Our Readers' Opinions
May 26, 2006

Real challenge for the Labour Movement


Editor: Recent discussions in the media focus on whether the trade unions are failing their members because of the lack of militancy by the unions as customary. In the early days, the two main factors of production to an employer were financial capital and technology/machinery i.e. he who had much wealth created much wealth.

While labour was recognized as an important factor of production, employers didn’t recognize labour as being equally important as the other factors of production. This meant, that trade unions had to struggle to achieve all benefits and recognition for their members. Fast-forward to present day where we are living in a more Globalized and Liberalized environment, the access to finance and technology have increased.{{more}} Therefore, employers have turned to labour to create competitive advantages, which are difficult to duplicate by the competition, and, by creating a satisfied workforce as the best way of delivering the best goods and services.

Employers have not only position the Human Resource function around the strategic table, but in their quest to develop human capital have also included the unions/employee’s representatives. This new strategic involvement of labour has created a new approach towards labour relations, which includes more dialogue than before. However, the shift from struggle to dialogue to achieve benefits for their members in my opinion has been the most difficult reality for some diehard militant activists in the trade union movement to accept. This includes the enactment of the Protection of employment Act No. 20 of 2003, a pro-labour legislation by the present Government and the successful negotiation of some of the best collective agreements. Thus, a region with little or no struggle by workers and unions are clear realities of this new era.

The real challenge for the labour movement is how to embrace this new era of increased dialogue where strategically labour is now recognized as equally important to the employer in creating competitive advantage as other factors of production.

Given the high cost of production, limited capacity and far too low productivity, the labour movement must craft an appropriate strategy fully cognizant of the above. This requires the labour movement to build institutional capacity to articulate a position in the best interest of workers, while at the same time recognizing the interest of the employers and the wider implications of our competitiveness.

Cerlian “Maff” Russell