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February 16, 2019

Teachers' unions must plan for pay stoppages in future strikes

KNUT secretary general Wilson Sossion address teachers outside KNUT Headquarters. Photo/Collins Kweyu
KNUT secretary general Wilson Sossion address teachers outside KNUT Headquarters. Photo/Collins Kweyu

With the labour and industrial court expected to give directions today on how negotiations between TSC and teachers’ unions are to proceed, the month long crisis in education is bound to take a crucial turn. A cessation of the industrial action could be in sight — at least temporarily for the next three months as the court ordered. This teachers’ strike will be remembered as the longest in recent times and also one that, arguably, will leave the sourest taste in tutors’ mouths. For many Jubilee government commentators, local FM radios and busybodies have been angling their utterances to reap maximum mileage for the Uhuru administration and drawn the attention of wananchi to the direction in which to look for Cain — teachers! True friends of teachers have been few and far apart.

But away from the bluster and lies, the teachers’ camaraderie and enthusiasm for striking breaks when the government threatens to stop their salaries, sends them panicking. Suddenly everybody sees his or her unmet monthly overheads staring at him or her. The full repercussions of the continued industrial action takes the shape of one’s house rent, upkeep, loans servicing, children’s fees and so on. This sobers up thousands of teachers, subduing their street choruses and they begin to ask critical questions about their unions.

From the undercurrents of the current strike, it is clear that if the two teachers unions, Kuppet and KNUT, wish to remain relevant, they must change from their bread and butter agenda and look beyond the TSC and the SRC for new and worthy challenges. And the newest threat to their survival is economic empowerment of teachers.

While in pursuit of higher mean scores in their schools, many teachers have become slaves of their jobs and institutions and have no time of their own. They are stuck in outdated investment ideas like the traditional shambas and livestock.

KNUT, for example, has the wherewithal of starting a publishing department that can offer teacher writers a better deal and rescue them from the predatory practices of some mainstream book developers. Under this outfit, the giant union would produce only the best books in all genres. It would also market them within its formidable network that literally runs in every public school, giving established publishers a run for their money. For example, teachers’ biographies and memoires, that local publishers may not understand let alone publish, would be assured of an instant market courtesy of the of the union’s publishing department. To the best of my knowledge, only one teacher, the late founder of Starehe boys’ centre, Geoffrey Griffith, ever bequeathed future generations of teacher his immense school management wisdom in a biography.

If more teachers write and if a title is bought by, say, only half of KNUT’s members, this would translate to 140,000 copies — a best seller by Kenyan standards. If each teacher lends the copy to three other people, the readership would be in excess of half a million. And if each teacher lends such a title to only 10 pupils and students, the readership would top a million. And here we are talking of stories of maverick teachers, whose names are buzzwords within the profession, but whom the compilers of the annual roll of recipients of state honours will always miss out.

I used to hear that some KNUT branches actually run hotels but in this era of devolution, this idea should be revisited with gusto. It’s a viable idea to mobilise members to invest in such facilities in our county headquarters. With proper management, tidy returns would be assured.

The unions can spearhead a grand merger of all teachers’ Saccos into a formidable conglomeration that can rival many commercial banks in membership. Such an outfit would have immense benefits for teachers like negotiating and arranging for school fees, cheaper mortgage and subsidised further education cost and holiday packages with the relevant service providers. It would also negotiate directly with motor vehicle exporters aboard to acquire cars for teachers.

This would cut down the unit costs considerably and ensure smooth shipment and clearance and registration when the cars arrive. The same bulk buying strategy would ensure that teachers get computers, hardware material, suits and household items at a bargain; the military is protected from middlemen by the Armed Forces Canteen Organisation (Afco)!

But the greatest benefit that such a financial-cum-welfare outfit would offer is the leveraging of loan interests not only to its members but to other borrowers across the country. Other ideas include starting a teachers’ magazine, radio and television.

With such income generating streams, teachers’ unions would be able to pay their members a survival stipend, against their shares, when on strike and call the government’s bluff of stopping salaries for even one year. The challenge is squarely in your court Wilson Sossion and Akelo Misori.


Kariuki teaches at Nyandarua high school, Ol Kalou

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