BUILDING WORKES’ POWER – CHANGE THE RULES!

By Lorraine Sibanda, StreetNet International President

The 4th ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) World Congress took place in Copenhagen, Denmark on 2-7 December 2018, the main theme of which sounded: BUILDING WORKES’ POWER –CHANGE THE RULES!!

More than 1,200 participants took part in five days of debate to shape the policies and priorities for the international trade union movement for the next four years.

Sharan Burrow has been re-elected as General Secretary of the ITUC. The ITUC General Council elected Ayuba Wabba, President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, as ITUC President.

StreetNet International President, Lorraine Sibanda attended the Congress and participated in the side event TRADE UNIONS IN TRANSFORMATION – ORGANISATION OF THE INFORMAL ECONOMY, which was organized by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the main trade union partner around the world.

“On the first day of the ITUC Congress I attended a Congress side event hosted by FES.  The panel discussion focused on how trade unions could cross the divide, organize informal economy workers and transform themselves to embrace the informal economy workers into their systems of operations. Four panelists shared their experiences on organizing and working with the informal economy workers. The four panelists were: Mr Peter Mutasa (Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions), Ms Dawn Geaheart (USA), Mr John Mark Mwanika (AGTWU, Uganda) and Mr Jose Santos Garcia Gordon ( El Salvador). It was an interesting discussion in which panelists shared varying, albeit related experiences in their work with the informal economy.

Mr Jose Santos Garcia Gordon from El Salvador described the informal economy as the new normal.  Ms Dawn Geaheart suggested that Trade Unions form informal economy associations to get around the tensions caused by the traditional trade union constitutions. Mr John Mark Mwanika stated that it is easier to organize some informal workers than others depending on their trade and also stated that AGTWU had benefited a lot from the StreetNet International Manuals – book packs on Organising Workers in the Informal Economy. Mr Peter Mutasa shared that ZCTU organized informal workers and established the ZCIEA (Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations). He also observed that the informal economy is not homogenous and attempts to organize informal economy workers in the traditional trade union way could pose difficulties.

Overall, the discussion acknowledged that informal economy workers are workers too!  And there is a need for statutory revisions in trade unions so as to bridge the divide between the formal and informal workers. As ITUC seeks to Build workers’ power and Change the rules, trade unions will consider working closely with informal economy workers to increase their visibility and to create a positive image of informal economy workers in the quest for legal recognition and protection for the informal economy workers.