Role of Unions

Full Title: *Role of Trade Unions in Promoting Rural Development*

_Talk delivered in Tokyo, Nov. 1979, at the World Confederation of Organisations of the Teaching Profession, Seventh Regional Conference_

‘…Sarvodaya means the awakening of all. Shramadana is the sharing of one’s time. energy and thought with others. The participants in this Movement become benefactors as well as beneficiaries at one and the same time. They become benefactors in the sense that they help man in the awakening of rural communities based on principles of self-reliance, community action and grassroots organization’

I feel I will be ‘twice blessed’ for having the opportunity to be present at this Regional Conference of Asian Teachers’ Organizations sponsored by the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession. I thank the Confederation and its local partner the Japan Teachers’ Union for inviting me to this conference.

Having been a teacher by profession all my life, I feel that this conference will re-affirm my faith in the ability of teachers to play a decisive role in blazing a path for humanity away from global catastrophe and towards human survival and progress. This is the first blessing. I have faith in the capacity of the Teachers in Japan to play the role of inspirers and pioneers to blaze this new trail for human awakening. This is the second blessing I am looking forward to. I trust that I will not be disappointed.

The subject about which I have been asked to talk to you is the ‘Role of Trade Unions in Promoting Rural Development’. Please do not mistake me as a Trade Unionist. I have very little experience on this subject. Yet as far as promoting human rights and social justice for the most deprived communities in my country, I have not lagged behind in my duty. For 17 years I have served as full-time teacher and part-time voluntary worker in rural development. For 7 years I have worked as a full-time rural development worker. What I am going to share with you is some of the ideas we have developed while working in this field of rural development which we organized under what came to be known as the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement.

A small band of students and teachers initiated this Movement in some of the remotest and most deprived villages in Sri Lanka, in the mid 1950’s. Soon this Movement developed into a mass Movement involving not only teachers and students but also people from other walks of life. Today this Movement has penetrated over 3,000 villages in Sri Lanka giving rural people a new ideal to strive for. Teachers, students and youth still form the bulk of the leadership of this Movement.

The word ‘Sarvodaya’ means the awakening of all. Shramadana is sharing of one’s time, thought and energy. The participants in this Movement become benefactors as well as beneficiaries at one and the same time. They become benefactors in the sense that they help mass awakening of rural communities based on principles of self-reliance, community action and grassroots organization. They become beneficiaries in the sense that the participants awaken their own personalities and learn both community leadership and vocational skills which help them to enrich their own lives while living in the community.

In Asian culture the word teacher-Guru or Acharya -is a highly respected term having a deep meaning . A teacher in our culture was not just a paid servant of the government or of a private organization. He or she was a symbol of wisdom, knowledge, respect, dignity and the personification of the direction in which the individual and community life should progress.

With the advent of commercialism and its twin brother colonialism, the teaching profession like so many other professions, also degenerated into a business operation supplying literate, skilled brains and trained hands for a commercial culture to dominate our countries and our world.

The nobility of the profession was lost. A teacher’s worth came to be measured in terms of money like any other hired labour. School and community, teachers and pupils, parents and teachers, all became alienated from one another. Commercialism and power politics continued to take the upper hand, bringing in their wake the problems humanity is facing today such as militarism, racism, pollution, mass poverty, ecological imbalances and alienation of man from man and man from his environment. The world has degenerated very much in this direction. Can the teachers re-discover some of their old values and give sane leadership to a world which is almost literally crumbling by its own glaring contradictions?

If I may elaborate on this a little further, the responsibility of teachers’ trade unions is no longer a matter of only increased wages, more humane working conditions, more leisure and more participation. The moral responsibility has grown beyond these realms and has taken a global dimension demanding a new vision and sacrifices, beyond the presently accepted demands of the profession.

Today education is a fundamental human right. In most countries the primary and even the secondary education is free and compulsory. In my own country , the Republic of Sri Lanka, even all higher education is free. Elementary educational facilities are available for all children within walking distance from their homes. The teachers, taken as a whole, have an influence over each and every family through their students. Beyond our limited physical and academic environs, do we utilize this potential to influence our national and rural communitites to strive to build together a more psychologically balanced, a more physically secure and a more socially satisfying society?

