Education for all is the key to freedom

I have stared in amazement at my television, just like you, appalled by the
display of fanaticism that murdered thousands of people from dozens of
countries in the World Trade Center attacks.

First of all, it places our differences in industry in proper perspective.
Fanaticism of any sort, in the end, is counterproductive to the ends it claims
to serve.

It makes me proud to be a step-by-step man, a wishy-washy Fabian and proud
to agree with Albert Camus, the French political philosopher, who wonderfully
remarked that he would jump at the opportunity of joining a political party for
those of us who are not quite sure.

For everyone in industry, the shadow of the international coalition against
terrorism hangs over everything. But life must go on. There is a key issue that
has been concerning union opinion this month. Is it still possible to sustain
the rate of progress for employees without more law? On several fronts –
extending workplace education, consulting and informing the workforce and
modernising public service management – the need for more legislation is on the
lips of progressive opinion.

And yet red tape is a reality for so many businesses and public authorities
alike. We are all familiar with the small business complaints of endless
form-filling and persecution from public officials. I am not sure how many
realise just how stupid it is in public authorities to have so much resource
squandered on audit trails. So much investment everywhere is diverted from
improving the quality and quantity of the product into assessing, monitoring,
reporting and publicising what has been done.

This polemical point would have even more effect, however, if companies
behaved themselves voluntarily. Can’t they consult with their workforce without
the intervention of the EU convention? Can’t they see trade unions as partners
rather than enemies within? Can’t they understand that when workers know what
is going on they work harder, better, longer?

We need to change a culture that reflects employers’ appalling lack of
aspiration in upskilling their workforce. Employees are being encouraged by
individual learning accounts, Learndirect, and the Union Learning Fund to lift
their expectations of themselves. Does it need legislation to make employers
let people go to courses? Does it need monitoring, assessing and threatening to
make employers see that vocational education is the key to their liberation as
well as their employees’?

World-class management is needed in small companies and public services and
is increasingly available. We should not have to use the law to liberate us
from our past. It would be best to work together – voluntarily, step-by-step,
as equals. The poverty of aspiration should concern us all.

By John Lloyd, National officer, the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical
Union

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