Study on the effects of structural adjustment policies in Burkina Faso Contents

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3.2 An uneven picture
However, it is apparent from the platforms of demands and the other documents which we have consulted that education unions have always been critical of the education policies (or lack thereof) of successive governments. In his memoirs, a former President of the Republic, Sangoulé Lamizana, writes that “the SNEAHV was pushing for a reform of education already in the 1970s.”60
However, as far as the period covered by this study is concerned (1990-2002), it can be said that unions have always concentrated on recovering what their members have lost, and on protecting or improving the status of the teaching profession – with varying degrees of success. They have not – and are still not – putting forward alternatives to the sectoral policies decided by the various regimes or imposed by the Bretton Woods institutions. They have attacked the symptoms rather than the disease itself.
3.2.1 Attacking the symptoms rather than the root cause
The SYNTER describes the SAP measures and reforms as “anti-educational”. The SNESS refers to “an equitable, quality education system for all”. For the FSER, “education is a crucial area, and it is not normal for the State to ignore its obligations to the point that education becomes a mere commodity – a sector where all kinds of adventurers seek to make a profit at the expense of our children’s future.”
For its part the SYNATEB, one of whose “primary objectives is to protect the education system and improve its quality for the benefit of Burkinese children”, calls for a democratic school system which it defines as “…a system designed by our nation as a whole and accepted by all children because each finds a place in it. It should be free and available to all, and perceived as a social institution enabling all individuals, with no distinctions, to acquire the skills and knowledge required for their personal development and a successful life.”
However, in their action plans and strategies to bring about a new type of school (to the extent that they have any such plans and strategies), the unions do not go beyond opposing the policies of the day and putting forward demands to improve the living standards of their members.
To achieve its objectives, the SYNATEB, for example, has adopted the following strategy:

- To put forward well thought-out, clear-cut positions on the PDDEB and educational innovations;

- To increase the awareness of all actors in education;

- To engage in united action with other unions61.

The major challenges identified by the SNESS at its 18th Ordinary Congress, held on the theme “The challenges confronting teachers’ unions in a globalised society” (28-29 March 2002) include:

  • Improving teachers’ precarious living conditions;

  • Setting a ceiling to the recruitment of personnel in public as well as private establishments;

  • Ensuring respect for the charters of schools and universities;

  • Ensuring quality education for all;

  • Putting an end to the privatisation of schools and ensuring they are fully funded by the State;

  • Combating child labour;

  • Preventing and combating STDs/AIDS in schools;

  • Integrating ICTs in education.

It is obvious from the economic and social conditions described above that – just like other, more traditional means of struggle (collective bargaining, strikes) – participatory strategies have not enabled unions to achieve their objectives or to protect their members’ established rights against the negative effects of the SAPs. Indeed, this is confirmed by the conclusions of the PADEP studies, according to which “in Burkina Faso, despite the existence of favourable structures, workers’ participation is largely symbolic and hardly ever moves beyond the consultation stage.”

3.2.2 Token participation

Workers’ usually constitute a minority in the existing participatory structures. For example, out of the 500 delegates who attended the National Education Forum in September 1994, only about 20 (4%) were from education unions.

An analysis of various activities’ reports shows that most unions have no specific policies or strategies for participation. As a result, union representatives are often complacent about the situation and there is no follow-up/evaluation of this means of trade union action. One particular report of activities showed that a general secretary represented his union on six different committees (out of 15). Clearly, this did not leave him much time to implement the congress resolutions, particularly when we consider that, in Burkina Faso, trade union leaders continue to hold a regular job.

A PADEP national training seminar for workers’ representatives, held in September 2001 in Ouagadougou, showed that most representatives did not bother to report back in writing to their mandating organisations on the progress of their activities.

Delays in the issuing of documentation to workers’ representatives (which sometimes takes place after the official opening of the meeting) often prevents them from making the most of the available information and effectively contributing to the debate.
Lastly, the changes proposed by the unions are only taken into account when they support the position of the government. In such circumstances, participation in the forums is arguably just a means of ratifying and legitimating the policies and decisions adopted by them.
In general, it can be said that the results of trade union action in relation to the SAPs and their negative effects on living and working conditions are uneven. Workers’ purchasing power has not been significantly increased, and no doubt this is what has led some workers to take other kinds of initiatives, outside the established trade union movement.
In September 2003, teacher trainees under the HIPC scheme organised outside the existing unions to protest against recruitment conditions.
The Think Tank on Enhancing the Status of the Teaching Profession (GIRFE) was set up in 2004 to “put forward reliable and credible alternative solutions to the proposed reforms…”. It aims to mobilise all teachers “whether or not they are members of traditional unions”.
To some extent, these initiatives outside the established unions reflect a certain mistrust of them, in that they lack credibility and effectiveness in the eyes of many workers.

3.3 Trade union fragmentation and ineffectiveness
Indeed, a number of PADEP researchers have pointed out that, since the turning point of 1991, Burkinese trade unionism, which is generally “characterised by pluralism and extreme fragmentation into small unions that sometimes oppose each other”, has lacked effectiveness62.
This lack of effectiveness is also due to the implicit undermining of trade union rights and freedoms which is associated with such phenomena as:

    • The politicisation of union leaderships, some of which have adopted malpractice as their basic management strategy, and

    • Corruption and/or the harassment of trade unionists at company level.

“At national level, most federations and confederations have been hijacked by political parties – whether in power or in opposition – which prevent them from acting or, alternatively, make them act like ‘party branches with the right to strike’, to use an expression coined by Charles K. Muase63. Many union leaders appear to put their personal interests and those of their political mentors over those of the workforce.”

