of the University of Lille awarded them a certificate confirming the successful completion of a training course intended to boost teaching skills and developed in partnership with the University.

The results of the survey ‘Let’s talk about work’ carried out by the French Democratic Confederation of Labour [Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail, CFDT] among around 200 000 French employees in late 2016 were presented as confirmation of the high level of interest among workers in access to training and education. According to Hervé Garnier, CFDT National Secretary with responsibility for health and working conditions, ‘There was a general sentiment that employment should be put back at the top of the agenda. The poor working conditions of certain workers should not be a source of jobs for others.’

Although the CFDT survey reveals that the overwhelming majority of French people are ‘proud of their work’, over one third (35%) believe that the job they do is detrimental to their health. In the words of Mr Garnier, ‘These survey results demonstrate that people’s standing in society is still determined by the job they do, and that their perceptions of their state of health depend to a large extent on the recognition they gain – or fail to gain – from their work. Anyone who feels that they are no longer valued for the work they do has a very real sense of being less healthy.’

Mario Correia, Director of the Regional Institute of Labour in Aix-en-Provence and a sociologist specialising in employment, presented the main take-aways from his research into trade union involvement and was keen to dispel a number of clichés about the younger generations: ‘Young people are individualised rather than individualists.’ The younger generations, however, no longer hold the same expectations of trade unions as their forebears, an attitude summed up by Mr Correia as follows: ‘They reject anything even vaguely resembling indoctrination and are certainly not prepared to put blind faith in trade union organisations.’ Trade unions must consequently base their recruitment strategies on these altered ambitions of the youth of today.

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