The western model of development cannot bring about this balance, security and satisfaction. This can be seen beyond any doubt when we look at what lies behind the glamorous physical achievements of the industrial civilization. What we see is loneliness, deprivation, purposelessness and confusion.

We in Asia and other developing regions have to build up our own model of development’ This model should avoid the mistakes of the old model developed by the industrialized West. On the other hand it should have spiritual, moral and cultural ingredients harmoniously combined with participatory people’s politics, self-sustainable economies and social cohesiveness. In other words development must be taken beyond the pure materialistic realms to include total man and total society.

According to the Sarvodaya Shramadana experience the initiation and promotion of such a development process from the rural level is possible by organisations such as Teachers’ Trade Unions even though they may not have coercive instruments of power politics at their disposal. What is needed is a clear philosophy, practicable principles, realizeable targets and a concrete programme of action.

The Sarvdoaya Shramadana Movement accepted the fundamental tenets of Buddhist teachings in the building up of its philosophy. The prime thought is ‘The Awakening of All’ – Sarvodaya. This thought transcends all barriers of caste, creed, religion, language, national boundaries and political ideologies. The ‘Awakening of All’ concept carries with it such unalienable principles as truth, non-violence and self-denial. Non-deception of other human beings, non-injury to other human beings and non-selfishness in dealing with other human beings are accepted as cardinal values. These three principles are accepted while trying to achieve the following ojbectives of the Movement:

# Personality awakening of the individual
# Family, group, village and urban awakening
# Awakening of national communities, and
# Awakening of the world community

This means every Sarvodaya action can have its implications on one or more or all of the above defined Sarvodaya objectives. The implementation of programmes to achieve these objectives also can take a variety of forms. It can be a personal act of compassion. It can be a basic human needs satisfaction programme carried out by the community as a whole. It can be an integrated village development activity. It can take the form of struggling for social and economic justice by a group. It can take the form of bringing about political pressure for land reforms by the organized landless. It can also be a programme of training in useful skills such as for self-development. In all these areas, teachers do participate in an organized and effective way.

At the village level the Sarvodaya Movement initiates its development programmes by organizing a series of Shramadana Camps or gift-of-labour camps, to satisfy one or more basic felt needs of the community. It is so organised that an opportunity is provided for all members of the community, men, women and children to participate in a spirit of brotherhood with teachers, students and others from outside the village doing the tasks at hand. The main purpose of such a series of camps is to build a psychological oneness among all concerned. Thinking of problems together, trying to find solutions together and working together to apply the solutions and solve the problems, bring about a mental cohesion which the Movement considers to be the foundation on which further programmes to build man and society have to be developed.

The second phase is the training of emerging leaders in rural and urban communities who on their own can provide the organisational and skilled leadership to their communities for the continuous programmes of constructive work in rural areas. A series of service centres known as Gramodaya or village awakening centres have been progressively set up to give infra-structural support to village awakening programmes.

The third phase is the organisation of groups in villages according to their age, needs and interests. For example a Pre- School Children’s Group for children below the age of 5 years is organised. A school-going Children’s Group between the ages of 5 and 15 years is next organised. A Youth Group for youths between 16 to 28 is formed. A Mothers’ Group and a Farmers’ Group are also formed. Finally to accommodate all the others, a General Elders’ Group is organised. All these groups carry out what is generally known as, the ten basic human needs satisfaction programme. This in fact is a village level plan designed and implemented by the village people themselves. The Ten

Basic Human Needs referred to here are:

# A clean and a beautiful environment
# An adequate supply of safe water
# Minimum requirements of clothing
# A balanced diet
# Simple Housing
# Basic health care
# Communication facilities
# Energy requirements
# Total education related to life and living
# Cultural and spiritual needs

An interesting feature of this programme is that the village communities, whatever their resources, property ownership level, technological know-how, and financial means, have a programme of work they can carry out, on their own.

Three representatives from each of the groups, except that of Pre-school children, together form themselves into a Village Re-awakening Council in each village. This Council can expand to include ten or more others who can represent the village temple, village level governmental services and other deserving elders. This Gramodaya or Village Re-awakening Council provides an excellent people’s development structure at the village level which can on the one hand organise and utilize people’s resources for development and on the other hand act as the people’s body for co-ordinating with the available governmental service institutions.

