FEN education union holds 37th congress

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The Federation of National Education (FEN), one of France's largest teachers' trade unions, held its 37th congress in December 2000. It decided to change its name to UNSA-Education, to reflect its engagement in the National Federation of Independent Unions (UNSA), and adopted a proposal for educational reform.

The Federation of National Education (Fédération de l'éducation nationale, FEN) held its 37th congress in Pau on 12-14 December 2001. The congress resulted in a change of name for the teachers' trade union.

In 1948, FEN opted for independence so as to preserve its internal unity and to avoid having to make the choice between affiliation to one or other of the two union confederation s born out of a split in the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT). At that time, the remainder of CGT remained affiliated to the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), whereas the other confederation to emerge from the split, the General Confederation of Labour-Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail-Force ouvrière, CGT-FO) chose to affiliate to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in 1949.

Its independence from CGT and CGT-FO and the unity of the teaching professions under its banner enabled FEN to develop significantly. It became the exception to the rule in French trade unionism, representing a genuine, united mass trade union in a country where trade union membership has rarely been very high (See "La forteresse enseignante. La Fédération de l'éducation nationale" [The Education Fortress. The Federation of National Education], V Aubert, A Bergounioux, JP Martin, R Mouriaux, Editions Fayard, Paris, 1985).

However, in 1992, following tense internal debate, FEN split, with the Unitary Union Federation (Fédération syndicale unitaire, FSU) leaving to become independent. FSU subsequently gained more support than FEN in workplace elections of employee representatives. In the December 1999 election of education sector joint committee members, FSU won 49% of the vote and FEN 20% (FR0001128N).

Since 1992, FEN has altered its internal structure and participated in setting up a new intersectoral trade union organisation, the National Federation of Independent Unions (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes, UNSA), 40% of whose members belong to FEN. UNSA became a member of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) in May 1999 (FR9905186N).

The December 2000 FEN congress was meant to accomplish two main tasks: to assert symbolically the fact that FEN was firmly part of UNSA; and to launch a new education project, aimed at forming the basis for a debate throughout the teaching profession. On the first point, 80% of delegates approved a change of name from FEN to UNSA-Education. However, despite this overwhelming majority, there was opposition from some quarters, especially from the member unions representing school administrators and higher education and research staff. Consequently, the changeover to UNSA-Education will take some time. Those affiliated unions wishing to do so may continue to use FEN in conjunction with their own union name for three more years.

The congress's general resolution, which included a paper entitled For an education-based society (Pour une société éducative), was supported by 93% of delegates. Based on the view that schools, as such, no longer hold a monopoly on access to knowledge, this paper suggests opening up the education system and developing a "joint education" partnership between the schools system, parents and students. Under this proposal, students would have a "common core curriculum" at primary and lower-secondary school level, followed by a module-based curriculum at upper-secondary school and university level, enabling students to progress at different rates. The content of this proposed new system will be discussed and clarified at a later date.

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