Asia: BWI GOA gains momentum, trains organisers

Seventeen (17) organisers, including 5 women, and representing several Southeast and South Asian trade unions, met last 8-10 August in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a training and to strengthen coordination in the region under the BWI Global Organising Academy (GOA) Program. It was the first face-to-face gathering of the BWI GOA-Asia organisers since the group’s formation in early 2021 and the relaxing of the COVID-19 restrictions. 

The three-day activity, which was facilitated by BWI GOA Global Coordinator Marlon Quesada, was highlighted by presentations, sharing of experiences and workshops about strategic organising and the GOA idea. Collectively, the participants looked at the state of trade union organising in their respective countries. They discussed the declining membership density in unions and the increasing challenges in organising workers in industries where BWI is present at, particularly those in the informal sector, women and migrants. 

BWI Asia Pacific Regional Coordinator Apolinar Tolentino underlined the importance of the BWI GOA and its aim to help address the organising issues confronted by the trade unions. The participants reported on the day-today challenges that they experience on the ground. They also reflected on their respective organising strengths and weaknesses. 

A GOA Online Course titled “Organising Workers in a New Target Group: From Research to Strategic Plan,” which is presently being developed, was introduced by Saliem Patel of the International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations (IFWEA). The course is BWI’s attempt through GOA to come up with a digital, but practical organising training course that can be collectively and easily used by organisers from different countries. The participating GOA-Asia organisers provided initial feedbacks on the design, content and application of the online course. The course is targeted to be finalised and pilot tested this year. 

At the end of the meeting, the organisers put forward proposals that can: 1) improve their capacities as organisers, 2) advance the GOA work in the region, and 3) build country-level GOAs. These are on top of the ongoing activities in the region like the sharing sessions, mapping of innovative unionism, research on organising training programs, solidarity campaigns, etc. The participating organisers also expressed personal commitments to realise BWI GOA’s principal aim to organise the unorganised and consolidate the organised workers in BWI industries, and increase union power.  

The training-cum-meeting successfully impressed the idea that trade union organising is a serious matter that requires serious discussion. It was also successful in making the learning process interesting and fun. Through popular education, it developed camaraderie and team-building amongst the participants via structured learning exercises that included group interactions, singing of solidarity songs, dancing, ice breakers and field activities. This was aptly summarised by one of the women participants who said that “as if [they] have already known each other for a very long time.” 

The follow-up work for the BWI GOA-Asia continues. The meeting is just one of the many important building blocks neccesary to fully realise the BWI GOA Program.  

The BWI GOA Program is supported by solidarity support groups such as the Open Society Foundation (OSF), the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), Union to Union (UtoU), FNV-Mondiaal and SASK-Finland. #