Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Teachers union

A long running debate in Jordan has centered on the issue of whether teachers should be allowed to establish a professional union. The minister of Education, Khaled Toukan, yesterday flatly rejected the idea. He cited the rejection of the higher council for interpreting the constitution, which said that public employees have no right under the constitution to form professional unions. Toukan also articulated an adamant rejection of politicizing the teaching process.

On the other hand, several teacher activists have written a memo to the prime minister, asking for his permission to establish such a union. In the memo, they cited a designation letter from the late King Hussein to Abdulkarim Kabariti, where he expressed a desire for the establishment of a teachers union, and the Jordanian constitution which allows Jordanians to meet and form societies and unions. The exact wording of clause ii of article 16 states that "Jordanians are entitled to establish societies and political parties provided that the objects of such societies and parties are lawful, their methods peaceful, and their by-laws not contrary to the provisions of the Constitution."

Setting aside the constitutional debate about the subject, the ramifications of the establishment of such a union would at best be benign and at worst devastating. Toukan referred to the politicization that would probably occur if this union is established. I totally agree. To be more specific, a small organized group of Muslim Brotherhood members would end up controlling the union, in a manner similar to what has happened in most of the other professional unions. While the fa├žade is democratic, in reality a small fraction of the membership actually organized enough to impose their will over the apathetic majority. This week about 2200 members of the engineers union elected their leader, who is an Islamist. 85 voted for his opponent, which leaves 57000 out of the total 59000 engineers who didn't bother to vote. While the process is technically democratic, it is unreasonable to assume that such elections produce representative leaders.

So, one might ask what is the problem with the teachers having such a union. The answer is also derived from the behavior of the existing unions. For example, unions have been intimidating members and threatening to expel them if they decide to "normalize" with Israel. While most people are against normalization, especially in the current political climate, the fact of the matter is that it is legal for people to go to Israel and contact Israelis. It is peoples' right, whether they choose to practice it or not. So, threatening to expel people (and thus threatening their livelihood) is an illegal deprivation of a person's right. The (weak) rationalle is that the general councils of the unions, composed of all the members, have passed resolutions against normalization. The general councils, who show up when there are elections, are only a fraction of the total union membership. Moreover, they are not a legislative body that has the authority to deprive people of one of their rights.

Thus, if one were to picture a teachers union, what would happen if the general council decided not to teach "unacceptable" parts of the curriculum? The modern curriculum places a lot of emphasis on religious tolerance and civil rights. Having a group openly opposed to the Jordanian state and its welfare representing teachers, who are entrusted with sowing positive attitudes into the consciousness of new generations, is indeed a scary thought.

The only positive aspect that can come from an organization for teachers is a demand to improve their living conditions. Teachers are painfully underpaid for their efforts, and I would hope that the government can find a way to compensate them without the need for an organized movement. Such a movement will ultimately be harmful to all involved.

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10 Comments:

At 5:03 AM, Anonymous jameed said...

It is a tricky situation. As much as I oppose the idea of the government bypassing the constitution and diminishing civil liberties (even more?) I find myself looking back at the time Ishaq Farhan was Minister of Education. The impact of his policies can still be felt in the curricula until today.

I tend to think of this issue along the same line as general "freedoms" in Jordan and whether people are ready to accept polarizing factions imposing their ideas on them if they come into power.

Unfortunately I am still unable to reconcile both ideas in my mind but I find myself at times saying "nar il hukoomeh wala jannet il ikhwan", and i hate myself for saying it.

 
At 5:51 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Jameed: I don't see it as a civil liberties issue. Teachers are free to establish and join political parties (like everybody else). The problem is that professional unions are treated as political platforms instead of what they are meant for.

 
At 8:36 AM, Blogger Rambling Hal said...

Khalaf, I really enjoyed reading this post and I hope you don't mind if I take your ideas and use them in this week's column for The Star. I promise not to plagiarize :), but it's difficult coming up with ideas every week, and I would really like to bring this up and then build some sort of a column out of it. Thank you for the inspiration?

 
At 9:39 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

RH: I am flattered. Feel free to use what you need.

Take care.

 
At 12:53 PM, Anonymous Don Cox said...

"This week about 2200 members of the engineers union elected their leader, who is an Islamist. 85 voted for his opponent, which leaves 57000 out of the total 59000 engineers who didn't bother to vote. While the process is technically democratic, it is unreasonable to assume that such elections produce representative leaders."____We used to have exactly the same problem with Communists in Trade Unions in Britain. They got themselves elected not to help the Union members but to pursue a political, anti-democratic agenda. However, this is not a reason to not have unions - they are much needed to protect the members from unfair dismissal, exploitation, or wrongful accusations.

 
At 1:13 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Don: And who will protect the students from the indoctrination by Islamists? These guys would have no problem trying to dictate the curriculum according to their own views, given half a chance.

If the issue were simply between teachers and the government, I would totally agree with you.

 
At 3:39 PM, Blogger Hassan said...

hi khalad , thats the first time is see ur blog, keep doing ur work .
i aslo just start a blog , i hope u will vist my blog always .
about the teacher union ,i think that the teachers have the right to establish thier union, and the minster khaled Toukan and the gov dont encourge that couse they are afraid that the teachers will start to stand and aske thier rights.

 
At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Yazan said...

Khalaf,

Thanks for the interesting blog!

I am afraid that fear from Islamic hegemony over civil society institutions has prevented any significant political change in Jordan since the early 90s. Democracy is not a foolproof recipe. In fact, it is no recipe at all. It is an ideal that is sought but never fully achieved and that's where the strength of the concept lies.

The dream of a society where all politics (small 'p') have been banished is based on false assumptions of what a society is. The constant repression of Islamists should itself be seen as a political action aimed at maintaining the hegemony of (an)other group(s) rather than something that is outside the field of the political. What needs to be done, instead, is to look into the causes of this lack of agency which characterises the Jordanian polity, something which is constantly diagnosed but never explicated. In the current state of affairs, the intellectuals become the government's accomplices in maintaining political stagnation.

Any community or institution is inherently politicised whether along the lines of political parties, gender, ethnicity, culture, class, religion or any other sorts of antagonisms. The question, therefore, is not 'how do we prevent Islamists from gaining power?', but rather 'how can we have more inclusive political interaction and a better system of representation?'

 
At 8:31 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Yazan: Political Islam and democracy are diametrically opposed concepts. Islamists call for democracy, but only adopt democratic concepts that suit their agendas. I have given numerous examples in this blog.

I am more concerned with indoctrination. The MB has long had a strong influence on the ministry of education and government curricula. They reap the rewards until now. Having a teachers union dominated by the MB and indifferent to legal boundaries (as in the case of the normalization issue) will not help.

To the general problem of Islamist influence, I agree that strong alternatives need to be allowed to flourish. I have also written about this before.

So, in general I agree with you, but in the specific case of the teachers union I disagree.

 
At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Don Cox said...

"Don: And who will protect the students from the indoctrination by Islamists?"___Parents should do this, and general mockery of the Islamic extremists in the media. The Communists had exactly the same policy. Communists and Islamists have the same mind set and very similar tactics. Both are ruthless and humourless and have to be stood up to at every step.

 

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