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Young trade unionists reimagining international trade unionism

5 December, 2023The Global Labour Institute hosted its autumn school in Paris from 27 to 29 November. IndustriALL affiliates formed part of the delegation who deliberated on challenges in organizing, trade unionism and youth, trade unionism and authoritarianism, and trade unionism and the environment. 

During the first day, young leaders focused on the history and approaches to organizing. Participants emphasized the need to renew organizing methods which revitalize the workers’ identity and move away from traditional service unionism to a more proactive approach. 
Young unionists stated that one of the main challenges was organizing in the informal economy. This economy undermines workers’ rights and trade unions face challenges in organizing and negotiating better conditions as there is often no one to negotiate with. Organizing in the informal economy offers trade unions the opportunity to broaden their membership and provide protection to workers. 
The session on we are the trade unionism of tomorrow, centered around the importance of empowering young workers in trade unions through participation and involvement in union activities. Participants echoed the need for young workers to be capacitated to lead in union structures and specifically trained for leadership positions. 
During a session on how to deal with trade union repression, experiences from Hong Kong and Pakistan were shared. Trade unions in Hong Kong are under great surveillance, China’s National Security Act, applicable in Hong Kong territory,  allows protesting unionists to be arrested, claiming that national security is endangered as they are considered political activities.

However, the Chinese government does not define what political activities are. In Pakistan union rights are limited. A call for mass mobilizations, where  global unions take the lead, more active use of social media for advocacy, information sharing and solidarity were made. 
Discussions on challenges posed by climate change centered around forging alliances between the global north and south, and acknowledged that the global south is heavily impacted due to the global north’s consumption habits. The link between unionism and the environment, the pursuit of a safer, greener world that includes secure and safe working environments were also underscored.  This includes new production strategies, as the nature of production in sectors are changing. 

“Trade unions must organise all workers. Aspirations of young workers should be taken into account because the future is young and we must be capacitated to lead in various trade union structures. We should all be activists for change whether it be protecting the environment, advocating for women’s rights, or protecting workers,”

says Lesedi Seboni a representative from IndustriALL affiliate the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU). 
Faye Daguman from PIGLAS, an IndustriALL affiliate in the Philippines, says: 

“Despite the challenges and problems that we are facing in the world of work, There's a power in solidarity. We are the new hope. We continue to push back. Trade Unions must educate more young people and organize them to build stronger unions and solidarity.”

Sarah Flores IndustriALL youth and project officer, says: 

“International exchange with young activists from different sectors and countries is a fantastic opportunity to develop connections. The younger generation is calling for change and presenting very interesting ideas. Their participation in union activities will greatly benefit the movement.”