Teachers form new Arab trade union bloc
Seventeen education unions and associations representing sixteen Arab countries from the Middle East and North Africa met on 7-8 October in Beirut in Lebanon to establish a new Arab teachers’ trade union structure that is concerned with the promotion and advancing of quality education and professional status. It is also dedicated to an end to all forms of conflict and violence in the region and the development of representative liberal democracy based on human rights and open societies. The main aim of the conference organisers and participants gathering in Beirut was to create a new Arab teachers’ structure, able to address the rights of teachers, children and young people across the region.
NASUWT National President Graham Dawson and I attended the founding conference of the Arab Organisation for Education (AOfE) as a guest of the Lebanese teachers’ union the TSL. Later we joined the TSL teachers’ delegation that met the Prime Minister, the Acting President of Lebanon at the Governmental Palace on 9 October and later the National Parliamentary Head of the Culture and Education Commission.
Many Arab teachers’ unions and associations present at this historic event are unhappy with the existing Arab teachers’ structure, the Federation of Arab Teachers (FAT) which is a key affiliate of the old Arab regional trade union structure, ICATU, which itself now faces competition from the Arab region of the International Trade Union Confederation.
Since the advent of the Arab Spring many Arab independent and democratic teachers unions were established. The teachers’ unions that helped found the AOfE, along with others in the region, worked tirelessly to reform the FAT democratically but their efforts were futile. FAT is ineffective, too close to authoritarian states (as are its affiliates) and it does not recognise trade union pluralism.
Conference discussions led to agreement on the organisation’s name (and its logo!), its bylaws and its constitution. The conference concluded by electing, through a secret ballet, an executive body of 7, two of them women. Jamal Houssami, the National Treasurer of the TSL, was elected overwhelmingly as the President of the AOfE and Abass Habib Allah, President of the Sudanese teachers union was elected Vice President. Five deputies from teachers’ unions in Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco and Yemen were also elected, each with a specific responsibility.
The AOfE wishes to work closely with Education International and its Arab region, and Fred van Leeuwen. EI General Secretary attended and spoke at the last day of the conference.