Our project “Trade Unions in Transformation” shifts the narrative about trade unions. Moving away from the standard depiction of unions as victims of globalization, we highlight that unions do have agency and power - even as the labour movement is under attack all around the world.
However, trade unions are neither helpless nor passive! Unions change, innovate and pursue new strategies! By doing so, they achieve material and political gains for the workers they represent - and demonstrate how labour can and already does shape globalization. All 26 stories collected here demonstrate that numerous unions succeeded in mobilizing and making use of their power resources.
The Power Resources Approach (El planteamiento de los recursos del poder) distinguishes four types of power unions can draw from and serves as the conceptual framework of our case studies. Their short versions can be found in our new publication: Trade Unions in Transformation - Success stories from all over the world.
We hope that the stories of “Trade Unions in Transformation” will inspire workers to rediscover your union’s power resources and help to mobilize them!
Follow us on twitter: #UnionsTransform
The 25 stories we present here show how unions have innovated and how they were successful in their struggles. They cut across sectors, continents, levels of engagement and types of organizations and thus display the richness and variety of trade union action. Each story comes with a link to download the original, full-length case study on which it is based.
These are the main topics, along which the stories are organized:
The stories collected here show how workers in non-standard forms of employment were or are organized. In the process of including “informal” workers, new types of organizations have emerged, organizations that are “hybrid” in that they cater to both formally employed workers and workers in informal or precarious work arrangements. Combined with organizational flexibility, a more inclusive understanding of solidarity and of who is a worker enabled unions to approach workers in informal arrangements, bring their strength into the equation of a struggle, and come up with innovative ways of collaboration and interest representation.
These stories strongly indicate that a new expression of labour as agents actively shaping the world of work is about to emerge.
In Uganda, unions are helping to drive transport workers into decent work
Ouganda : les syndicats agissent pour le travail décent chez les travailleurs des transports
Short Story by Diana Taremwa Karakire
Transforming Transport Unions through Mass Organisation of Informal Workers in Uganda
Full-length Study by Dave Spooner & John Mark Mwanika
Developing and Utilizing Power Resources: The Case of Kenya National Private Security Workers’ Union
Full-length Study by Jacob Omolo
A Case Study of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria
Full-length Study by Ismail Bello
Street Vendors in India: From Invisibility to Centre Stage
Short Story by Ulrike Putz
Towards a Better Deal for Street Vendors in India: The Case of NASVI
Full-length Study by Arbind Singh and Sachin Kumar
High Level Militancy and Unusual Alliances Bring Rare Victory for South Korean Workers
Short Story by Ulrike Putz
Rebuilding Workers' Power Beyond Corporate Boundaries in South Korea
Full-length Study by Aelim Yun
Unions take on multinational companies and parts of their value chain. The exposure to global capital may leave workers vulnerable, but at the same time opens up new strategic opportunities.
For example, unions make use of their structural power by taking advantage of the time-bound nature of globalized production, including in auto assembly lines or deadlines to finish World Cup Stadiums. Attacking the corporate image of a garment brand or a coffee chain makes use of societal power, especially when people’s sense of justice is evoked successfully. As the Chile case highlights, leverage increases if institutional power such as the OECD Complaint Mechanism can be thrown into the equation. In all cases, associational power is a pre-condition for success and has to be mobilized both at the local and the transnational level.
Building alliances beyond the worksite and across borders adds complexity but opens the chance to escalate the conflict. In sum, a common sense of purpose and solidarity, sharing of responsibilities and a long-term strategy are indispensable elements of building up power.
Are major sports events opportunities for innovative trade union action? The example of Brazil
Grands évènements sportifs : quelles opportunités d’actions innovantes pour les syndicats? L’exemple du Brésil
Short Story by Mathilde Dorcadie
Mega Sporting Events in Brazil: Trade Unions’ Innovative Strategies for the Construction Industry
Campanhas por trabalho decente em megaeventos esportivos no Brasil: estratégias sindicais inovadoras no setor da construção, seus êxitos e permanências
Full-length Study by Maurício Rombaldi
Beating multinationals in Turkey: success through solidarity and international support
Victoire contre les multinationales en Turquie : une réussite basée sur la solidarité et le soutien international
Short Story by Jennifer Hattam
An Inspiring Case of Union Organizing in a Formidable Context: The Case of TÜMTİS in Turkey
Full-length Study by Alpkan Birelma
Shifting Powers in Russia’s Employment Relations? Alternative Trade Unions Challenging Transnational Automotive Companies
Full-length Study by Sarah Hinz
Transnationalizing Unions: The Case of the UAW and the IG Metall
Full-length Study by Michael Fichter
Weaving a union network around the garment sector – An example from Central America
Short Story by Karla Molina and Ernesto García
Building Power in Global Networks: The International Union League in Central America
Acumulación de poder en redes globales: el caso de la Liga Sindical Internacional en América Central
Full-length Study by Gilberto García Dueñas and Karla Molina Montalvo
Organising and innovating – the winning strategy of Argentina’s pharmaceutical trade union
Sindicalización e innovación: la exitosa estrategia del sindicato farmacéutico argentino
Syndicalisation et innovation – la stratégie gagnante du syndicat argentin du secteur pharmaceutique
Short Story by Lucia He
La lucha sindical frente a los desafíos del capital transnacional. El sindicato de visitadores médicos en Argentina y los retos actuales
Full-length Study by Bruno Dobrusin
United Aviation Workers Land a Victory
Short Story by Dina Feller and Teresa Conrow
The Power of Aviation Unions in South America: The ITF LATAM Union Network
Full-length Study by Dina Feller and Teresa Conrow
The rookie union that took on the coffee behemoth and won: the case of Starbucks Chile
El sindicato novato que le ganó el pulso al gigante de los cafés: el caso de Starbucks Chile
Le syndicat débutant qui a gagné le bras de fer avec le géant des cafés : le cas de Starbucks au Chili
Short Story by Jordi Serrat
Recursos de poder en el Sindicato de Trabajadores de Starbucks en Chile
Full-length Study by Felipe Labra
Unions and union confederations in Brazil, Uruguay, Tunisia, South Africa and Indonesia have built sometimes complex alliances with a broad set of social actors, including social movements and NGOs, or long-term relations with political parties to achieve their goals. Both types of alliances are crucial for building up societal power, for extending unions’ spheres of influence and for making progress in different political arenas.