Some trade union leaders tend to tow the line of their political mentors rather than implement the congress resolutions. Sometimes they have been placed at the head of the union thanks to the financial and human resources deployed by the party, which has instructed its members how to vote and has (generously) covered the expenses of voting delegates.
In this kind of context, a union leader may feel he is not accountable to the grassroots membership, but rather to his “masters”, who continue to provide free petrol vouchers and other benefits during his mandate – that is to say, until he is denounced and “grilled” by union activists. If and when that happens, the political mentors take the initiative and replace him with another “pawn”.
Apart from politicisation, another bane of Burkinese trade unionism is so-called perdiemitis64. This terms refers to the tendency of certain union leaders and officials to attach more importance to the material benefits and advantages they derive from the union’s activities than to the aims and objectives of these activities. This includes, of course, the per diems granted to participants in seminars funded by external partners, as well as travel expenses, stays in expensive hotels, the illicit promotion of products, receptions in the company of ministers and business leaders, indirect advertising through media coverage of union activities, etc. In extreme cases, we find a penchant to accept or solicit gifts from company managers and politicians, a predisposition for corruption…and finally political alienation.
Though less important, the struggle between top union officials to secure a greater share of international and national aid should also be noted as an adverse factor.
Discouraged by the behaviour of union leaders and the ineffectiveness of the unions themselves, many members – who are unaware of their rightful role in preventing abuses of power by their leaders – become resigned and relinquish their organisations to the “hijackers”. Some members might then set up a new union, which, however, also ends up being hijacked and which in any case, through its very existence, exacerbates the divisions within the trade union movement and contributes to weakening it as a whole.
All this has led to the fragmentation of Burkinese trade unionism into seven confederations and some 80 independent unions (i.e. unions not affiliated to any of the seven confederations) – and this for a potential membership of fewer than 200,000 workers (comprising the “structured” public and private sectors)!
Again according to the PADEP, the influence exerted by political parties is an unavoidable consequence or, as it were, the other side of the coin of the political role that the unions played during the first two decades after the country achieved independence – a period during which they “did and undid” several regimes (notably on 3 January 1966, 17-18 December 1975 and October 1980).
Teachers’ unions are no exception to these trends and indeed have often occupied centre stage in the political struggles.

3.3.1 Extreme fragmentation of the trade union movement
When the country became independent in 1960, there was only one union for all teachers, the “Syndicat national des enseignants africains de Haute-Volta” (Upper Volta National Union of African Teachers – SNEAHV), which had been founded in 1949.
In July 1972, secondary and higher education teachers left the SNEAHV to set up the “Syndicat unique voltaïque des enseignants du secondaire et du supérieur” (Single Union of Upper Volta Secondary and Higher Education Teachers – SUVESS), which eventually became today’s “Syndicat national des enseignants du secondaire et du supérieur” (SNESS). In the same period, an attempt to create another primary education teachers’ union (namely the “Organisation libre des enseignants africains de Haute-Volta” – Free Organisation of Upper Volta African Teachers – OLEAHV) ended in failure.
In 1980, at the beginning of the academic year, the SNEAHV organised a two-month strike which led to the downfall of the “Comité militaire pour le redressement et le progrès national” (Military Committee for National Recovery and Progress – CMRPN), which was then in power. In March 1984, following another strike, 2,600 teachers, including the leadership of SNEAHV (only 1,300 teachers, according to the authorities) were dismissed by the government of the National Revolutionary Council (CNR), which had fresh memories of the overthrow of the CMRPN.
To replace the terminally stricken SNEAHV, a new organisation – the “Syndicat national des enseignants du Burkina” (Burkina National Union of Teachers – SNEB) was set up by the teachers who were aligned with the revolutionary government. The sacked teachers were reinstated in 1987 following a change of regime, and in August 1990 the SNEAHV, which in the meantime had become the “Syndicat national des enseignants africains” (National Union of African Teachers – SNEA), and the SNEB merged to form the “Syndicat national des enseignants africains du Burkina” (Burkina National Union of African Teachers – SNEAB).
It should also be noted that another short-lived union, the “Syndicat national démocratique des enseignants de Haute-Volta” (Upper Volta National Democratic Teachers’ Union – SYNDEHV), had been founded in Bobo-Dioulasso, in August 1983, by a group of SNEAHV dissidents.
Once again, in May 1995, a group of dissidents who criticised the SNEAB for its “collaboration trade unionism”, set up the “Syndicat national des travailleurs de l’éducation de base” (National Union of Basic Education Workers – SYNATEB), thus causing an enduring split among teachers at this level. On 28 September 2000, after being forced to step down, the General Secretary of this union founded the “Syndicat autonome des travailleurs de l’éducation de base” (Autonomous Union of Basic Education Workers – SATEB).
In the secondary- and higher-education sector, the SUVESS also split in two, leading to the creation in December 1981 of the “Syndicat national des travailleurs de l’Education et de la recherche” (National Union of Education and Research Workers – SYNTER). One of the reasons advanced for this new split was “the antidemocratic practices of the SUVESS leaders, who stopped at nothing to uphold a reformist stance subservient to the power politics of the MLN-UPV65, which hibernated an dehibernated the union at will, depending on the changing political alliances formed by the party to control the neo-colonial power structures with complete disregard for the basic interests of education and research workers”66.
3.3.2 Rivalry and antagonism between unions
As mentioned in Section 3.2.1 above, there also exist:

  • A Teachers and Researchers’ Federation (FSER) and

  • A Union of Administrative and Management Staff in Education and Research (SYNAPAGER); as well as

  • Several university and secondary-education students’ unions, the most representative of which is the Burkinese Students’ National Association (ANEB), affiliated to the “Union générale des étudiants Burkinabé” (Burkinese General Union of Students – UGEB).

