Making trade unions viable in the future

Many trade unions have recognised that they have to undergo change in order to remain or become viable in the global economy of the 21st century. They are reacting to structural and demographic changes in labour markets, for instance, by organising employees in precarious jobs, gearing their forms of work and communication to the needs of specific target groups, investing more in the expansion of their own capacities for analysis and articulation of rights while becoming younger and more feminine.

The Global Unions and the FES are supporting these changes in wide-ranging ways. The FES Project Trade Unions in Transformation analyses what power resources trade unions have acquired and applied in recent years in order to become successful. A range of dialogues on the results and lessons learned is planned for the years 2017 and 2018.

Also, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has initiated the campaign Count Us In! to achieve the objective of gender justice in its own structures and political decisions. Targeted promotional programmes for trade union members are being fostered at the UNI Global Union within the framework of the That’s Why Campaign, at IndustriALL Global Union under the rubric A Global Trade Union for Women and Men and with Education International (EI). A stronger voice for women in trade unions is lending greater weight to political struggles like those relating to different wage levels between women and men, social security, occupational health and safety, discrimination and violence against women.

Millions of young people are pouring onto the labour market year-in, year-out. If they find jobs in the first place (in the face of surging unemployment rates among young people), they often face precarious employment with uncertain prospects, poor pay and limited possibilities to defend and represent their interests. Trade Unions are particularly challenged to organise young workers and to support their integration in trade unions. This involves: more firmly embedding the perspective and language of the younger generation in trade unions; fostering young members in a targeted manner with specific training programmes; placing more emphasis on topics that address the life realities of young people such as, for example, education and training or opportunities to enter into the labour market.

The trade union movement is investing more in the training of its own staff in order to carry on struggles over economic and social policy in a skillful, competent manner and push forward internal processes of change. Here, FES lends support to the Global Labour University, which has become a key institution in international trade union efforts to nurture young members with its six campuses around the world and an academic programme that is nonetheless geared to the field of practice. Conferences and summer schools staged on an annual basis are not merely manifestations of active alumni work – they also link practical experience with political debates such as, for example, in the Combating Social Inequality project.


Head of Project

Mirko Herberg

+49 (0)30 26935-7458

Marc Meinardus

+49 (0)30 26935-7744


Contact persons for specific requests