Colleagues, comrades & friends,

I am pleased to introduce the key resolution on the theme of this Conference : Empowering Education Trade Unions : The key to Promoting Quality Education.

We meet 8 years on from the financial crisis of 2008 - caused not by teachers and public sector workers, but by the recklessness of bankers.  In those 8 years, those of us who seek every day to provide quality education for our students have been subject to policies and politics of austerity which have seen pay and pensions stagnate and even be cut, we have seen teachers unemployment and in many parts of our region, education budgets slashed. And yet, as many progressive economist will tell you, austerity was never the  way out of the economic and financial problems we have faced. What we need is investment - not cutd especially in education. My colleagues from the UK and Ireland too, I expect, will be familiar with the name Michael Wilshaw. He is the outgoing Chief Inspector of schools in England, and not a great favorite of teacher trade unions. But in his valedictory interview he took the UK government to task for the failure to recruit sufficient teachers. He called teaching the foundation profession and indeed it is. Or as our colleagues in Läraförbundet say: It all begins with a good teacher. And the teacher is of course supported by teaching assistants, psychologists, researchers and colleagues in Higher Education and all those who make up the education profession. Without us a quality education system is simply not possible and neither is an educated society.

At global level we have all the policy we need to ensure quality education for all and a proper role and status of teachers.

This year we have celebrated and acknowledged the 50th Anniversary of the ILO/UNESCO declaration on The Status of Teachers. Whilst the odd country in our region might come close, nowhere have we achieved the full aspiration of that declaration. Instead, we have seen extensive use of the neo-liberal path of commercialisation and privatisation. At EI level and in our region, we have clear policy to oppose privatisation in and of education.

The rise of populist and right wing politics makes this all the more urgent. We should perhaps congratulate Austria on bucking this trend and electing a President with a different agenda. We are all aware of the backlash from the right against accepting refugees and migrants into our countries and into our school and colleges.

Teacher unions have, in many countries, been at the forefront of advocacy and demanding space and time in the curriculum to deal with of values, democracy, citizenship, as well as climate change and developing their critical thinking capacity. In 2015 Education Ministries from the EU endorsed the Paris declaration reinforcing: “The fundamental values that lie at the heart of the EU are respect for human dignity and freedom (including freedom of expression), democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.”

Well let’s press on  the governments in our region, to ensure that the voice of the entire education profession, through our unions, is clearly heard in curriculum development to address these issues. It means of course confronting  challenges: racism and xenophobia and confronting the issues raised by the radicalisation of many parts in our society.

Education unions are at our best  when we fight vigorously for our

members’ pay, pensions and conditions of work, but also when we militate strongly for good learning conditions for our children and students, for the autonomy of our members to develop pedagogical skills and to approach assessment in a way that supports learling.

Social dialogue can be the forum in which we can engage on all these questions on behalf of our members. In ETUCE we can learn from each other, we can share our success and expect solidarity when we face challenges.

For the movement of education unions to grow, we need to remind ourselves of one of the slogans of the trade unions movement globally: Educate, agitate, organise. Organising members is a challenge in many countries, but we are up to that challenge if we reassert our professionalism and reclaim our trade unions rights.

We can always find quotations from the great and the good. It’s good sometimes to quote from the great and the good of our movement. Keith Geiger, former President of the NEA in the US said this in July 1991: “It’s a cause that you and I are defending, the cause of public education and what it can do for a small child or a large nation. The question is not whether we will always win, but whether we will always fight. Because as long as we fight, we feel we grow, we deepen, we serve.”

You have chosen, and nobly so, to stand and defend that cause. I could not be prouder than to stand with each one of  you, shoulder to shoulder, as together we battle for the future of public quality education. I probably couldn’t have put it better myself.

I add just this, that as  Larry Flanagan said yesterday, Education unions are at their best when we take equally seriously our role as trade unions and as professional associations at one and the same time. This resolution encapsulates that  and so much more, and I commend the resolution to you.