The FSER originated from the stillborn Upper Volta National Democratic Teachers’ Union (SYNDEHV). Up until now, it “has not taken any significant initiative”. It is affiliated to the “Confédération nationale des travailleurs Burkinabé” (Burkina Faso National Confederation of Workers – CNTB), which in turn belongs to the Christian-inspired World Confederation of Labour (WCL). It aims to mobilise Franco-Arab teachers as well as those in the non-denominational private sector.

The SNEAB, which is “a progressive, anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist mass organisation”, was originally affiliated to the “Union syndicale des travailleurs du Burkina” (Burkina Workers’ Trade Union Confederation – USTB). However, in 1972 it disaffiliated from this organisation and, in 1974, set up the “Confédération syndicale Burkinabé” (Burkinese Trade Union Confederation – CSB) together with other unions, almost all of them originating from the USTB. In 1979, the SNEAB split from the CSB and became an autonomous union. Both the USTB and the CSB profess to belong to the revolutionary trade union movement.
The SNESS is affiliated to the CSB since the creation of this confederation.
The SYNTER is a founding member of the “Confédération Générale du travail du Burkina” (General Confederation of Labour of Burkina – CGTB), set up in 1988. The CGTB claims to be a revolutionary trade union engaged in the class struggle.
For its part, the SYNATEB is not affiliated to any confederation but, just as the CGTB, describes itself as a revolutionary trade union.
The polarisation of the Burkinese trade union movement – between 1994 and 1999 – into “the Group of 13” and “the CGTB Group” left some wounds in the education sector unions.
The SNEAB, the SNESS (both affiliated to EI) and the FSER belonged to the first of the two above-mentioned groups, whereas the SYNTER and SYNATEB, which cooperate with the Burkinese Students’ National Association (ANEB), are members of the CGTB Group.
Despite the few joint SNESS-SYNTER initiatives mentioned in Section above, united action between the unions of education workers remained limited in the period of the introduction and implementation of the SAPs. Sometimes, it is “one-upmanship” and rivalry that prevail on the ground. Members of the two groups clashed in certain provinces during the campaign waged by a broad-based political alliance against impunity67 and at the time of the “university crisis” in 2000. The SNESS denounced the “humiliating treatment…[and] various attacks inflicted on its members by their colleagues”.
3.3.3 Trade union freedom called into question
To these divisions and absence of genuine united action should be added governmental repression, which has seriously undermined activists’ combativeness. In its reports, the SYNTER refers to “the arbitrary transfer of teachers, practised systematically by the Ministry for Secondary and Higher Education and Scientific Research since the SNESS-SYNTER joint struggle of 1993”. The SYNATEB delegates to the 9th Trade Union Conference (July 2001) reported, in addition to these arbitrary transfers, the use of intimidation and death threats against union leaders and activists; and, as highlighted by the PADEP report, teachers, particularly those in primary education, have not forgotten the blow they and their unions received from the CNR in March 1984. (See also box “The union or your career”68).
The union or your career

On the basis of the studies conducted by the PADEP and Charles K. Muasse, and judging also from the memoirs of General Sangoulé Lamizana, it can be said that freedom of association is not respected today in Burkina Faso. On the ground, Burkinese trade unionists are faced with two difficult dilemmas: they must choose between the union and their professional career, and between supporting the parties in opposition and those in power.

Given the political role played by the unions during the first two decades after independence (more specifically in 1966, 1975 and 1980) and by the CDRs69 in the service sector (during the 1983-1987 period), today trade union freedoms are implicitly being called into question by the employers as well as by the political parties.

In those companies were trade unions are tolerated, their leaders and activists are subjected to moral harassment.

Moral harassment can be defined as “a combination of interpersonal forms of violence developed in the workplace as part of a strategy aimed at subduing others, undermining their ability to act, diminishing their personality and forcing them to resign”.

At national level, most federations and confederations have been hijacked by political parties whether in power or in opposition – which prevent them from acting or, alternatively, make them act like “party branches with the right to strike”, to use an expression coined by Charles K. Muase. Many union leaders appear to put their personal interests and those of their political mentors over those of the workforce.

Following the dismissal of the trade union representatives at SOSUCO70 (an event which recalled the sacking – still fresh in everyone’s mind – of 1,300 teachers in 1984), many workers understood that they could no longer rely on the unions to protect their interests vis-à-vis the employers and the government. They therefore resigned themselves to “passive trade unionism”, stopped paying their union dues or, as in the case of the former workers of Faso Fani, resorted to unorthodox methods to seek justice for themselves – all of which has ultimately made union leaders learn to excel in the art of prevarication.
When the unions were invited to take part in the National Conference on the Economy, held in May 1990, the trade union confederations CGTB, ONSL and CNTB openly opposed the SAPs. Shortly after the conferences, the general secretaries of both the ONSL and the CNTB were ousted by a “putsch”. The leaders of the CGTB and its affiliates somehow managed to weather the storm, but in any case these events were perceived in the trade union world as a clear indication that implementation of the SAPs would go ahead with or without the agreement of the unions and in spite of any opposition from them.
Repression and corruption, fragmentation, lack of unity in action and dysfunctions associated with the lack of internal democracy have prevented the Burkinese teachers’ unions, which were once combative and successful, from effectively meeting the challenges associated with the introduction and implementation of structural adjustment policies in the education sector and from countering these policies with alternative proposals.
The unions emerged (?) from the struggles more weakened and more divided than before, but today they are aware that their ineffectiveness is caused by lack of unity.
Among other causes of the ineffectiveness of unions in Burkina Faso, the PADEP notes the following:

  • The lack of management skills;

  • Inadequate training of union officials, who lack a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities in the union structures as well as of the regulatory texts governing employment relations.

