The FGTB and worker’s education in the DRC

Since its foundation, the Fédération Générale du Travail de Belgique (FGTB) has played an active role in the strengthening of international solidarity. This commitment is demonstrated in different ways.

On one hand, the FGTB plays a leading role within international bodies such as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to make the voice of Belgian workers heard but also to construct genuine trade union opposition on a global scale. On the other hand, solidarity is not a given. It is built on the ground with supporters that are the heart of the trade union movement. This is why the FGTB and its trade union centres have for several years developed trade union cooperation projects all over the world but particularly in Africa. These actions aim in particular, through the training of managers and delegates to strengthen the partners in order to consolidate social dialogue on all levels.

For over a year, the FGTB’s trade union cooperation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is prioritising worker education by setting up study circles within companies. These study circles are composed of a maximum of ten people that meet within their company where and when they can, often following extended negotiations with employers. They discuss a trade union topic (trade union structures, the role of the trade union, social elections etc.) or resolve a problem they encounter in the workplace. The facilitator of the circle (who has received training on the methodology) starts the debate but does not monopolise it. He must ensure that all the members of the circle play an active role in the search for a solution. Contrary to a standard training session, the facilitator is not the one with the knowledge. The strong point of this method is that it favours the emergence of a solution from the collective knowledge built on the worker’s experience. It is basically the “palaver tree” – a traditional African way of transmitting traditions from one generation to the next.
“Previously, when I started teaching, I thought that the students knew nothing, they had no knowledge. Luckily once I learned the study circle method, I became convinced that the students had knowledge. Even the shyest had some ideas to make progress in the class. Furthermore, this method allows me to be more effective when I teach. I have learned what human resources are through the students. Today, my head teacher calls me the Facilitator”

This account by Felly Museketi, activist and teacher in the DRC, perfectly highlights what a study circle can offer not only to his work but also in his personal life and as an activist.

From a trade union perspective, the method has several other advantages. The organisations do not need to rent a room, to move the activists, to cover the expenses of a “specialist”, to pay for accommodation, food etc. Free from all these costs, the trade union organisations can more easily take responsibility for providing information and raising the awareness of their members. This is considerable progress for those who are fighting for the empowerment of trade unions in Africa. Furthermore this makes it possible to reach more workers. For example, in 2011, over 15,000 workers took part in study circles in the DRC. This large number of participants shows both the efficiency of the method and also the enormous need in the region.

In addition, the participatory approach encourages empowerment of the grassroots on both a personal level and for activism. By sharing with others, the activist becomes aware of his own competencies and learns to have the courage of his convictions while respecting the opinions of other. A trade union cannot hope to effectively play its role as an opposition force without social dialogue and without large well-educated grassroots organisations.

In a country like the DRC, which has over 450 trade unions, the study circle is also an essential tool for the recruitment and organisation of workers but also to show activists the role of the trade union and the true face of trade unionism. That is why the FGTB supports the Union Nationale des Travailleurs du Congo (UNTC), the Confédération Démocratique du Travail (CDT) and the Conseil Syndical des Services Publics et Privés (COSSEP). These 3 organisations are working together against trade union proliferation as part of the Union Fait la Force (UFF) trade union grouping.
Support for that trade union platform therefore focuses on the reduction of the number of study circles in both the public sector – the State remains the largest employer in the country – and in the private sector. Assistance to members, awareness generation, organisation of the workers for the common good are integral parts of our partners’ daily trade union activities within the companies.

This presence and these actions increase their credibility, not only to the employer but also to employees who oppose “bogus” or “yellow” trade unions that are run by employers, political parties or even churches. Our comrades often tell us about the damage caused by these fake trade unions and the harmful role that they play against the trade union movement. They only appear when there are election issues in the companies or during protest action. They use dollars, pieces of fabric or sugary drinks to persuade the workers to vote for them or not to participate in given demonstrations. With a “minimum wage” of less than 2$/day, the economic and social situation ranks the DRC against the poorest countries on the planet.

Significant challenges remain in the DRC as in the rest of the continent. However the FGTB is convinced that by supporting the African trade unions in the area of training and trade union education, that this will strengthen the local, national and continental levels both qualitatively and quantitatively. The consolidation of a participatory educational system which is effective and sustainable within the trade union organisations is an absolutely priority for the emancipation of the Continent’s workers. Worker education will allow trade unions to be united on different levels and to be self-sufficient in terms of human and financial resources enabling them to provide services to their members, in particular in terms of training and trade union education.

Article provided by the FGTB