Role of trade union in national transformation


Behind the development oratory by most of the country’s capitalistic leaders there rears the ugly face of an exploitative intention that the ordinary person who toils to contribute to the achievement of the promised utopia can never imagine.

While workers commit energy, time and effort as inputs for a wider growth process for the community or nation as well as for their own personal growth, the conditions into which the workers, their families and communities are subjected to are rarely a subject of discussion by many.

Notwithstanding the role that the labour movement through trade unions has played in negotiating for minimum labour standards, social security systems and fair remuneration among other labour needs, they have at best failed to trim to size the negative capitalistic tendercies that choke workers. They have also failed to participate in addressing questions on how to transform the economy for a common wider good despite being at the centre of the discussions on any economic changes.


The lack of involvement by workers representatives, which are trade unions, in policy formulation has severe impact on the type of policies that the government makes and implements for workers and their families.

As indispensable aspect of social and economic sustainability, trade unions can impact the policy process at all levels through civil society campaigns and formal negotiations simultaneously

A major advantage that the labour movement has is its ability to galvanise support from the community, especially the larger unorganised informal sector of the economy, where there is a high level of solidarity mobilisation and willingness to engage in collective action.


But apart from a few isolated cases, the movement has not made any significant impact on the nature, structure and implementation of government programmes. It has unfortunately left its role to be played out by opposition parties and other civil society organisations and development partners as it concentrates on fire-fighting effects not causes of a dysfunctional economy.

It would have been expected that at this time when the nation is faced with a damning economic crisis that has brought to the fore harsh realities and propelled people start discussing fidgety issues around class, exploitation, poverty, inequality and the need for creating an inclusive society, trade union leaders have been on the frontline contributing transformative ideas into national policies.

Being workers’ representative agencies and promoters of an inclusive economy, unions, as grassroots democratic organisers at both the workplace and communities, have a responsibility to see to it that democracy is not just practiced at the national political level but is also observed within local economic structures as a fundamental aspect of any economic transformation and inclusiveness.

Recent poverty and inequality studies by Oxfam confirm that the characteristics of the country’s political and economic system hinders inclusiveness by assuming that the exclusion and exploitation of powerless sections of the society in order to accumulate profit is fundamental to prosperity and wellbeing.

It is therefore an urgent call for trade unions as organised representatives of the most exploited to mobilise machinery in order to alter the logic behind the contemporary economy by negotiating collective bargaining agreements, negotiating a living wage or confronting trade bargains that do not favour the common man.

In order to become a transformative force, it is necessary that the labour movement must (re)define itself as a collective movement, a movement that is addressing not only the symptoms of exclusion and exploitation, but more fundamentally the logic of capital and creating an alternative vision inside the vacuum left by political parties and civil society groups.

It is time union started mobilisation of a much broader base recruiting students and young people, the unemployed and other social movements since all of these have a stake in a more inclusive economy.

Trade unions are by far not the only actor and most likely not even the most effective actor in bringing about, securing and maintaining inclusive economic transformation but they are, due to their democratic and institutional characteristics, crucial to the process.

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