The PADEP questionnaire survey revealed that 68.8% of respondents, most of whom were workers’ representatives in various participation bodies, had never undergone any trade union training.

At its Congress in January 1998, the SYNTER noted a 70% increase in membership, including many young workers for whom this was the first experience of trade unionism, apart from their participation in student organisations.
3.3.4 Despite everything, teachers are still a privileged social group.
Lastly, the government has often turned trade union struggles to its own advantage, portraying certain groups of workers as privileged in comparison with the “masses”, i.e. the underprivileged social layers that lack even the “basics” of human dignity: food, health, housing and education.
As apparent from the following quotations, this sledgehammer argument was already used during the “structural self-adjustment” periods to justify pay cuts.
“We cannot accept that 1% of the population is allowed to absorb almost half of the budget, while farmers and agricultural workers, whose situation is far from enviable, are waiting for us to do something for them. Now, if we increase pay levels, we shall be able to do nothing for them. I believe that the government’s position is very clear. We cannot afford to embark on a financial adventure to please a few.” (M.T. GARANGO in Marchés Tropicaux et Méditerranéens, 18 October 1969).
“We are seeking to combat inequality. And what do we see? Out of a budget of 58 billion, no less than 30 billion are being monopolised by some 30,000 civil servants, so that hardly anything is left for the rest of the population. This is absurd. If we want more justice, each of us must acknowledge the difficult situation most people are experiencing and recognise that some sacrifices are required to bring about justice.” (T. SANKARA, quoted by J. ZIEGLER and J.P. RAPP, 1986, p.64).
The inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the education system is also blamed on the disruption caused by trade union action. In 2000, the government did not hesitate to declare the university academic year “void” and to launch a mud-slinging campaign against the teachers’ and students’ unions.
Many students’ parents are increasingly receptive to this kind of argument, given that at present the strikes usually only affect working-class children, while the children of the privileged elite study in private establishments were unions are hardly tolerated. What’s worse, during the strikes some teachers (particularly in secondary education and including union officials) who are on strike in public-sector establishments, continue to work as supply teachers in private establishments.
The result is a crisis of confidence – a rift between teachers and the general population, a high proportion of whom are reluctant to support teachers in their struggle.
4. Towards a more effective participation of education unions in decision-making
In the prevailing neoliberal environment, characterised by the quest for “leaner” government and the subordination of everything to “the economy” and profit, unions must of course uphold their members’ interests, but in addition to sector-specific demands, they should also include in their platforms important issues that concern the community as a whole, and should take into account the concerns of the majority of the population, which has little access to information and to the decision-making process.
No special research is needed to show that today the improvement of education workers’ living and working conditions is linked to the improvement of the living standards of students’ parents and, more generally, of the population that ultimately bears the cost of education – regardless of whether funding is carried out through central government, decentralised regional authorities or payments to private educational establishments.
According to the UNDP Associate Administrator, education plays a key role in development but “the economy can only be built by making clear choices, and the greatness of a country lies in its vision of the future, of what it wants to become and what it wants for its children”.71
A genuine reform of education cannot be brought about solely by heeding the advice of international consultants and national experts. Often these consultants and experts have little knowledge of local realities and do not share the concerns of the common people, who are the first victims of the system’s structural crisis. Sometimes, furthermore, they style themselves as saviours, believing that the common people are simply incompetent.
Therefore teachers’ unions, which are present in practically every village (and hence in touch with the everyday life of the schools and populations on the ground), have an obligation to propose an alternative education system which not only reflects the social, cultural and economic realities in Burkina Faso, i.e. the needs and limitations of Burkinese society, but is also based on universally recognised ethical and spiritual values. Such a system must be capable, for example, of providing the basic training required to develop and make the most of Burkinese skilled labour, formerly very much appreciated in the entire sub-region, bearing in mind that skilled workers constitute the main “product” which the country can advantageously place on the regional and global markets.
To achieve these aims, unions must build strong organisations and function democratically and must, additionally:

  • Provide services that effectively and significantly improve their members’ working and living conditions and protect workers against injustice and inequality, and

  • Devise, implement and evaluate effective and efficient policies and strategies to promote the participation of their members and the population at large in decision-making processes in order to ensure that decisions always take into account the rights and interests of workers as well as of the beneficiaries and users of the education system.

A prerequisite for this to happen is that unions regain their credibility.

4.1 Internal democratisation
As mentioned in Chapter 3, according to a PADEP study, the two main problems besetting Burkinese trade unionism are “extreme politicisation” and “perdiemitis”. As a result of these problems, the unions have undergone a process of gradual disintegration and have been hijacked by political parties.
In order to reverse the current trend towards fragmentation, mismanagement and resignedness among union members, and in order to promote a high degree of organisational autonomy and political and financial independence, unions must review their own structures and adapt them to the new context, starting from their very concept of trade unionism, including:

  • Its fundamental principles;

  • Its structures (committee, branch, union, federation, confederation);

  • Its objectives and areas for action in the context of a world that is becoming globalised and at the same time regionalised;

  • Pluralism, which should be regarded as a competitive mechanism to provide members with better services, rather than as a “tripping-up contest” between trade unionists vying for power.

In the periods between congresses, the leading bodies of unions should function efficiently, as genuine executive bodies whose members and management structures, including the secretariats responsible for implementing the congress decisions, are truly accountable to the grassroots, i.e. to the beneficiaries of trade union action who have elected them and from whom they have received a mandate to implement certain policies.

