African Trade Unions: Time for change!”

By StreetNet International
February 21, 2019
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The ITUC-Africa New Year school (NYS) 2019 “African Trade Unions: Time for change!”, organized by the ITUC-Africa through its Research and Education Institute (ALREI) and funded by the ILO ACTRAV and FES, took place on 11-15 February in Lome city, Togo.

Around 100 participants attended the school primarily from the ITUC-Africa affiliates, comprising General Council members, ITUC-Africa Women Committee and Youth Committees; the sub-regional trade unions organizations, labour researchers and educators, Global union federations (GUFs); continental and international CSOs, academia and media amongst others as well as ILO representatives.

Oksana Abboud, StreetNet
Organizer and Trainee-Coordinator represented StreetNet at the ITUC-African

The main purposes of the NYS

  • To reflect
    on the state of the African trade unions based on the main conclusions and
    recommendations of the study conducted by ITUC-Africa;
  • To agree
    on common trade union strategies to addresses the challenges identified;
  • To
    formulate a continental labour strategy to build strong and united trade union
    organisations that can assist in fostering economic and social transformation
    in Africa.

In the development of the modern
state, from the colonial era into what can be described today as the
neo-colonial era, the systems of governance and institutions of public
authority that have emerged often do not serve the interests of the working
people. As a consequence, the trade union movement in Africa today is
confronted with enormous challenges arising from the political and
socio-economic realities confronting Africa and its people.

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Trade union leaders got together
to discuss the main challenges they currently face: Decreasing working class
consciousness; Limited trade union structural power and low visibility and
influence owed to low trade union density and Membership disfranchisement; Deepening
disconnect between membership and leadership; Fragmentation, Low capacities to
engage various stakeholders; Growing internal un-democratic practices; Lack of
political independence and growing elitism within unions; Low financial
independence and absence of sustainability strategies; Limited understanding
and inclusion of the diverse needs of the membership (e.g. youth, women,
workers with disabilities, informally employed); Poor expression of solidarity
with those in need.

Within 5 days school the African
trade union leaders were identifying and analysing best possible solutions to
the current gaps and opportunities they encounter in their activities and union
work. Main focus area of the school was devoted to the trade Union Unity; Democratic
Governance in Trade Unions; Trade Union Membership and organizing; Building
(financially) sustainable/autonomous trade union organizations.

Mody Guiro, the ITUC-Africa President
and Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, ITUC-Africa General Secretary, welcomed the New Year
School participants and encouraged them to express new ideas, approaches and plans
on a way forward for the sake of protection workers’ rights and interests in a
new era. 

A key note was addressed by
Fackson Shamenda, Former Zambian Minister of Labour and Social Security, former
President of the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the
Zambian Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), who noted that trade unions have to
get their space back as unions who protect workers’ rights, as nowadays many
NGOs started to talk about the workers’ rights instead of trade unions.

Bastian Schultz, Director of the
Trade Union Competency Center, FES Sub-Sahara Africa joined the school on
behalf of the FES. Bastian pointed on new challenges which bring social
inequalities, also noting that trade unions need to be stronger as in order to
respond to transformation, we need to transform ourselves first.

Hilma Mote, ALREI Executive
Director, Africa introduced the ITUC-Africa study which was conducted in 9
countries covering at least 3 sub-regions of the African continent and targeted
national trade union centres.

During the school different
methodologies have been used. Working in different thematic groups was very
interesting and useful exercise as trade unions had a great opportunity to
share experience, lessons and set up a new revised plan of possible actions
towards many issues.

Gender and Women’s Empowerment in
trade unions, youth and informal economy workers – those are key words which
had its discussion and feedback from different stakeholders within the school

Oksana Abboud in her presentation
introduced StreetNet structure and main strategic focus areas. She presented a
practical work which StreetNet is doing towards Organizing of informal economy
traders, street vendors and hawkers as well as briefly introduced StreetNet
approach towards negotiations skills course designed for informal economy

Oksana raised several issues
where StreetNet and trade unions can co-join their efforts and overlap in their
activities. It mainly related to the implementation of the ILO Recommendation 204,
inclusive social dialogue at national level, solidarity support as well as
joint educational programs and strategies.

on new approaches and strategies towards trade union education and how it
should be designed in current realities, has been conducted during the Thematic
Group work on rethinking trade union education.

participants while working in parallel commissions were tasked to develop
strategies on Trade union unity, Membership, Trade unions and Politics as well
as on Trade union governance and internal democracy.

The School
was very informative and interesting due to its diversity of thematic areas as
well as the diversity of participants’ background.

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