“Finding the red flyer was destiny”

An alumnus speaks of her good fortune in attending the Global Labour University.

Edlira Xhafa at protests for free and quality public education in Albania. Photo by FES/Edlira Xhafa.

For Edlira Xhafa, studying at the Global Labour University was a life-changing experience. The native Albanian had long been involved in workers’ rights, but the course brought an international perspective to her work, and led to her co-authorship of a study on Cambodia’s integration in the global value chain. 

Each year, the Global Labour University (GLU) invites applicants to its graduate programmes on policies for social justice. The GLU is a network of trade unions, universities, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the International Labour Organization. Policy areas covered by its graduate programmes include international labour standards, development and economics.

As the deadline for the 2018 intake is approaching, we got in touch with Edlira Xhafa, who obtained a Masters degree in Labour Policies and Globalisation from the GLU in Germany, to ask about her experience with the programme, and what it has meant for her work. 

Since graduating, Xhafa has co-authored, together with Cambodian fellow alumnus Veasna Nuon, a study on the Cambodian model of integration in global value chains. The study, supported by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), was part of a regional project by FES in Asia on trade and labour relations. Xhafa is currently living and working back in her native Albania.

How did you learn about the GLU programme?

Edlira Xhafa: I saw the flyer in our union office in Albania in 2004, lying among papers to be thrown out – internet access was limited then. Finding the red flyer was really pure chance, perhaps even destiny! I was accepted by the second-ever intake of the programme Labour Policies and Globalization in Germany, starting in 2005.

What motivated you to apply?

Edlira: I had been working for about six years in an institute providing training and research to the Albanian trade unions. We had acquired most of our knowledge from short-term trainings and some cooperation with international trade unions. I was very surprised to learn that this could be studied academically, and thrilled to read of all the deeply interesting topics available.

Frankly, I was kind of hesitant too, because I was not sure whether I would be up to it. In the end, my eagerness to learn more about labour policies and globalization prevailed.

How important was it for you to attend the GLU program?

Edlira: The GLU programme gave me time and resources to examine critical questions about the work I was doing in Albania: If we had been training hundreds of trade unionists for years, why were the unions still so weak? Were we giving shop stewards the right knowledge and tools to be the voice of Albanian workers and provide them much-needed protection? Were we reaching the root causes or were we operating at the level of symptoms? Were the challenges facing the Albanian trade unions unique to their context or were there similarities with others elsewhere?

Fundamentally, the programme helped me understand the importance of the interconnectedness of workers’ and people’s struggles across borders and of solidarity among these struggles. It also helped me build an increasingly broad and useful contact network of trade unionists, labour activists, academics and researchers.

What feature of the programme did you particularly like?

Edlira: Perhaps the programme’s most impressive feature is the way it intertwines academic knowledge with the know-how of trade unionists and labour activists. This allowed us to put our practical experiences into a theoretical framework, to deepen our analysis, and broaden the spectrum of possible strategies going forwards.

Many of the professors and lecturers were not only well respected academic experts but also engaged with labour-oriented organizations on the ground. And many of the students were also labour activists in their own right, including shop stewards, trade union leaders and labour researchers. Finally, during the programme we also met with other trade unionists and labour activists and participated in their activities. 

  • Labour Day in Berlin, May 2016. Photo by FES/Edlira Xhafa
  • Labour Law class 2005. Photo by FES/Edlira Xhafa

How have you applied what you learned?

EX: In addition to knowledge and analytical skills, we learned to understand how all people’s struggles are interconnected, going beyond the traditional boundaries of labour studies to include health, education and environment. This has deepened my engagement with labour organizations and other progressive groups.

Also, many of us were working with trade unions with limited knowledge of the history of the labour movement, in particular of the powerful vision of social justice and global solidarity at its origin. Gaining this insight created a space for us to move beyond defensive strategies to engage in intense and constructive debate on the future of labour and of our societies.  

Finally, through the GLU programme I have met some of the most amazing people. Over these years, we have supported each other in our respective struggles, worked together and shared ideas towards a common vision for a more just and fair society. And in the process, we have danced, laughed and become friends for life. ###

For more information about the GLU program and how to apply, visit the official website. On the possibility of scholarships by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung for trade unionists contact Mirko Herberg, FES Berlin.

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