In each union, the financial control body (usually reserved for unsuccessful candidates in the elections to the executive boards) should become a genuine audit committee that not only controls the union’s finances but also monitors the overall functioning of the union and ensures that its leaders behave ethically.
Specialised committees (such as the women’s committees of the SNEAB and SNESS) should be set up to deal with specific issues, including gender equality, recruitment, training and education, participation, etc.
Looking at the existing situation, we find that, in one particular union, the executive board includes only one woman (out of 11 members).
In order to achieve greater internal synergy, unions must improve internal communications and set up networks enabling activists to convey a message to their colleagues in the remotest hamlet of the country and receive feed back from them within 24 hours. Such a network can be based on the message services used by road transport companies as well as on other systems and the media, including fixed and mobile telephones, e-mail, the written press and the numerous existing radio stations.
In order to be truly democratic, unions also require:
1- Leaders, i.e. efficient managers who are aware of their responsibilities and who:

  • Place the principles of justice and ethics, and the values of purposeful work, integrity and dignity at the centre of their lives;

  • Have a coherent outlook and are trained to devise short-, medium- and long-term policies and strategies, analyse members’ problems and develop, implement and evaluate programmes and projects which effectively and significantly improve workers’ living standards and working conditions;

  • Have “the ability to motivate others to achieve a common objective” and strive to involve all members in decision-making as much as possible;

  • Are intellectually and materially equipped to hold their own in argument with the champions of globalisation and their local representatives: WTO, IMF, World Bank, subsidiaries of multinational companies, etc.

2- Members who are aware of their roles and responsibilities within the union and who, more specifically:

  • Keep the leadership well informed of their wishes and aspirations;

  • Strive to enable the union leaders to make more effective and better-informed decisions, and ensure that leaders do not abuse their powers;

  • Take part in the union’s life financially and materially.

During their mandates, high-ranking union leaders should be given leave from their professional duties in order to be able to concentrate fully on trade union work. This will protect them from any pressure exerted by private or public employers and will enable them to embark on a trade union career in which promotion is linked to results.

Of course, for this kind of reorganisation to be possible, unions would require more resources, especially financial ones, to be able to pay union leaders attractive salaries in addition to covering the union’s operational and equipment costs.
In the case of teachers’ unions, the long-standing problem of insufficient resources could be solved. The potential is there to do so. As shown by Table 2.4 above72, the number of primary education teachers increased by 125% between 1991 and 2000. As for secondary- and higher-education teachers, their numbers increased by 188% and 99% respectively (see the above-mentioned table and Table 4.1 below).
Table 4.1: Numbers of teachers in secondary and higher education between 1990 and 2000.












No. of teachers in secondary ed.











No. of teachers in higher ed.










Year declared “void”

As mentioned previously, the Ten-year Basic Education Development Plan (PDDEB) provided for the recruitment of 29,000 new teachers over the ten-year period. However, the poor working conditions established for these teachers – as described in Section 2.1 – make a fertile ground for trade union action. By tapping this potential, unions can easily broaden their membership base.

In the year 2000, there were 17,709 teachers in primary education, 6,541 in secondary education and 773 in higher education. Now, 25,000 members paying each 500 CFA francs per month in membership dues represent a potential of 150 million CFA francs.
An acceptable regulatory framework is in place. Burkina Faso has ratified ILO Conventions Nos. 87 and 98. The Constitution, the Labour Code and the rules governing public employment guarantee freedom of association and provide for structures and opportunities for participation. In 2003, within the framework of several seminars and research projects carried out that year, the Burkinese authorities (government and parliament) confirmed their willingness to promote the participation of civil society organisations in the management of public affairs.
There are also training programmes to build the capacities of union leaders and activists and improve the skills of workers’ representatives in the existing participation structures, e.g.:

  • The PANAF training project based on study circles;

  • The African Workers’ Participation Development Programme (PADEP).

More specifically, the PADEP provides for the following measures over the next three-year period:

  • Training for the leaders of trade union confederations and autonomous unions;

  • Research activities and publications aimed at capacity building in the areas of trade union policymaking, workers’ education and codetermination;

  • A post-university training Programme in Employment Relations, the aim of which is to strengthen the ability of African trade unions – in their capacity as development partners – to effectively influence the social, economic and political environment in which people live and work.

Both programmes also offer training opportunities – based on study circles – for grassroots union members and elected officials.

4.2 Mobilising the unions and the workforce
If they want to be successful, unions should launch broad-based awareness and education campaigns to turn sympathisers into full members, and members into activists, i.e. members who regularly pay their dues, take part in meetings and other events, assume responsibilities within the union and strive to overcome all obstacles to achieve the agreed demands.
Training and awareness activities must emphasise the fact that freedom of association and the various rights enjoyed by workers today were not handed to them on a silver platter.
In order to preserve these established rights which economic globalisation and rampant neoliberalism are calling into question, workers must be prepared to sacrifice at least a small proportion of their free time and their wages (in the shape of payment of the union membership fee); they must be prepared to temporarily give up or forfeit certain advantages and benefits, including opportunities for promotion – and some may even have to be prepared to lose their jobs and their freedom if unions are to recover the power and influence they used to have.
A campaign targeting union members in the first place, and subsequently the employers and the government, should be undertaken to introduce a check-off system for the payment of membership fees.
The training of leaders and union members in general should enable unions to recover their efficiency and credibility. Effective participation of all members in the life of the union will counteract any degenerative tendencies in the leadership.
The unions will also have to develop and implement well thought-out policies and strategies to recruit new members. Special attention should be given to targeting and organising young workers who have just finished their training, although awareness activities can already begin at the training stage.
4.3 The modernisation of management systems and instruments
The new climate characterising industrial and trade union relations also requires unions to review their instruments and work methods. Union leaders and activists should be well-informed, capable of benefiting from the results of research and able to access the knowledge available in universities and on the Internet. The aim is for them to “know how to find the information truly relevant to their activities among the mass of available information”.
Thanks to their international partners, some unions already have adequate offices and equipment. However, sometimes the equipment is not used to its full potential because of a lack of skills and knowledge on the part of union officials or because of time constraints on the part of union leaders.
With the globalisation of production and distribution, the limitations of traditional methods of struggle, including collective bargaining and strike action, are becoming increasingly apparent. Other methods, such as participation in civil society and the development of strategic campaigns, can sometimes prove more fruitful. Properly planned participation and well-targeted campaigns can be a very effective means of improving workers’ living standards and working conditions.
In the decision-making process, participation takes place upstream. A proposal or amendment is more likely to be taken into account at the planning stage than later on, when doing so might require reversing a decision.
A trade union campaign consists of a number of coherent actions aimed at exerting pressure on the employer in order to obtain a significant improvement in living and working conditions through interaction with:

