In CUPE, union education brings workers together to talk and think about our experiences, to gain new skills, and to plan how we can work together to transform our workplaces and society. Each year, over 15,000 CUPE members take part in union education workshops across the country.
What makes union workshops different from school?
When we were children and young adults, most of our schooling trained us to be productive and obedient workers. Union education has different goals. It gives us room to be critical thinkers, to make sense of our world and develop the skills we need to make it a better place. “Learning is never neutral. It either challenges the status quo, or reinforces it.” (Paolo Freire) Union education also uses different methods from the formal education system. For example, here is what you can expect from a CUPE workshop:
- We will work together. From the start of the workshop, we talk about how we can show respect in the group and support each other’s learning.
- We use member facilitators – workers who have the same day-to-day work life as participants. Member facilitators volunteer to be trained so they can lead workshops.
- There’s a lot of group work and lively discussion. Lectures are rare. The facilitator asks questions and encourages participants to find answers from their own experience.
- There are no tests or essays. Very little writing is required. If you want to write, no one will check your spelling.
- Our workshops are not about memorizing facts, but asking who came up with those so-called “facts” and for what purpose. We believe it is better to “question answers rather than answer questions”. (Ira Shor)
- You have the right to say how the workshop develops. Facilitators and participants work together to make the workshop a success. We build democracy in the union by practising it in our workshops.
- Learning outside of the workshop is just as important as what happens inside. We talk about what’s going on in the workplace, on the picket line and in our families and communities. We continue the discussion in the evenings, by making plans and forming friendships that will help us make changes when we get back to our locals.
- We have fun. We do role-plays, make music, and laugh. Being creative and joyful helps us find the energy we need to build a better society.
What is our vision for CUPE union education?
CUPE’s education policy is decided by CUPE members. Union locals vote to send members to workshops. Delegates to Division and National Conventions set the direction for union education, and the National Executive Board (NEB) provides funding and guides policy between conventions. In 2001, the CUPE National Convention issued a policy statement On the Front Line: Building Power Through Union Education. Some of the goals outlined in the policy statement are:
- Develop new workshops to reflect the changes that are happening in CUPE workplaces.
- Build equality into all our education programs.
- Make literacy a union priority.
- Conduct education needs assessments with local unions, District Councils, Divisions, bargaining councils and committees.
- Develop internet-based union education.
- Create a national leadership program.
- Bargain funds from employers for union education.
- Renew and strengthen our member facilitator program.
- Update the certificate system for CUPE workshops.
Who is responsible for union education in CUPE?
Leaders and staff at all levels of CUPE carry out our vision of union education and make workshops happen. This includes: local unions, District Councils, Provincial Divisions, Regional Offices and National Office. CUPE staff from many departments are involved in the design and delivery of workshops.
The Union Development Department coordinates union education across the country. This department has staff at CUPE National Office and in each region who design workshops, organize programs, and facilitate workshops.
CUPE’s Communications, Legal, Research and Job Evaluation, Health and Safety and Equality branches also design and deliver workshops on subjects where they are the experts.