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Trade unions should repackage and reinvent themselves to be more relevant


Fri May 2, 2014

Social commentators have, for many years now, lamented the decline in interest shown by workers in Labour Day, May Day, workers’ day.

Labour Day, a public holiday on May 1 in most of the Caribbean, is a day set aside to celebrate the social and economic achievements of workers and to pay tribute to their contribution to the development of their respective countries.{{more}}

Paid vacations and sick leave, minimum wages, overtime pay, maternity leave, severance pay, decent working conditions and the right to be represented by a union are just some of the benefits enjoyed by today’s workers, which are now taken for granted.

These rights or benefits did not just fall into the laps of employees; workers and their unions struggled for years, at great risk to their livelihoods, to secure improved conditions for the working class.

Many reasons have been given, by those who comment, for the fall off in interest by workers in the labour movement and workers’ solidarity. Truth be told, the majority of today’s labour force only has use for trade unions when a difficulty arises on the job, which they are unable to settle on their own.

But let’s be realistic. The struggles spoken of with such nostalgia by our older citizens border on the abstract for most of today’s workforce. They were not born 40 years ago and cannot relate to stories told of what had to be done in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s to achieve decent work standards and job security.

In addition to this generation gap, higher levels of education, and the reorganization of the workforce in smaller more service oriented work units contribute to the perception by today’s workers that the union is a relic of the past and irrelevant to their present circumstances.

This does not mean however, that there is no role for trade unions and workers’ solidarity in today’s world. There is need for introspection on the part of our unions as to how they can reorganize and repackage themselves to become more relevant and beneficial to workers of today.

The need to reflect and reorganize is not exclusive to our unions. For any organization to be successful, there must be sensitivity to the environment in which it is operating. Today’s environment is very different to the days of McIntosh, Joshua and trade union leaders like Cyril Roberts and Caspar London. Welcome to the 21st century trade unions!