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REPORT: IndustriALL youth projects in Latin America

3 December, 2015Promoting greater participation by women and young people in the labour market is a priority for IndustriALL Global Union. It has two projects specifically designed for Latin America, SASK Youth and FES Youth, which include an exchange programme and education for young members in affiliated unions.

One of IndustriALL’s main objectives is to build union power. To achieve that goal, IndustriALL strives to increase participation of young workers in the affiliated unions and strengthen the national and international organizations to which they belong. IndustriALL’s youth projects in Latin America encourage young workers to reflect on their values, develop their ideas, and promote inter-generational equity.

Marino Vani, assistant regional secretary at the IndustriALL Latin America and Caribbean Office and IndustriALL youth projects coordinator, says training young trade unionists benefits the union movement as whole:

"By participating in the projects, young workers of today understand the globalized world and recognize the major challenges facing unions and workers. They contribute new ideas and suggest innovative ways of organizing and mobilizing workers. By combining the strengths of experienced trade unionists with the enthusiasm of young workers we create stronger unions.”

IndustriALL - FES youth project

The three-year project aims to empower young people and increase their participation in trade union activities, strengthen leadership and enhance present and future trade union actions and organizations, both nationally and internationally. Ten affiliated unions from seven countries in Latin America participate in the project funded by IG Metall, FES and by unions from Brazil and Argentina.

IndustriALL’s main goal is to promote an exchange of experiences through interactive activities, enabling young participants to express their ideas and share the experiences gained at their respective unions. Moreover, it aims to turn these experiences into examples for them to perform actions of their own.

“The intention is to allow young people to bring a new way of thinking and acting into their workplaces with a sense of identity, both locally and globally,” says Marino Vani.

Participants meet once a year – in Brazil in 2015, Argentina in 2016 and Germany in 2017. During the meetings they learn about union structures, collective bargaining and negotiation, political organization of the young, as well as gender, education and communication.

IndustriALL - SASK youth project

The trade union project for young workers involves members of IndustriALL affiliated trade unions in five Latin American countries: Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua and Uruguay. The aim is to empower young people for a more active participation in unions and to strengthen youth and gender policies.

“With the project we want to change trade union structures so they take into account what younger generations have to say,” says Marino Vani. “We want to encourage affiliates that don’t yet have inclusive structures for young workers to develop youth policies.”

The project includes a regional strategy with activities, proposals, training content and materials for each participating country, formulated by the contributing unions.

Learning from each other

For seven days in October, 34 young workers from Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay met in São Paulo, Brazil. This was the first activity in the second cycle of IndustriALL FES youth project 2015 – 2017.

The young workers visited factories, trade union offices, a workers’ TV channel and attended a series of workshops to discuss how young workers organize and participate in trade unions.

Mercy Sigrid Castillo Huaman from the National Federation of Textile Workers in Peru (F.N.T.T.P.) participates in the FES project:

“What attracted me to take part is that it provides me with an opportunity to learn about the situation in several countries in Latin America and Germany. I have never travelled abroad before because I can’t afford it. But the project has given me the opportunity to do so and to find out how other people live.

“I saw that the situation in other countries is better than in my country, Peru. For example, when I went to Brazil, some things had a big impact on me because they were so different. I decided to discuss them on my return home to try to change the labour situation in my country.”

As well as attending formal education sessions, the young workers learned about trade union organization and the role of young workers by visiting workplaces and union offices, including those of IndustriALL Brazilian affiliates Central of workers (CUT) and the Federation of Workers in Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industries from São Paulo (FEQUIMFAR).

At FEQUIMFAR, participants learned how the union is organized and how its youth policy operates. They also heard about the problems facing Brazilian workers, such as employers’ powers to dismiss workers when they please, causing job insecurity. Unions have not yet been able to win all the rights enshrined in ILO conventions.

The group visited Volkswagen’s factory in São Bernardo do Campo and discussed the union’s training principles and policies; how workers organize; how negotiations are conducted at the local and municipal level; and how union organization is structured at the workplace, through local unions and up to national trade union centres.

The ABC Metalworkers’ Union funds a TV station, the Workers’ Television (TVT) station in São Bernardo do Campo. The TV station has an audience of 20 million and complements a regional newspaper and a daily union newssheet. Participants in the project visited the TV studios and learned about workers’ education and communications policies.

IndustriALL encourages gender and inter-generational equity in trade unions. One day was therefore dedicated to discussing trade union policies on gender and youth. Participants visited Força Sindical (FS) to learn about the steps it has taken to increase youth participation.

FS has a minimum youth participation quota of 10 per cent in affiliated unions and its gender policy establishes a minimum participation of 30 per cent women.

However, in other countries, not all unions have quotas like these.

“In Peru, there aren’t many young workers or women in leadership positions in the unions. We now have five women at the textile federation and two of us are young. There is a lot of sexism in the country, so I was surprised by some of the things that women in Brazil told me and how hard they have campaigned and how much they have achieved,” says Mercy Sigrid Castillo Huaman.

“I asked them how they won some of their victories. For example, one of the things that had an impact on me was the six months they are allowed facilities for breastfeeding. In Peru, women are only allowed three months, which I think is inhuman. So when I arrived home, I told my colleagues who are now supporting me in proposing an improvement in our legislation. But as I am young, I know that I need to learn from the experience of older colleagues, who can show me how to go about things.”

Turning ideas into action

During the past three years, 750 young workers have taken part in national seminars as part of the youth project run by SASK, the trade union solidarity centre of Finland.

Mariela Sánchez Casas, 27, from the National Union of Mineworkers in Mexico (SNTMMSRM) explains why she decided to participate in the SASK project:

“I realized that not all young people know how to organize workers, which means that youth practically has no opportunity to participate in unions. So when I was invited to take part in the project, I saw it as a chance to grow and help other young workers to contribute to trade union life.

“We want to work with older generations. We want to gradually get to know them and get them to be more open towards us. It is good to work together because we can learn from their experience and what they have learned over the years.

And they, in turn, can learn from us, about new things, and what is going on right now. We can help them to use the internet and social networks so they can communicate more easily. In the past, union affairs were conducted verbally. Now it is easier to organize because there are more tools available.”

More than 70 participants from both projects met to discuss ways to better organize young workers and tackle challenges they face. They listened to speakers from, among others, the student movement, the movement of homeless workers, and the youth section of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas.

“We have been making great progress in helping young workers to organize and in developing policies to further young people in trade unions. We are grateful for the support from our affiliates in helping us to carry out IndustriALL’s strategy to promote youth,” says Marino Vani.

Youth representatives have developed proposals to take to IndustriALL’s congress in Rio in 2016 for inclusion in IndustriALL’s action plan. Young workers must participate in defining strategies and be included at the negotiating table if they are going to make improvements.

“IndustriALL has helped me right from the start. I have had opportunities to participate, connect with workers abroad and attend ILO meetings. I have learned a lot more about trade unionism in my country and it has changed my perspectives on life. Before, I wanted to work and earn a lot of money. Now, I am going to use my career and knowledge to also help the working class,” says Mariela Sanches Casas.