A learning adventure at Global Labour University

Global Labour University class graduation ©Private
Global Labour University class graduation ©Private

Two years ago, I received an email from the TUC that would change my life. At the bottom of the TUC International email newsletter, I saw a call for applications to the Global Labour University Masters in Labour Policies and Globalisation in Germany.

The Global Labour University (GLU) is a network of trade unions, universities and the ILO (International Labour Organisation) to increase the intellectual and strategic capacity of workers organisations and to establish stronger working relationships between trade unions, the ILO, and the academic community. Having studied the TUC Going Global course, I was interested in learning more about international labour issues and the email got me thinking "what if".

I decided to talk about the idea of moving overseas and becoming a student again with friends and family and everyone encouraged me to go for it. I decided to apply and it all became very real when it was confirmed that I had been accepted. Six months later, I set off with a car full of belongings to Kassel in North Hessen where I would be studying for the first semester.

It was great to meet my fellow students all of whom were trade unionists and who like me had a desire to improve international trade union solidarity. My course mates came from Zambia, Nigeria, Swaziland, Bangladesh, South Korea, Indonesia, Belarus, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Italy and Ghana. The course therefore not only developed my academic understanding of international labour politics, but I also made extremely useful contacts for future international trade union solidarity work.

The first semester introduced a range of topics including trade union strategies in a global economy, research methods, trade union revitalisation and global governance. We also visited a number of trade unions including the IG Metal headquarters, the Volkswagen works council, a Ver-di (services union) strike rally and the DGB (the German TUC) youth weekend.

During the semester break, we all set off to do an internship for seven weeks. I travelled to Brussels to work with UNI Europa, which is the European section of the UNI Global Union federation. I was based in the UNI World Athletes team, which organises and represents professional sports people.

It was a bit strange doing an internship at the age of 38 and having already worked for 16 years, but it was a great opportunity to improve my knowledge of the European political system and the work of global union federations.

After completing my internship, I was reunited with my classmates for the second semester in Berlin. Our focus during the spring and summer was carrying out our Masters research. My research examined the power of UK trade unions during the London 2012 Olympics focussing on the RMT.

This was my favourite part of the course as I could study independently and focus on a topic I was passionate about. In September, we submitted our research findings and at the end of the month we all celebrated our graduation.

My year of study in Germany was, without doubt, one of the best things I have ever done. It was a huge adventure and whilst it wasn't always easy I learnt so much and made some great friends. Since returning to the UK, I have started to work as the trade union training officer for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) and am also involved in further research and other activities of the GLU alumni network.

The course has given me opportunities that I would never otherwise have had; for example, attending this year's GLU conference in Washington and also working on a project with EU Athletes, the European federation of sports unions.

The Global Labour University offers Masters courses in Germany, South Africa, USA, India and Brazil. However if you are not able to move overseas for a year then there is also an online course on global workers' rights. The next online course starts on 3 March 2016, runs for eight weeks and is free of charge.

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Helen Russell

Helen Russell is the Trade Union Training Officer at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP).

She previously worked for UNISON and the NASUWT before returning to learning with the Global Labour University where she studied a Masters in Labour Policies and Globalisation.