#dimi_04: Trade union learning

What education can do for empowerment

After #dimi_03 dealt with the topic of learning in general, #dimi_04 is dedicated to the question of what we understand by learning in trade union education work and how we as trainers can specifically promote and support it.

You will learn more about the competences that should be developed in trade union learning settings and how these requirements affect the didactic principles. At the end, there are also some ideas for methods and explanations on how the application of these methods can make even more sense.

What exactly do we mean by trade union education work and who is the target group?

“The trade union seminar room is not there to pour knowledge into the heads of others, but to reflect on social and workplace conditions and to promote a social bond for goals of social change!” writes Gerhard Gstöttner-Hofer in #thedi_21: “Building” counter power – Part 3.

So trade union education is about more than just imparting knowledge. It is about the development of competences that contribute to shop stewards, trade union officers and all trade union activists being able to perceive and name social injustices and to take decisive action against them.

Questions about the target group always remain in focus and guide the planning:

  • Who are my participants?
  • How does the topic of my training event relate to the reality of my participants in their function as shop stewards, trade union secretaries or course coaches?
  • What do they need in order to carry out their trade union tasks in the best possible way?
  • How can I best support a practical transfer into their working realities?

What contents and topics characterise trade union education work?

In order to fight social injustice, a basic understanding of, for example, labour and social law or economics and business management is an important knowledge base. Therefore, these topics are fixed starters of many trade union education formats (such as SOZAK, BRAK or the trade union school). Knowledge is a form of power. The knowledge imparted develops its power in the trade union context above all when it is used in a targeted way to bring about justice. In order to use this knowledge effectively, very specific competences are needed. Competences build on knowledge. In this respect, education in the trade union context is always a form of empowerment.

For trainers, who are supposed to impart these comprehensive areas of knowledge, the question of how this can be achieved arises again and again. Experience shows that it is difficult for experts to sort everything out because everything seems important and relevant. Keeping the goal of knowledge transfer in mind serves as a helpful anchor: In addition to the facts and theories, it is a matter of the participants learning to analyse the background of disadvantages and to develop strategies for action. The development of the ability to analyse and act must therefore be seen as a fixed component of any knowledge transfer – this is where didactics comes into play, because frontal lectures are not enough. In #dimi_06, by the way, we deal in depth with the topic of learning objectives. You will learn more about how you can not only impart knowledge, but also promote the development of competences.

Which competences should be developed and promoted?

What skills and competences do our participants need in their different (trade union) roles? What can we do to facilitate the development of these competences?

A project group consisting of education officers from all trade union education providers (VÖGB, trade unions, Chambers of Labour) has been working for several months on the question: How do we develop “counter power” competences in our daily work with functionaries and works councillors? This project is part of a broader strategy process at ÖGB.

Trade union education is always also political education, says Sabine Letz with regard to the goals of trade union education work. Specifically, it is not only about strengthening the aforementioned ability to analyse and criticise, but also about skills of self-organisation and the development of resistance, as also described in #thedi_21.

In addition to seminars and workshop formats specifically dedicated to developing the skills of counter power, these are also evident in the guiding principles of trade union education work. What does this mean in practical terms? On the one hand, it is important that we as trainers model these skills. Adults also learn from the model, be it from trainers, but also from other participants and their experiences as, for example, works council members.

As a trainer, I practise critical reflection by making criticism possible, by enduring it and by openly addressing critical issues that arise in the seminar room. In this way, the seminar room becomes a training laboratory in which critical thinking and resistance are given space and practised. I no longer necessarily measure the success of a seminar by the fact that everyone goes home satisfied and “satiated”, but by whether “crunch zones” were also named and utilised.

Another competence that has a central role within trade union learning and must be anchored as a guiding principle in every educational event is the development of solidarity. Solidarity can be seen as a driving force of trade union work. As trainers in adult trade union education, we should ask ourselves whether and how we enable and promote solidarity in training or whether we discourage it. Many exercises and motivational incentives are based on the principle of competition. How solidarity can be integrated into everyday trade union training is regularly explored in a REFAK seminar.

Which methods and didactic considerations will advance us in this?

Word cloud on counter power created as part of the 2020 certification workshop

What is your idea about the term „counter power“? Write down 3 keywords!

There are many ways to specifically promote skills that underlie the formation of counter power. An important planning step of any educational event is the selection of methods that optimally support the learning process. If the aim is to promote participation and co-determination, I choose methods that, for example, allow participants to develop different opinions and test them in the protected framework of the seminar. For example, the pro/con discussion or the opinion round. Role plays in different variations, e.g. in the form of a consultation situation (prepared in small groups) or a staged panel discussion, can be ideal learning settings. These can be optimally tailored to the respective seminar topic or current political debates.

More time-consuming methods such as simulation games or case analyses also support the development of analytical and critical skills as well as reflective competence. In addition to active roles, it can also be useful to assign observer roles with specific and well thought-out observation tasks. These roles expand the choices and take into account the different personalities of the participants, but also increase the quality of reflection, which is an essential part of learning success.

The methods mentioned can be classified as experiential or action-oriented learning. Central to this is the basic idea that learning always needs different levels of experience in order to be transferred into one’s own practice. The described learning cycle ranges from actual doing and trying things out, to reflecting on the learning experience, to theoretical classification. More on this in the following articles.

Want to read more?

  • Allespach, Martin; Meyer, Hilbert; Wentzel, Lothar (2017): Politische Erwachsenenbildung. Ein subjektwissenschaftlicher Zugang am Beispiel der Gewerkschaften. 2. Auflage. Marburg: Schüren.
  • Derichs-Kunstmann, Karin; Schnier, Victoria (2018): Gewerkschaftliche Bildungsarbeit – Erwachsenenbildung in der gewerkschaftlichen Trägerschaft. In: Tippel, Rudolf; von Hippel, Aiga (Hrsg.): Handbuch Erwachsenenbildung/Weiterbildung. 6., überarbeitete und aktualisierte Auflage. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien.
  • Letz, Sabine (2017): Gewerkschaftliche Bildungsarbeit – was ist das überhaupt? Online verfügbar unter erwachsenenbildung.at.
  • Schratter, Daniela; Steinklammer, Elisabeth; Taucher, Philip (2019): Qualität ist kein Zufall. Praxisberichte aus der Qualitätssicherung in der Erwachsenenbildung.

Tip: All the books listed above and many more can be ordered at the ÖGB Fachbuchhandlung.

Author: Margret Steixner

German version

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Dieses Werk ist lizenziert unter einer Creative Commons Namensnennung-NichtKommerziell-Weitergabe unter gleichen Bedingungen unter gleichen Bedingungen 3.0 Österreich Lizenz.
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