- The workers and their unions;

- The workforce of other companies;

- Customers and users;

- Middle and upper management;

- Fund providers;

- Suppliers;

- Public opinion and civil society;

- Politicians;

- The media;

- The government and legislators.
5.4 Broadening the scope for cooperation and alliances
In order to develop effective strategies, union must broaden the scope for cooperation and alliances, particularly with other civil society organisations.
Keeping in mind that unions will only command respect if they can seriously disrupt or stop production, union leaders should overcome their ideological divisions and prejudices, and seek unity as much as possible73. Enabling mergers between unions with similar outlooks should be regarded as a priority task. Where a merger is not feasible, joint action can be built around a common minimum platform. The issue of representativeness, which is a concern shared by the Burkinese trade union movement as a whole, can become an effective basis for a rapprochement between unions in the education sector.
The problems addressed by unions over the past ten years – notably the negative effects of the SAPs – concern the country’s entire workforce and indeed require the joint mobilisation of unions in all sectors of the economy. Such a mobilisation can be achieved through affiliation to – or structured cooperation with – the national-level trade union confederations.
There is also a need to strengthen bilateral cooperation with other education unions in the sub-region that are experiencing similar difficulties.
With regionalisation and globalisation, certain decisions that affect workers are taken by sub-regional and regional organisations (WAEMU, ECOWAS, AU74) or by the representations of international organisations (WTO, World Bank, IMF, UNESCO, UNICEF) or of multinational companies.
If we wish the voice of Burkinese education workers to be heard at this level, it is essential to regionalise and globalise trade union action. Lobbying is one of the most common methods applied by civil society organisations to influence policymaking.
Recent experience clearly shows that international action and pressure is an important (and sometimes decisive) factor enabling unions to achieve their objectives in a growing number of disputes.
National unions can only benefit from participation in global union coalitions through the international federations and confederations as well as from participation in the alternative globalisation movement.
The organisations taking part in this global movement “are calling for a globalisation based on solidarity and justice, a globalisation with a human face, a globalisation where the development of trade and investments also means more justice and more opportunities, i.e. a globalisation which:

  • Promotes workers’ rights and job security;

  • Promotes quality education and quality healthcare for all;

  • Helps disadvantaged people rather than only serve the interests of the wealthy;

  • Is open and democratic;

  • Works to everyone’s advantage, everywhere in the world;

  • Ensures genuine justice and true equality worldwide.”

However, coalitions can also be built at national level. In order to promote changes in national policies, trade unions must move beyond their traditional sphere of action and identify potential allies among:

  • NGOs and associations in the education sector;

  • Consumer associations;

  • Human rights campaigns;

  • Students’ unions;

  • Women’s associations;

  • Associations of workers in the informal economy;

  • Political parties that are favourable to workers’ interests.

It should also be noted here that unions may forge alliances with any other organisation – including political parties – whose activities promote workers’ welfare. But, in this particular case, the alliance should be established officially, should be agreed upon by the union’s decision-making structures and should be controllable by the grassroots membership of the union. “When it comes to political parties, history teaches us that any alliance with them should have a time frame. The objectives should be clearly defined and union leaders should remain highly vigilant to ensure they are not double-crossed.”

Union leaders should in fact bear in mind that 72.9% of the education workers who responded to the PADEP survey questionnaire believed that the union should have no links with political parties, and 79.2% said that, similarly, union leaders should have no such links.

Putting all the above together, we reach the conclusion that the changes and alternative schemes prescribed for Burkina Faso by international consultants and national experts to achieve the desired “expansion / gender equality / geographical equality / quality and relevance of education” are unlikely to receive much support from:

  • The population who is directly concerned by under-schooling and poor schooling and who – through the process of reform – is being offered an education system allegedly affordable by all but which in actual fact is debased;

  • Teachers, who, as a result of the reforms, are expected to put up with difficult and unfair living and working conditions.

The government’s strategy raises another question: how far can the quality of education be “pushed into the background” in order to achieve the aim of making education affordable for those who live under the poverty line, i.e. 47% of the population? Will the proposed reforms be effective in terms of achieving this aim unless a close link is established between education, vocational training and the globalised labour market?75

