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Cooperation with Trade Unions


The representation of workers' interests by trade unions constitutes an essential part of democratic development. Cooperation with trade unions is therefore the Foundation's activity with the longest tradition. All trade union-related activities of the Foundation are closely coordinated with the German Trade Union Federation (DGB), its affiliated unions, the International Trade Secretariats and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung involves trade unions in national and international political discussions and furthers workers' representation by inviting unions to joint meetings with governments, political parties, universities, associations and employers.

Many structural changes in the economy (technological development, international division of labour, international financial transactions) continue to challenge all trade unions. Everywhere, representing workers' interests has become more difficult. With the assistance of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the relatively small trade union organizations of Africa, Asia and Latin America are trying to strengthen their competence for political and economic action. Enlarging trade union organization and adapting their internal structures continue to be on their agenda. In many countries trade unions have been involved in the process of democratizing political systems and must now adapt their own work and organization accordingly. While the number of accidents at work is on the decline in the industrialized countries, the problem of safety at work is becoming increasingly acute in the developing countries, in particular in countries with rapid industrialization.

In February 1994, representatives of the African regional organization of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, of four trade secretariats of the German Trade Union Federation and staff members of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung from numerous African countries met in Harare with the Vice-Chairman of the Foundation, Ernst Breit, to discuss future cooperation with the trade unions in Africa. The Foundation intends to concentrate its activities on countries with highly developed trade union structures (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria, Egypt, Tunesia), to support activities of emerging trade unions in some of the other countries (Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique) and thus to strengthen trade unions in Africa generally.

The roughly 50 national trade union projects of the Foundation concentrate particularly on improving the competence of trade union leaders. The following topics are addressed: economic policy of trade unions in the context of structural changes in the economy; respect for human and trade union rights; improving safety and accident prevention at work; labour legislation, mobilization of members and strengthening of the decision-making and administrative structures of trade unions.

In working with the international trade union organizations, the question of coordination and cooperation in individual branches of industry and in transnational corporations is becoming increasingly important. New forms of cooperation have to be identified. More attention will also have to be paid to the question of how to connect trade union activities in Europe, especially in the European Union (newly created European works councils) with the world-wide activities of the trade secretariats.

Trade Union Cooperation by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung:

48 projects
8 FES consultants working in the Third World
expenditure (1994): 25.4 Mio DM

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Project Examples:
Trade Union Cooperation in Brazil

Since FES started activities in Brazil, its partner in the trade union sector has been the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT). CUT was established in 1983 as the umbrella for autonomous and authentic trade unions, as opposed to the old aligned trade unions. With some 5 million members it has developed into the most important and probably most progressive trade union organization in Latin America today.

In view of continuous massive state intervention in industrial relations and a lack of shop-floor union representation, the main issues in the cooperation between FES and CUT remain bargaining and shop-floor policies. FES passes on international experience and for example supports the design of training curricula. Furthermore, FES assists the young federation, which is still struggling with organizational deficits, in applying modern methods of organization and planning. FES also encourages a better representation of women in the decision-making bodies of the unions. Finally, FES is extensively involved in a joint project of the European Union, DGB and CUT for the establishment of a trade union college in Southern Brazil.

When CUT celebrated its 10th anniversary in August 1993, FES was given a special award as a tribute for its many supportive activities.

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Trade Union Activities:
Thai Labour Museum

For centuries, manual work has been regarded as inferior in the hierarchically structured Thai society. The newly established Thai trade unions deplore that their members receive little recognition in society. Politicians and the labour administration also deplore this mentality because it impairs the modernization of the economy. In 1991 a committee was established with the aim of founding a museum on the history of labour. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung has supported the preparations of archivists, occupational health and safety experts, politicians and trade unionists. The museum was opened in 1993. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung will continue to support the activities of the museum until 1995 with appropriate scientific measures and meetings. By illustrating the history of work, of trade unions, and of industrial accidents which attracted world-wide attention, the museum demonstrates to the general public how important manual work has been for Thai development.


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©Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition mv&ola | August 1997