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The future is ours; the future is now!

14 July, 2021IndustriALL’s global youth forum was held virtually on 13 July, bringing together over 150 young workers from around the world to discuss youth integration in unions and in the international movement. Their message is clear: “We want to shape the world that we want!”.

IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches opened the forum by saying:

“We have a lot to fight for: an equitable economic recovery, a Just Transition in face of the transformations in the world of work. We cannot face these challenges if we don’t challenge our union structures. We must overcome the compartmentalization of unions by sectors or geographic barriers. We need radical inclusiveness in our unions, we need young people in decision making bodies. If we don’t make these changes, we will never truly represent workers. It’s a matter of survival for unions.” 

A marathon of regional youth meetings took place in June, in preparation for the global forum. The regional reports made it clear that the struggle faced by young workers around the world is the same: precarious work, a lack of representation, discrimination, union irrelevance and the need for capacity building for young activists. Young participants already working in union structures said that tackling these issues is tough - but they are ready to face it head on.

Nassima El Guennouni from Morrocco said:

“Youth are not joining trade unions as much as they should because they fear being laid off by employers. Youth are the leaders of tomorrow. It is important to increase their presence in union structures to guarantee the sustainability of our unions.” 

Romain Decalles from France explained:

“We will have to communicate to young people differently than our older counterparts if we want to include them in the union”

 In Sub Saharan Africa, unions have setup a functioning youth committee. Incoming chairperson Geoffrey Akedi from Kenya said that “We must make sure that we have functioning youth structures in our unions”.

Sweeshta Soomungill from Mauritius gave an overview of how the Sub Saharan Africa youth committee was set up and how they are improving cross-generational cooperation. She explained that “young workers are the future of trade unions, and they can innovate and transform unions to be more relevant entities, in the workplace and beyond”. 

A session around social movements such as feminist movements, Black Lives Matter, Asian Lives Matter and LGBTQA+ opened the discussion about how unions can be true allies not only by standing in solidarity but also by genuinely transforming to ensure that we do not perpetuate discrimination in our own structures.

 The pañuelo verde (green scarf) has become the defining symbol of contemporary Latin American reproductive rights activism. Yamila Picasso, from the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion in Argentina explained how this campaign was used as a tool for political transformation.

The campaign had three main strategies: drafting a bill; protests by taking over public space; and solid communications. Members focused on one objective, and despite coming from different groups, this fostered unity. The struggle lasted 15 years but finally, last year the bill was passed.

Participants recognized that these social movements are fluid, inclusive, and they recognize one another, but most importantly, they are driven by young people. Because unions are very bureaucratic, the synergies are more difficult, which is why unions need more diversity.

For this reason, they need more young people to make them more relevant.

Participants were encouraged to join the congress as delegates or observers and finalized their youth resolution to be submitted to IndustriALL’s Congress in September. The resolution deals with issues such as organizing campaigns, union education and a fair representation for youth, among other topics.