Indeed, it seems to us that – quite apart from the introduction of national languages and “productive work” – the key question is what can Burkinese workers produce for a liberalised market which is already swamped with all kinds of goods and services, including goods and services produced with the help of computers and robots as well as GMOs, subsidised products and second-hand products, all of which stifle local entrepreneurship?”
As far as teachers are concerned, they are the key actors in education, and their involvement in the planning, development, implementation and follow-up of education programmes is essential. If from the very start they are not treated as active participants or are not convinced of the relevance of the programmes, or if they feel that their interests have not been taken into account by planners, they may end up running against the grain of the reforms and compromise its objectives and investments.
But we should also ask ourselves whether, in essence, the education policies pursued under the auspices of the World Bank are not geared to containing and reorganising public expenditure over all other objectives, i.e. whether the aims of education are not actually subordinated to those of the SAPs.
The fact that the well-worn stick-and-carrot strategy is being used to push through the reforms is arguably an indication that the champions of these reforms are incapable of proving their well-foundedness and perhaps are even aware at the back of their minds that the reforms are unjust.
Whatever the efficacy of the proposed remedies, and regardless of the level of competence or the good faith of the “SAP shamans”, the question arises as to the responsibility of the local “medicine men” who use coercion to administer the “potion” to their “patients”, i.e. to the people who have elected them…as well as the responsibility of all the lesser healers who can “diagnose” the problem and, so to speak, read the instructions on the bottle.
This is why teachers and their unions have an obligation to move beyond their own sector-specific demands and build broad coalitions with all stakeholders in education in order to put forward and uphold alternative policies to those imposed by the Bretton Woods institutions. Unless this happens, “EFA by 2015” will remain a largely empty slogan and will go the same way as “healthcare for all by the year 2000” did before it.
The history of the trade union movement, in which teachers’ unions have often played a key role, shows that no government can afford to ignore an alternative set of proposals submitted by a coalition led by unions. It was thanks to such coalitions that successive governments – including military regimes – were never able to impose a single union and a single party in Upper Volta.

Notes on Part II of BF report

- Footnote 7: Blank spaces appear in the original where we would expect the number and date of this publication. The same problem is repeated elsewhere.

- Pie chart on page 8: I was unable to edit the chart. The translation is given in square brackets after the chart.

- Page 12 and elsewhere: I am uncertain about the term “cours de vacations” (only 12 hits on Google!). I have rendered it as “supply teaching” but it might conceivably refer to some sort of “holiday tuition” or “extra-curricular course”.

- Section entitled “References and other sources”. The list of references does not conform to any standard layout/formatting. In particular, a) no systematic distinction is drawn between books, articles in periodicals, conference papers, organisations used as sources, events, etc.; b) the information is not presented in a consistent order; c) the information is often fragmentary or incomplete. I have spent considerable time “tidying up” this section (eliminating repeated titles, standardising the presentation where possible, standardising the font type, distinguishing between different kinds of items, etc.) but bringing it in line with standard practice would require many hours of work and close consultation with the author.

List of abbreviations

  1. AfDB

African Development Bank

  1. CEBNF

Centre d’Education de Base Non Formelle” (Informal Basic Education Centre)

  1. CEG

“Collège d’Enseignement Général” (General Education School)

  1. CFA franc

Franc of the African Financial Community

  1. CNR

“Conseil National de la Révolution” (National Revolutionary Council)

  1. CSLP

“Cadre Stratégique de Lutte contre la Pauvreté” (Anti-Poverty Strategic Framework)

  1. DFC

Double-flow classes

  1. EFA

Education For All

  1. EI

Education International

  1. ENAM

“Ecole Nationale d’Administration et de la Magistrature” (National School of Administration and Magistrature)

  1. ENEP

“Ecole National des Enseignants du Primaire” (National School for Primary Teachers)

  1. FAS

“Facilités d’Ajustement Structurel” (Structural Adjustment Facilitating Programme)

  1. FASR

“Facilité d’Ajustement Structurel Renforcé” (Strengthened Structural Adjustment Facilitating Programme)

  1. GDP

Gross Domestic Product

  1. GNP

Gross National Product

  1. HIPC

Heavily Indebted Poor Countries

  1. IDB

Islamic Development Bank

  1. IMF

International Monetary Fund

  1. IUTS

“Impôt Unique sur les Traitements et Salaires” (Single Tax on Wages and Salaries)

  1. MASSN

“Ministère de l’Action Sociale et de la Solidarité Nationale” (Ministry for Social Action and National Solidarity)

  1. MEBA

“Ministère de l’Enseignement de Base et de l’Alphabétisation” (Ministry for Basic Education and Literacy)


“Ministère des Enseignements Secondaire, Supérieur et de la Recherche Scientifique” (Ministry for Secondary and Higher Education and Research)

  1. MGC

Multi-Grade Class

  1. NA

National Assembly

  1. NGO

Non-Governmental Organisation

  1. PADEP

“Programme africain pour le développement de la participation des travailleurs” (African Workers’ Participation Development Programme)

  1. PANAF

ICFTU-AFRO/OATUU/LO-TCO Pan-African Education Project

  1. PDDEB

“Plan Décennal de Développement de l’Education de Base” (Ten-year Basic Education Development Plan)

  1. SAP

Structural Adjustment Programme

  1. SATEB

“Syndicat Autonome des Travailleurs de l’Education de Base” (Autonomous Union of Basic Education Workers)

  1. SNEAB

“Syndicat National des Enseignants Africains du Burkina” (Burkina National Union of African Teachers)

  1. SNESS

“Syndicat National des Enseignants du Secondaire et du Supérieur” (National Union of Secondary and Higher Education Teachers)


Sexually Transmissible Diseases / Human Immunodeficiency Virus / Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome


“Syndicat National des Travailleurs de l’Education de Base” (National Union of Basic Education Workers)


“Syndicat National des Travailleurs de l’Education et de la Recherche” (National Union of Education and Research Workers)

  1. UNDP

United Nations Development Programme


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization


United Nations Children’s Fund

  1. WB

World Bank

  1. WGESA

Working Group on Education Sector Analysis

References and other sources

Zagré, Pascal, Les Politiques économiques du Burkina Faso, Editions KARTHALA 22-24, Boulevard Arago, 75013 Paris.

Ki-Zerbo, Joseph, Eduquer ou Périr, Editions l’Harmattan, 5-7, rue de l’Ecole-Polytechnique, 75005 Paris.
L’école victime de la politique, les grandes énigmes, p 20, Editions le Pays No. 2677, Tuesday 23 July 2002
Spécial rentrée scolaire 2002-2003, pp 3-4, Editions le Pays No. 2725, Tuesday 1st October 2002.

