Learning for the Future

Image by Daniel Arauz via Flickr

This year, the International Labour Organisation celebrates the centenary of its foundation. It offers an opportunity to reflect on the values that brought about its foundation and hold it together to this very day. And we ask ourselves: Where do we see a reflection of these values in our own times?

The foundation of the ILO was democracy; political democracy as well as industrial democracy. It was about worker rights and social justice. Born in the shadows of the devastation of the Great War, the ILO was also based on the resolution, rather than the suppression of conflict. That was and is fundamental to its mission of peace. As was the notion, made explicit in the Declaration of Philadelphia, that labour is not a commodity.

Today’s global economy is in dire need of the re-affirmation that labour is not a commodity. Not only has technology connected the world in ways previously unimaginable, but the lines between national and international impact and consequences have blurred and poorly regulated global capital markets and global supply chains have generated radical changes in the organisation of the world’s work. More than ever, today, being a good trade unionist means being an internationalist.


The huge flow of refugees and migrants, many of them forced to leave their homelands, is another feature of our times. Even after wars end, the internationalisation of the population and the workforce will not end. Inclusion and global governance strategies offer hope to accommodate and benefit from such shifts. Fear and hatred offer only authoritarianism and despair.

But there is also a larger picture to take into account: Labour is not a commodity, but neither are other aspects of being human. Human beings should not be confused with things. When education trade unionists struggle to protect and enhance their professions, they are not just fighting to have greater respect, status, and dignity than a machine or a product, but also to preserve education as a human-centred process driven by and reflecting the needs of students. In other words, if it is to serve its purpose, education cannot be a product to be bought and sold on the open market.

Educators seek to create environments that are safe, stress-free, equality-seeking communities of learning. To do that, teaching professionals must have the freedom to teach human beings — human beings prepared for life and for shaping their destinies, including as active citizens, rather than being reduced to cogs that fit neatly into the global economy.

Let’s remind ourselves of this, of these values fundamental for democracy and human rights, while celebrating May Day this year.