In rural awakening activities, higher organisational skills and advanced leadership skills also become necessary. Divisional District and National level co-ordination with governmental and non-governmental institutions supporting rural development activities also have to be linked to this programme. For this purpose Sarvodaya has established so far 20 Development Educational Institutions in different districts of Sri Lanka. These institutes train village youths, teachers, monks, senior students, government officials and other village level and district level leaders, needed for rather big undertakings such as construction of housing schemes, water service schemes, irrigation programmes, agricultural activities and development of appropriate technologies.

The strict impartiality and non-involvement of the Movement in party political activities and the signal contribution made by the Movement as a non-governmental group in development has earned it recognition by the government and the general public. This resulted in the leaders of the government upholding the principles of the Movement publicly and appealing to all concerned to support the Movement without political considerations. The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement at present is an excellent example of a non-governmental indigenous people’s Movement co-operating with the government without losing its identity or becoming a tool in the hands of the government. This has become possible as a result of the trust that the Movement was able to win with the leaders of the government, who also happen to be upholding democratic, socialist values and believers in peoples’ participatory role in development.

Almost from the inception of the Movement there has been international interest shown in its work. There have been many organistions and individuals who have come from different countries and worked with the Movement for considerable periods of time. This resulted in a two-way influence and a mutual learning process. Formal links were also established with several international bodies whose co-operation during the last 10 years has helped the Movement immensely. The Sarvodaya philosophy and principles were adopted for experimentation in such far off countries such as Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Norway, West Germany and Japan.

Some of the programmes developed by these countries in cooperation with the Sri Lanka Movement are:

# Village to village link -up programmes, where a village group in another country is linked for educational , cultural and economic co-operation and exchange programmes.
# Students exchange programmes between Sri Lanka and the linked-up group in the other country.
# A Dialogue Programme where a village group in Sri Lanka becomes a dialogue partner with a school or such other group in the other country.
# Holding exhibitions in arts and crafts, selling local products and through such action carrying out educational programmes which are of mutual benefit.
# Organising seminars, workshops and conferences on subjects related to world development.

So far I have described how a grassroots Movement was able to progressively evolve itself into a national and international development effort during a period of a little over two decades. This experience provides some lessons which may be useful to other individuals and groups who want to similarly participate in development activities at a people’s level. I shall enumerate some of the possibilities that exist in this type of endeavour.

# In all cultures there are certain age old values, which if identified and used as motivational factors to bring together people for self-development, can be very effective.
# People can be motivated to come together in such a way that they become their own planners, implementers and evaluaters in a self-generating process of development from the grassroots up.
# People of different walks of life such as students, teachers, doctors, peasants, workers, administrators and even politicians, can be organised to become participants in such programmes, be they of rural development or of urban development nature.
# Such a people’s programme, if devoid of power and party politics, and if the leaderships have proven this by their conduct, can work in harmony with governments which uphold the democratic rights of the people, towards development of the country.
# Mutually beneficial joint programmes between similar groups in different countries can be developed to promote educational, cultural and economic progress, at an international level.

In the Asian Region, the potential for Trade Unions to enter the field of rural development is vast. Integrated programmes could be organised by Trade Unions to combat illiteracy, non-attendance in schools, ill-health, poverty, poor housing, malnutrition and against other barriers that stand in the way of a minimal level of human existence. The initiative and leadership for such programmes should always be developed, by the people themselves, so that patronage and dependency are avoided right from the very inception. In the Sarvodaya Movement one of the fundamental steps taken in such programmes is the training of a youth leadership in the village, who take upon themselves the responsibility of conducting family and village surveys, collection and analysis of data, selection of priorities in the village development programme, organisation of social groups, learning and usage of appropriate technological methods and techniques in development processes and initiating self-employment programmes.
At all stages of these processes the Trade Unions can play the role of initiator, educator and supporter of village groups. Their organisational strength, the experience, the influence and the dedicated leaders can be easily utilized for this programme.

Trade Unions in developed countries like Japan should give a lead in this type of process where new ground is explored for the emancipation of the poor and the deprived in the Asian Region. This may well be a foundation of a new Movement of Teachers’ Organisations to give a helping hand for the development of rural and urban communities in the poor regions of the world. The benefits of such an effort will not only be for the poor countries but also for rich countries who are increasingly facing problems of psychological deprivation, social unrest, ecological imbalances and threats of a Third World War.