Cadre Stratégique de Lutte contre la Pauvreté, Rapport de mise en œuvre (Anti-Poverty Strategic Framework Implementation Report), July 2000-June 2001.

Cadre Stratégique de Lutte contre la Pauvreté, Rapport de mise en œuvre, June 2001-July 2002.
Pan-African Magazine Construire l’Afrique No. 97, 15-30 June 2003.
Plan Décennal de l’Education: le SNEAB et le SYNATEB s’insurgent, p 8, Editions le Pays No. 2591 of Tuesday 19 March 2002.
Report on the Final Resolution of the 8th Ordinary Congress of the SYNTER, 23-25 April 1998.
Le Travailleur de l’éducation et de la Recherche, periodical T.E.R of the SYNTER, No.13, October 1998.
Plan Décennal de développement de l’éducation de Base 2001-2010, Editions SIDWAYA, special issue on PDDEP.
World Report on Human Development 2003, Organe d’information de la CSA Benin No. 9, December 2003, pp 6 & 10.
“Secrétariat Technique pour la coordination des programmes de Développement Economique et Social” (Technical Secretariat for the Coordination of Economic and Social Development Programmes).
Education International Quarterly, vol. 6 No. 4, March 2002.
PADEP/Burkina Research Guide, August 1998.
PADEP/Burkina HUICOMA: L’exemple du chef Bamako, November 1994.
Constitution of the “Syndicat National démocratique des enseignants de Haute-Volta” (SYNDEHV), adopted in Ouagadougou on 6/05/1984.
Rapport de synthèse problématique et organisation du Plan d’éducation pour tous.
Performances Macroéconomiques et persistance de la pauvreté, “Etats Généraux”, Ouagadougou, 10 September 1994.
ICFTU-AFRO/ONSL Follow-up Colloquium, Ouagadougou, 17-18 December 1998.
Government Responses to the Trade Unions’ Statement of Grievances of 1st May 2002, September 2002.
Final Report of the 8th Ordinary Congress of the SNESS, held on 28-29 March 2002 at the “Centre de Promotion Rurale” (CPR) of Goundi.
Proceedings of the 23rd Ordinary Congress of the SNEAB, held in Ouagadougou on 29-31 August, 1-2 September 2000.
La voix des enseignants, 50th Anniversary Special Issue, 12 October 1999.
Final Report of the 17th Ordinary Congress of the SNESS, held on 5-7 May 1999. Theme: “The trade union movement and human rights”.
Final Report of the 18th Ordinary Congress of the SNESS, held on 28-29 March 2002 at the “Centre de Promotion rurale” (CPR) of Goundi. Theme: “The challenges confronting teachers’ unions in a globalised society”.
Lettre No. 2003/BN/SYNATEB, 12 September 2003.
SYNATEB, Déclaration sur le recrutement des 2.550 IAC/PPTE (HIPC), 20/09/2003.
3rd Ordinary Congress of the SYNATEB, held in Ouagadougou on 2-4 September 2002. Theme: “Education and development”.
16th Ordinary Congress of the SNESS 4-6 January 1996 at the “Centre d’Education Ouvrière de Ouagadougou”. Theme: “The operational reorganisation of the SNESS”.
Dévaluation du Franc CFA et équilibre des paiements courants, paper by Bernard Conte, “Centre d’économie du développement” – Montesquieu University – Bordeaux IV – France.
Colloque de suivi de la conférence sur les dimensions sociales de l’ajustement structurel au Burkina Faso, 17-18 December 1998, pp. 9-10, 26, 30.
SYNATEB education, training and information bimonthly Le Progrès No. 5, December 2003-January 2004, p9.
SYNATEB education training and information bimonthly Le Progrès No. 3, October-November 2001, p. 3
MESSRS/MEBA, “Assises Nationales sur l’éducation au Burkina Faso”, January 2002.
Training seminar for women trade union educators, held at the head office of the SNEAB from 28 to 30 August 2001.
La voix des enseignants: Proceedings of the 31st Ordinary Congress of the SNEAB, held in Ouagadougou on 29-30 July and 1-2 August 1997. Theme: “The need for reorganisation”.
La voix des enseignants: Proceedings of the 32nd Ordinary Congress of the SNEAB, held in Ouagadougou on 29-31 August and 1-2 September 2000. Theme: “The Future of Trade Unionism in Burkina Faso: The case of the SNEAB”.
La coopération dans le secteur de l’éducation de base avec les pays d’Afrique subsaharienne. Report by the Working Group chaired by Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, adopted on 8 October 2001, page 1 of 33.
MSSRS and MEBA, Minutes of the “Etats Généraux de l’Education”, Ouagadougou, 5-10 September 1994,
Mamadou SISSOKO et al., La protection sociale au Burkina Faso: Eléments pour un plan d’action en vue d’une gestion prospective, May 1999.
National education policies and programmes – Country case studies and research, 1989-1999.
Law No. 013/96ADP concerning the Guideline Law on Education, adopted by the Burkinese Assembly of People’s Deputies on 9 May 1996.
1994 Report on Development Cooperation in Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, September 1996, pp xvii-xxi, pp 2-3, 50.
UNESCO, Global Action For Education – World Literacy Day 1990.
Construire l’Afrique No. 97, 15-30 June 2003.
Goungounga, C., L’évolution du pouvoir d’achat du fonctionnaire au Burkina Faso de 1975 à nos jours, Institut Universitaire de Technologie, Ouagadougou University.
Plan décennal de développement de l’éducation de base 2000-2009 (Ten-year Basic Education Development Plan).

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