Lack of unions and alternative employment opportunities . . . contributes to the disempowerment of the individual worker and creates the corresponding social climate where it is acceptable to consider workers as less than citizens and their lives expendable.
–– Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Network Newsletter, Volume 1, No. 2, November 23, 2013.
It may be deduced from this point of view that trade unions are required to play a pivotal role in the promotion of worker solidarity. There is seemingly no good reason why trade unions should be scoffed or frown upon, dismissed as useless and meaningless, or reduced to Cinderella status.
Those who share any of these perspectives may be deemed as being ignorant of the role of trade unions, narrow-minded, and/or mischievous. It may be that there are also groups of individuals who because of their narrow interests, be it political or otherwise, would want to denounce the relevance of trade unions. The perceived threat of the trade unions through unification may be advanced as the single reason for the apparent fear of the labour movement.
It has long been established that the role of trade unions is to represent, protect, inform and provide services for employees at the workplace, local and national level. The functions of trade unions are but an extension of their role, for trade unions represent workers; negotiate on the behalf of workers, whilst engaging the collective bargaining process; lobby for change in government policies and laws that will benefit workers; agitate for a high standard of living for workers; press demands for workers’ participation in the decision-making process; and promote good employer-employee relations.
In times of crisis, it is to be expected that the strength, fortitude and character of the trade union will be tested. The body of attack is usually levelled at the leadership of the trade union. This comes from both within and outside the walls of the organization. Trade union members must be conscious of the fact that in times of crisis, this usual line of attack is intended to erode confidence in the leadership, to destabilize the organization, and derail it from the path it is pursuing.
In an effort to build and maintain trade union solidarity, it is important to remind members of trade unions that they have a responsibility to guide and support the leadership. On the other hand, unions and unionized workers need to reach out to non-unionized workers and seek legislative improvements for all.
Trade union solidarity has been mainly responsible for the achievements that labour has gained over the years. In an imperfect world, it is likely that there will be shortcomings and disappointments, but there is the consolation that through collective wisdom and efforts, some effective remedies
can be found.
Kofi Annan made the observation that “when economic conditions are difficult, people tend to be less generous and protect themselves; the question of solidarity doesn’t mean much to them at that time”. In a climate of recession or where pressures are being imposed on trade unions, workers are urged never to lose sight of the importance of workers’ solidarity, for it certainly makes the difference to the safeguarding of the rights and freedoms they enjoy.
(Dennis De Peiza is a labour management consultant with Regional Management Services Inc. Visit the website www.regionalmanagementservicesinc.com Send your comments to [email protected])