Ireland’s first Union Week starts tomorrow 29 April and runs to 6 May 2024. Union Week marks the culmination of ICTU’s Better in a Trade Union campaign, which promotes the value and benefits of trade union membership, including enhanced job security, advice and support, improved terms and conditions of employment, and better pay

To celebrate Union Week, SIPTU is running information and sign up events in many counties across the island. Details of SIPTU-organised and supported events for Union Week are on the events page of the website

As part of our calendar of events for Union Week, we are delighted to support and promote a super new initiative by our friends and fellow trade unionists in the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO). This is Trade Unions 101.

Trade Unions 101 is a series of engaging lesson plans and resources about unions designed and introduced to schools by INTO.

Trade Unions 101 commemorates historic struggles of workers and gains made through the labour movement as well as teaching children about the modern trade union movement and the benefits of unionisation. The lesson plans are for pupils in 5th or 6th class in the Republic and Primary 7 or Year 8 pupils in the North.  The lessons are available in English and Irish and are being shared with schools across the island.

The lesson plans are not time-sensitive, or confined to use around Union Week, and they can be used at any stage of the school year. Designed by teachers for teachers, the digital lesson pack is divided into five lessons which are available to view on the Trade Unions 101 Hub on the INTO website

Included in the video resources is a message from former Irish Congress of Trade Unions General Secretary Patricia King. In the video, Patricia gives children a warm welcome to the lessons.

Speaking about the project, she said:

“Trade unions work hard to make sure that all workers are treated well, that their employer pays them fairly for the work that they do and that their workplace is safe. These are essential principles to teach our young people as they mature and join the workforce. Trade Unions 101 shows us it is never too early to learn about fairness, equality and the values upheld by trade unionism. I hope through these lessons, they will come to see the value of trade unions and that we are indeed stronger together.”

The lessons cover an introduction to trade unions, the benefits of union membership, the trade union movement in the early 20th century, Jim Larkin and the 1913 Lockout and the modern movement. Through engaging lessons and role play, children will learn how the modern movement works to protect workers’ rights.

From a SIPTU perspective, it is particularly welcome to see our friends in INTO teaching children about the modern trade union movement and introducing them to unions like our own. No doubt, children will enjoy learning about pay negotiations and collective bargaining through a role play scenario involving negotiations between a union and an employer on paramedic pay.

It is also welcome to see an entire lesson dedicated to learning about a historical trade union dispute in SIPTU’s history, the 1913 Dublin Lockout, and the role played in that dispute by ITGWU leader Big Jim Larkin. It’s hard to think of a more impactful way to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth this year than to introduce a school lesson teaching children about Larkin’s organising and legacy. 

When I travel around the Districts and the Sectors talking with activists about union organisation, people often say that young people today don’t have an awareness of trade unions and the value of union membership like previous generations had. People often go on to say that SIPTU Organisers should visit schools to talk to young people about unions and to tell them the benefits of joining.

This is precisely what our friends in INTO are now doing in a systematic and professional manner. 

They are offering teachers lessons plans about unions designed by education professionals and delivered by qualified teachers.

David Geary, Director of Communications at INTO, is urging schools to embrace Trade Unions 101 during Union Week. “Think back to your first teen job,’ he says, ‘Did you know your rights? Could you reject bad shifts or ask for help?” These age-appropriate lessons introduce children to unions, planting a seed we hope blossoms when they enter the workforce.”

As the Trade Unions 101 lessons are optional, not core curriculum, SIPTU encourages all members and supporters who have relatives of this age to speak to their teacher and to ask them to choose the Trade Unions 101 optional lesson plans. We hope that with positive encouragement from parents and school communities that teachers will opt to teach these lessons on unions. 

If we wish to kindle the flame of the spirit of trade unionism during this inaugural Union Week, it is vital to pass on our trade union values of fairness at work and justice in society to the next generation in our homes, communities and schools.

This Sunday Read was written by SIPTU Deputy General Secretary, Ethel Buckley (pictured above)