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The steward as educator.

As a steward, you have an opportunity to educate our members every time you come in contact with them. You will want to make sure members know enough to participate in making union policy, that they know where the union came from and where it is heading. Members need to know how the union makes decisions and carries them out, what its policies are, and what the challenges are that the union and its members are facing. Educated members support the union when it fights for improvements and defend the union when it is under attack.

One thing to remember is that education for our members is not what you think of as traditional teaching.Education for union members is action-oriented. Union members learn

  • by sharing their experience,
  • accomplishing tasks,
  • analyzing and discussing what has happened.

This means it can happen any time, anywhere. Take the time to explain the union's political program while gathering together a crew to staff phone banks one night. Or talk about worker solidarity when the members have won an important grievance fight through workplace demonstrations. Even when you lose a grievance, there can be a lesson on the importance of fighting for better language in upcoming contract negotiations.

Keep Members Informed. Keeping members informed is one of the most important parts of your job as educator. Make sure members know what the union is doing--and make sure the union leadership knows what the membership thinks about what the union is doing. Letting members know when a meeting or other union activity is taking place is an important part of your job. Explaining the reasons for the meeting or the activity and how it fits into the overall union program is another opportunity to be an educator.

Getting members involved in local union and the International's campaigns to protect workers' rights and to maintain decent standards of living in the community is also an educational activity.

Develop Leadership. The steward develops leadership by getting members to help with the work of the union. Ask people to volunteer for union committees or union action programs. Take note of the useful skills people have. If someone isn't ready for a committee, give him or her a specific task--but be sure you discuss what the task means and why doing the task is good for the union.

Recommend Training. Keep track of the kinds of grievances and concerns members bring up, and let the local leadership know what training programs are needed. Ask the state council or the regional staff to run health and safety programs if there are dangerous work stations or indoor air problems. The local can also request anti-racism or anti-sexual harassment training from the International if there are complaints or if cronyism leads to favoritism on the shop floor. The local union offers steward training. And the International union offers Train-the-Trainer workshops to teach local staff and leaders how to conduct training programs.