The power base of the ITF is built on unionised workers in major ports, airports, logistics hubs, inland waterways, and rail corridors. These workers can exercise a lot of power, both for themselves and the wider ITF family. The rapid expansion of the transport industry puts the ITF’s industrial position in the world’s key chokepoints under threat. For example, new types of logistics hub based near ports and airports often employ non-union labour.
There are many types of hub in the transport industry, however ports and airports are the most strategically important for transport unions. This is because they share the following features:
They are important nodes in global transport networks. Disruptions at major ports and airports have a high impact across the wider economy, not just on transport companies.
They involve large concentration of workers across multiple employers. Employment is fixed in one geographic location for a long period of time, and it is difficult for employers to move operations in the short term.
Major ports and airports are hubs in a broad sense, there are normally substantial logistics operations in the nearby area, outside the port gate or airport apron.
Examples of hubs
The Port of Mombasa, Kenya, is the most important port in East Africa. In 2015 it handled 1.1 million containers (teu) and 26.7 million tonnes of bulk cargo, making it a key maritime node for the ‘Northern Corridor’ that links Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. The port is a major site of employment. There are 7,500 workers inside the port gates, a further 6,000 workers in container freight stations near the port, and thousands more in the logistics and warehousing operations in the surrounding area.
Frankfurt Airport is one of the big four airports in Europe, handling 61 million passengers and 2.1 million tonnes of air cargo in 2015. It is the home base for lead industry players, such as airline Lufthansa Group and airports operator Fraport. Frankfurt Airport is also the largest employment site in Germany, with 80,000 employees across 500 companies.
There are many types of corridors in the transport industry, such as sea-lanes and aviation
corridors. The most important corridors for transport unions are those where the concentration of workers along particular routes means there are opportunities to organise workers and who are normally fragmented and isolated. International road corridors are the leading example of why corridors are important.
The Northern corridor in East Africa is a road artery that starts at the Port of Mombasa in Kenya. It is the key road running through Kenya, and also the land locked countries of Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda. The road corridor is critical to the economies of the four nations and has a high density of road transport workers. The ITF and its affiliates have organised over 2300 truck drivers through organising activities along this corridor in 2014-15.