From the start of the union movement in the nineteenth century, the most important factor in creating and strengthening unions has been working people coming together to talk about their problems at work and devise solutions based on collective action. This tradition is carried on today by unionists all over the world as they discuss union-related issues in union meetings, congresses, conventions and workplaces. The International Workers' Symposium on the role of trade unions in workers' education is part of that tradition. It is an opportunity for unionists to talk about the problems facing the labour movement and consider how union education could help the movement confront its problems creatively as it heads through the twenty-first century.
Unions are faced with the effects of unfair globalization, attacks on their existence by supporters of neo-liberalism, rapidly changing technology in the workplace, undemocratic global governing bodies and expanding informal economies in which people try to make a living as best they can, as well as other challenges such as the worst forms of child labour and HIV/AIDS. Learning how to address these and other issues effectively is the key to the continuing health and growth of the labour movement. And the key to learning in the labour movement is effective union education. Improving the funding of union education, linking it to labour research and workplace issues, making it relevant to a broader spectrum of working people, updating its methodologies and training its practitioners will help the movement learn how to create the new knowledge it needs to face the challenges ahead.