'Innovation or irrelevance'? An analysis of new strategies being used by African trade unions to defend the interests of labour
Mark McQuinn (SOAS, University of London)
Craig Phelan (Solidarity Center)
Chrystal McMillan, Seminar Room 5
Thursday 13 June, 8:45-10:15, 10:45-12:15

Short abstract:

This panel focuses on changing ways in which some African trade unions are representing the workforce, while others cling to established strategies. The panel contrasts traditional union practices with innovations, such as using financial investments and integrating informal workers into unions.

Long abstract:

This panel proposal draws on the work of a currently funded project, focusing on innovative ways in which African trade unions are representing the workforce. While many African trade unions continue to operate through tripartite structures, involving formal meetings at regular intervals with representatives of the state and capital, a number have disrupted this modus operandi recently. Trade unions have traditionally operated within a business unionism model, created by colonial powers and maintained by post-independence governments This model is based on trade unions accepting the prevailing relations of market power in return for some guarantee of security of employment for formal sector workers. However, African trade unions are increasingly breaking away from this model and engaging in new ways of representing the labour force, which have been little researched. Much current literature, thus, presents outdated perspectives. Trade unions have various forms of power resources, which a number are starting to utilise effectively to defend the interests of labour in the face of increasing penetration of markets by foreign direct investors. Innovative strategies being used by African labour organisations include controversial financial investments to increase capacity, integrating the large numbers of informal workers into formal trade unions, increasing links with other groups within the associational sphere and using social media to criticise the outcomes of unregulated foreign direct investment. Empirical evidence from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia will be used to illustrate connections and disruptions to the way African trade unions are working at present.