What you need to know:
- Mr Sossion no longer has the numbers, having lost most of his troops since August last year.
- Unions are formed to fight for the welfare of their members and any that fails to do so is an abject failure.
By now, veteran trade unionist Wilson Sossion should have learnt a few lessons on how to handle his job with a little more subtlety rather than emotion if he is to succeed without alienating too many people.
Perhaps he needs to read a book or two about the power of persuasion, and know when to pick his fights and to what end.
Frontal confrontation does not seem to have worked very well for him, and he is now reduced to issuing effete threats and whining. This week, for instance, the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) secretary-general was quoted as issuing a somewhat nebulous ultimatum to the Teachers Service Commission, if it did not fulfil certain conditions that he has been fighting for over some time.
He went to the extent of threatening that if the union did not get its way, schools will not reopen in January because teachers will down their tools.
Now, there are two problems with that. First, Mr Sossion no longer has the numbers, having lost most of his troops since August last year. With a depleted force and empty coffers, it is difficult to see how he intends to persuade those left to make the TSC see sense. Indeed, this is the current bone of contention between the TSC and Knut, the argument being that the teachers’ employer is all out to cripple the union by denying it funding.
There is ample truth in that accusation, but perhaps the problem is that neither of the parties seems to be acting in good faith, or most likely, the government does not have enough money to spare for teachers in the midst of an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, today, the Knut membership has shrunk from more than 180,000 to fewer than 50,000, and the union is earning only a quarter of what it used to in years past.
Second, the timing is bad. Almost nine million public primary school pupils have been idling away at home since schools closed in March this year due to Covid-19. Add to that another 2.6 million in secondary schools, and we are talking about a huge segment of the population being forced by calamity to be out of school. Could there be any argument stronger than matters of life and death that can possibly keep them out any longer?
Though the majority of parents may quite understandably harbour fears over the health of their children in relatively closed environments like schools, they also understand that one day the pupils must go back to class. As a result, they may not be very sympathetic with teachers who will be fighting for more money and promotions. Simply, parents are not likely to support a teachers’ strike in January for those reasons alone.
The beef between the teachers’ union and the TSC is quite understandable. Unions are formed to fight for the welfare of their members — higher remuneration and better working conditions — and any that fails to do so is an abject failure.
At the same time, no employer wants to pay more than he or she can afford. As a result, the two entities will always be at each other’s jugular, although if matters are handled well, there need not be enduring acrimony. After all, both parties have a common interest: the general welfare of the child.
However, in a situation where there seems to be genuine bad blood between Knut boss Sossion and TSC chief executive Nancy Macharia to the extent that each wants the other gone, then the matter assumes a different dimension.
Mr Sossion’s general attitude towards Mrs Macharia and her stewardship of the TSC seems to have been adversarial from the word go, while the latter seems to regard the former as unnecessarily abrasive in stating his demands.
The facts bear out the animosity. In January 2018, the TSC deregistered Mr Sossion as a teacher after his nomination as a Member of Parliament, citing conflict of interest, and in October 29, through a Gazette Notice, it blacklisted him from teaching in any school.
Building Bridges Initiative
Had this move succeeded, it would have cost Mr Sossion his job at Knut and probably saved Mrs Macharia some nagging headache, but the matter was somehow amicably sorted out.
In apparent retaliation, Knut recently recommended to the Building Bridges Initiative task force that the TSC lose its independent constitutional status and become a department in the Ministry of Education, a notion apparently supported by the ministry.
It won’t happen any time soon. What is more likely is that Knut will need to compromise or die. Certainly, Mrs Macharia is not going away any time soon. They just renewed her tenure for another five years.
In the meantime, it would have been more refreshing to hear both parties discuss how they can co-operate to save the lives of the children from the ravages of Covid-19 when they go back to class. All other things are insensitive sideshows.