The stories provide insights into what capabilities unions need to build successful alliances and make them last. One recurring issue and success factor is that unions should be autonomous vis-à-vis their partners.
El mayor sindicato de América Latina vuelve a la calle
Le principal syndicat d’Amérique latine redescend dans la rue
Short Story by Santi Carneri
The CUT’s Experience During the Workers’ Party’s (PT) Governments in Brazil (2003–2016)
Full-length Study by José Dari Krein and Hugo Dias
Uruguay: Building Trade Union Power
Uruguay: caminos hacia la construcción de poder sindical
Full-length Study by Álvaro Padrón and Achim Wachendorfer
When unions make history: the UGTT’s role in Tunisia’s transition to democracy
Cuando los sindicatos hacen historia: el papel de la UGTT en la transición de Túnez a la democracia
Quand les syndicats forgent l’histoire : le rôle de l’UGTT dans la transition de la Tunisie vers la démocratie
Short Story by Lina Ben Mhenni
Trade Union Power and Democratic Transition in Tunisia - The UGTT: A Unique Story, An Unprecedented Experience
Pouvoir syndical et transition démocratique en Tunisie : L’UGTT, une histoire et une expérience inédite
Full-length Study by Sami Adouani and Saïd Ben Sedrine
After a difficult liberation, South Africa’s largest trade union ponders the future
Después de un difícil proceso de liberación, el mayor sindicato sudafricano considera sus opciones a futuro
Short Story by Miriam di Paola
An Assessment of NUMSA’s Attempt to Develop its Political and Organisational Independence, 2012–2016
Full-length Study by Miriam di Paola
Internal political processes are changing unions and enable them to embark on previously uncovered territory.
The story of the Brazilian National Confederation CUT makes yet another compelling argument for women empowerment, which make unions stronger and more relevant to society. The stories of the ASEAN Service Employees Trade Union Council (ASETUC) and the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA) show how unions represent the interest of their members at the regional level. Furthermore, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) are working on deep structural changes that, if successful, will reshape the face and identity of the unions. Malaysia’s MTUC has also opened a new chapter by representing migrant workers’ interests. In Honduras, the deepening of internal democracy allows the teachers’ union to withstand political repression and stay true to its mission.
CUT-Brazil, a trade union centre at the forefront of the feminist struggle
La Central Única de Trabajadores de Brasil, un sindicato a la vanguardia de la lucha feminista
La Centrale unique des travailleurs du Brésil, un syndicat à l’avantgarde de la lutte féministe
Short Story by Nazaret Castro
Building Trade Union Power with Gender Equality: The Case of the Unified Workers’ Central of Brazil
Construyendo poder sindical con paridad de género: el caso de la Central Única de Trabajadores de Brasil
Full-length Study by Didice Godinho Delgado
Institutionalizing Labour’s Voice in ASEAN: The ASETUC Initiative
Full-length Study by Melisa R. Serrano
El poder de la diversidad: La Confederación Sindical de Trabajadoras/es de las Américas (CSA)
Short Story by Cecilia Anigstein
New Horizons for the Hemispheric Trade Union Movement: The Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA)
Nuevos horizontes para el sindicalismo hemisférico: la Confederación Sindical de las Américas (CSA)
Full-length Study by Cecilia Anigstein
Enhancing and Mobilizing Structural and Organisational Power to Better Protect the Rights and Interests of Workers in Vietnam
Full-length Study by Dong Xuan Hieu, Pham Tuan Phuc and Erwin Schweisshelm
South Africa’s largest union tackles threat of globalization to workers’ rights
La globalización amenaza los derechos de los trabajadores, pero un sindicato sudafricano la confronta
Short Story by Chere Monaisa
Towards A Powerful Value Chains Trade Union: South African NUMSA’s Expanded Scope
Full-length Study by Chere Monaisa
Embarking on a Long, Bumpy Road to Success
Short Story by Ulrike Putz
Organizing Migrant Domestic Workers in Malaysia: Challenges in Revitalization
Full-length Study by Verna Dinah Q. Viajar
Desarrollo y uso de los recursos de poder, experiencia de éxito en el fortalecimiento de las luchas sociales y reivindicativas de los derechos laborales: el caso del Colegio de Pedagogos de Honduras
Full-length Study by Fanny Erazo