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Comment: Regrouping for the struggle ahead

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2006 will see a major change in the structure of the wider trade union movement. A process of unification is under way, which will result in the creation of a new international trade union grouping. The new body will be made up of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), with which the ITF has worked closely for over 50 years; the smaller World Confederation of Labour (WCL), which mainly groups unions from the “Christian tradition”; and a number of trade union centres, which have until now remained outside the global unions family.

This development will also provide an opportunity for greater cooperation between the industrial wing of the global unions movement – represented by the ITF and the nine other Global Union Federations (GUFs) – and the broader grouping represented by national union confederations. The details of the new confederal structure and its relations with the Global Union Federations have yet to be finalised. Hopefully it will provide a more integrated approach at global, regional and national levels between the different parts of what should become a single global trade union movement with the capacity to challenge global employers and global institutions.

This will only work if there is a clear understanding of the relative roles of these different elements by the new (and as yet unnamed) international confederation and the rest of the global unions family. At the same time of course, all of them will have to be able to demonstrate clearly the continuing relevance of their work to national trade unions.

Transport is becoming ever more central to the process of globalisation, and the ITF and its affiliates will need to play a key role in helping to strengthen the entire global union movement. This means we must work to ensure that all democratic transport unions find a place within the ITF. It also means that we must continue to build alliances with the other parts of the Global Unions in order to ensure that we are able to organise globally.

National unions in turn must re-examine and where necessary retarget their traditional membership base and method of operation, to ensure they meet the needs of workers in the globalising economy. This process, on which the 41st ITF Congress in Durban next year will be focused, will demand a far-reaching and imaginative reappraisal of how the ITF can help unions organise new groups of workers while retaining their existing membership bases. It will look at how we can make the ITF as a whole operate in a more integrated way, across different transport sectors, and together with our colleagues in other industries.

The recent decision by some unions to withdraw from the US national union centre, the AFL-CIO – over disagreement about organising, and an increasing understanding by key unions that international action is not an optional extra but a central element in organising workers nationally – demonstrates the daunting task faced by the international labour movement today. We are all striving to reconcile huge new political, social and organising challenges as we fight to ensure that trade unionism retains its foothold in the rapidly changing industrial landscape.

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Issue 22 January 2006

Other pages for Issue 22 January 2006:
Agreements deliver | When will trade deliver? | Damned if they do... | New dawn for decency? | HIV/AIDS enters the mainstream | Tense times as Kenya railways takes new direction | Reflections: On border liberalisation | Transport for all? | Women take the wheel | Figuring out the World Bank | Working life

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