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African unions commit to prioritizing sustainable industrial development

30 April, 2013Meeting in Johannesburg on 23-24 April, 26 IndustriALL affiliates from 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa developed strategies to pressure their governments for progressive policies to promote industrialization and jobs.

Participants recognized the particular challenges facing African countries including conflicts, lack of respect of workers’ rights and the fact that Africa has a wealth of mineral resources yet many people are living in poverty.

Development is constrained by a continuing reliance on mineral extraction, but the urgent need to diversify economies to add value is not being tackled by many governments in the region which still do not see industrial policy as a main concern.

Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of COSATU, addressed participants and shared some of the lessons learnt by trade unions in South Africa. He called for a change to the growth model of reliance on the export of raw materials which supports continuing inequality and poverty: the only way to drive economies is through industrialization, particularly manufacturing, and creating decent jobs. Critically, Vavi told affiliates that South Africa cannot be successful if there is not industrialization in the rest of the continent.

Unions identified a number of key industrial policies to promote in the region. These include beneficiation of mineral resources, trade policies that support industrialization and development, investment in infrastructure, education, training and R&D, and support for skills transfer.

Affiliates gave examples of existing strategies that they are using. In Zambia unions engage with government on industrial development to maximize the benefits of natural resources, for example transforming copper into copper wires instead of exporting copper and importing wires. South African unions have worked with government to produce an industrial policy plan which identifies key sectors for job creation and puts in place job stimulation programs.

Having committed to prioritizing industrial development, affiliates identified actions to take. These include:

  • Influencing their national centres to take up industrial policy
  • Developing union capacity, including through sharing experiences between unions in the region
  • Influencing governments through tripartite forums where they exist and demanding them where they don’t
  • Building trade union strength and capacity to demand comprehensive and strategic industrial policies, including educating members and raising public awareness to campaign for policies that benefit working people
  • Developing joint policies towards regional governmental bodies such as SADC and the African Union, where unions currently do not have a voice
  • Developing joint policies for specific industries eg mining, second hand vehicles and clothing
  • Mobilizing regionally on Africa Industrialization Day held in November each year.