This handbook is a tool for union members interested in negotiating literacy and basic skills programs. It is part of the CLC's Learning in Solidarity series on the benefits of literary and basic skills programs for unions and their members.
We usually think of the word literacy in simple terms. We think of someone as literate or illiterate. A person is able to read and write or they are not. However, in recent years this narrow view has given way to a new and broader way of looking at literacy.
We now see literacy as a continuum of skills that people develop
throughout their lives. For example, the International Adult Literacy
Survey uses the term literacy to refer to "
the ability to understand and
use printed information in daily activities at home, at work and in the
community - to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and
potential." so the question is no longer whether someone is literate or
not. Rather, the question is how one's skills meet the literacy demands
presented within the various contexts of our lives.
Most union contracts do not have clauses on training. Fewer still have provisions on basic skills.
Yet basic skills are always important for workers, no matter what the economic environment. The UN says Canada is the number one country in the world in which to live. Yet a recent international study reveals that some 48 per cent of the Canadian population has major difficulties in reading!
There is also increasing pressure on union members to improve their skills in today's rapidly changing workplace. At the same time, there are fewer adult basic education programs offered by the public education system and more cutbacks to labour and community programs funded directly by government.
Some excellent publicly funded literacy programs still exist (see What Unions Should Know About Getting the Money for Literacy and Basic Skills Programs, CLC 1998). But we can no longer rely on governments and public education programs alone to deliver the goods.
It is becoming increasingly clear that unions must make basic skills training a bargaining priority. At the same time, we must continue to fight against government cutbacks and closures in the public education system.
Literacy and basic skills programs are key building blocks in any program of lifelong learning. Reading and writing skills still remain the basis of any education and training program, despite the rapid development of new technologies. These programs are also a way to increase membership awareness of the union and encourage participation.
Literacy and basic skills programs empower workers. Basic skills training helps workers take control of their lives individually and collectively, providing workers with the tools to acquire new knowledge and ideas. Workers are able to develop a better understanding about their situations at work, at home, in the union and in the community. Literacy skills ultimately help show us how we can change the world for the better.