British trade unions step up training

After years of discussion with its member organizations, the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) is about to complete a large residential training establishment for thousands of union officials and shop stewards.

Although unions like the giant Transport and General Workers and the General and Municipal Workers have their own residential colleges, it has long been maintained by TUC leaders that the parent organization needs a major educational center for short-term living-in courses to teach union leaders how to better represent their members in individual factories and work sites.

There are believed to be around 500,000 shop stewards and union-organized industrial safety officers who require instruction or refresher training, and the TUC has allocated L1 million ($2.26 million) toward a facility to serve 100 students.

Clive Jenkins, leader of the rapidly expanding Association of Scientific, Technical, and Managerial Staffs and chairman of the TUC's education committee, has said his union will lend L250,000 at 12 percent interest to develop a new TUC college.

The TUC has been providing short-term courses in its London headquarters for many years -- and summer schools in Wales. Further, the organization's regional education officers run classes on subjects like industrial relations and work study. Some companies allow union facilities to train shop stewards on management premises. But the vast majority of stewards arrange instruction within their own organization or at local colleges and universities.

The TUC also provides correspondent courses on a wide variety of subjects, including industrial law, economics, English, and sociology. The mail service operates from a headquarters near Stirling, central Scotland. Ruskin College, Oxford -- founded by a group of trade union-sponsored students during World War I -- specializes in long-term courses for potential full-time union officials or lay officers.

Fircroft College, Birmingham, is another institution with residential facilities for union students.

Mr. Jenkins has said that the TUC's education department will provide a record 50,000 courses for lay officials, safety representatives, and full-time organizers, but that is only a fraction of those who will apply for training this year. Industrial legislation passed by the last Labour government has put great pressure on the TUC to greatly expand its training services, and Mr. Jenkins has said that there is a new urgency to finding a suitable site for a large TUC college.

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