Young union leaders reimagining international trade unionism
A School at the crossroads of contemporary issues
At a time when the new generation of trade union activists has known nothing but the precariousness of work, the global pandemic, austerity policies and climate disasters, this Internationalist School have provided an opportunity to reflect collectively on the main contemporary issues affecting trade unionism:
- How can young workers find their place and reinforce unions?
- What can we learn from our experiences of union organizing?
- How should the international trade union movement respond to the rise of authoritarianism?
- How can we strengthen feminist demands in the international trade union movement?
- What should the international trade union movement's common agenda be in the face of climate change?
At the end of the School, the GLI manifesto for the international trade union movement, co-written by several trade unionists from different countries, was presented to all the participants. In particular, it states that internationalism must be at the heart of trade union activities; that unionisation must once again become the priority of the international trade union movement; and that the international trade union movement must also be the movement of young people, of feminist and environmental struggles, and of the fight against authoritarianism.
From 27 to 29 November 2023, 110 young trade unionists from 30 different countries, as well as researchers and progressive activists, met near Paris to share their experiences, stories of struggle, victories and union organisation tactics.
First bilingual trade union school dedicated to youth
First bilingual International Trade Union School to be -organised by the GLI, these three days were very rich: in diversity - 30 countries represented, more than half of them from the Global South, such as Pakistan, Uganda, Cameroon, the Philippines, etc. - in youth - an average age of 35 - and in the quality of the presentations, in plenary sessions and workshops.
Dedicated to the new generation of trade unionists, this School has made a point of highlighting young trade union activists, women and the countries of the Global South. As underlined by Lesedi Seboni, from the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) : “Trade unions must organise all workers. Aspirations of young workers should be taken into account because the future is young and we must be capacitated to lead in various trade union structures. We should all be activists for change whether it be protecting the environment, advocating for women’s rights, or protecting workers”.
International Trade Union Forum on ecological and social transition
130 organizations from 5 continents
5 days of exchanges
In 2021, the GLI Paris co-organized the International Trade Union forum on ecological and social transitions which took place from June 14 to 19 jointly with the CGT, the Altersummit network and the Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung. The pandemic has accelerated the social and environmental emergency leading to a dramatic deterioration of the working and living conditions of a majority of the world population. This has led a growing number of organizations - from company-wide unions and inter-professional federations to local, regional and international organizations - together with other actors of the social movement, to respond via diverse, innovative strategies. This forum aimed to:
- Create a space for exchange on a transnational scale on the strategies of trade unions and other social movements to face the ecological crisis.
- Bring together all the proposals of trade unions in the sectors where the transition is most urgent: energy, transport, construction, agriculture, water, extractive industries, health, industrial production and others. Build transnational solidarity between trade unions and social movements.
- Reach agreement on a common position in view of COP26 and other deadlines of the international agenda of the ecological transition.
A joint appeal was finally signed by some 40 trade union organizations and presented at the COP26 in Glasgow by the trade union organizations most involved in the organization of the forum: the French, Korean, Senegalese and Canadian trade unions. It is pertinent as well in the framework of the internal debates of the International Trade Union Confederation to accelerate its proposals for a just transition.
Trade unionism and citizen mobilizations: how can we decompartmentalize our struggles?
Organizing the unorganized
Migrant workers in Quebec, self-employed climbing and canyoning instructors and bicycle delivery people in France, street vendors in Senegal, all have in common that they work in un unionized sectors of the economy. By sharing the experiences of the speakers, the GLI participants identified various levers of action and tactics for organizing collectively.
The GLI University was an opportunity to look at how to run transnational campaigns. The transnational federation of bike messengers, the Stop Impunity campaign, and the struggles against the giants Amazon and McDonald's are just a few of the examples that encouraged the activists to lead the global struggles of tomorrow. The upcoming launch of a branch of the Global Labour Institute in Africa can further fuel reflections and alliances.
Spontaneous citizen movements
The participants of the GLI University 2019 were able to imagine the possible alliances between unions and other citizen movements thanks to the stories of speakers from France, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia and Senegal. The victories of the movements La Lucha in the DRC and Y'en a Marre in Senegal inspired the participants and gave them food for thought on means of action to implement what is needed for change.
As in 2017, several spontaneous workshops were set up by the participants and enriched the initial program. The informal gatherings, which sometimes went on until late at night, contributed to strengthening the links between trade union activists, associations, and French-speaking researchers. The music of the socially engaged group Yaness treated the participants to an evening of dancing to the sound of Arab and Kabyle songs.
On October 7, 8 and 9, 2019, a hundred activists from the trade union, research and association worlds from 18 countries met to think about the links between trade union movements and other movements of civil society.
Why decompartmentalize struggles?
The University was an opportunity to share experiences of alliances that have strengthened feminist demands in trade unions, thanks to the stories of Beninese and Burkinabe trade unionists recounting the struggle against sexual harassment in ACCOR hotels, and of Swiss trade unionists who organized a women's strike. The participants also discussed the fight against the rise of the extreme right in the workplace and how to address the climate cause. The urgency to link the fight against global warming with the fight for more social justice led to the launch of a TUED -Trade Unions for Energy and Democracy- network among French-speaking trade unionists on the model of the American TUED.
Trade union internationalism: organizing and winning
The first French-speaking inter-union university of the GLI Paris was held at the Bergerie de Villarceaux near Paris from November 20 to 22, 2017. 98 trade union representatives, researchers and association members from 15 countries gathered to think about the role of trade unions in the transformation of global governance. During three days of scheduled or spontaneous workshops, the participants worked together on how to share their tools, capitalize on their experiences and implement common projects.
The accounts of experiences of inter-union alliances made it possible to understand the levers that transnational coordination could represent in improving working conditions and trade union power. These included the International Alliance of ST Microelectronics employees uniting nine unions supported by ReAct Transnational, the highly developed international network of call centers at the Euro-Mediterranean level explained by the UGTT (Tunisia), the victorious battle for the rights of workers in Coca Cola factories in Guatemala, the progress of the international trade union network of solidarity and struggles bringing together some sixty organizations supported by Solidaires, and the story of the Fight for 15 campaign were all experiences that fed the discussions and made it possible to write a draft methodological guide to equip trade union activists employed by a multinational company.
In addition to this, trade unionists facing the same multinational used the University’s informal time to create alliances. Thus projects were launched around the transport companies of the Bolloré Group in Central and West Africa, and around the Accor hotel chains.
Several workshops were held to share experiences of unionization of workers in the sectors furthest from union protection: unionization of bicycle couriers with CLAP (Collectif des Livreurs Autonomes de Paris), unionization of chambermaids with the CNT SO-ReAct Transnational partnership, unionization of informal transport workers in Uganda, unionization of independent construction workers with the CGT and its European partners... Thus participants were able to analyse many experiences to identify good practices and how to build the conditions needed to overcome the obstacles and difficulties that hinder real transformation.
The French language inter-union university buzzed with a informal discussions, impromptu meetings with other union activists who told how they are growing the union movement in their territory. The evenings were filled with songs of struggle, exchanging contacts and smiles and preparing for future union struggles.