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Executive Summary

The inception of the Jordanian Labour Movement dates back to the early 1950s. This movement benefited from expertise of Palestinian trade unions, who took refuge in Jordan after the 1948 War, forming the first Labour trade union and later the General Federation of Trade Unions, and who are still the backbone of the Jordanian Labour Movement.

Experience from the Palestinian Labour Movement's legacy during the Mandate, and effective roles played by political parties and elites in accelerating establishment of Labour trade unions, helped the organized Labour movement develop faster than the working class itself.

Since that time, the Labour movement in Jordan has been affected by the economic, social and political transformations that the country witnessed through out the last five decades. The events that the region passed through, in particular the Arab-Israeli conflict, have left their clear imprints as well. Consequently, the Labour movement experienced fluctuation in its development depending on the political climate. The movement grew during phases of political openness and became weak and isolated during other phases, when the power balance tipped in favour of state repression of opposition, authoritarian hegemony, and absence of freedoms. Nevertheless, this Movement entered a long phase of retreat and erosion since the middle of the 1970s, and the political liberalization Jordan witnessed during the 1990s was unable to end the regression that trade unions performance had suffered, singularly and collectively.

In 1971 and 1976, the Labour movement was subject to what was then termed „Reorganization," whereby many trade unions were merged into unified entities and some of the rest were dissolved. Since the mid-1970s, the number of Labour trade unions stabilized at seventeen. The interference of the government in trade union affairs has restricted their pluralism as well as the independence of an increasing number among them. During the last ten years, the end of the Cold War and the fall of the USSR contributed to reducing influence of leftist political bodies in the Labour movement. Divisions in these political bodies as well as within nationalist parties, and

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spreading frustration in the region due to the breakdown of the Arab collective and solidarity after the Second Gulf War, further weakened opposition within Labour movement organizations. These bodies had usually resisted government interference and imbued the Labour trade unions with the minimum of pluralism.

In addition to these factors of the political environment, the Labour movement suffered weakness resulting from the trade unions’ own bureaucratisation. The movement maintained union structures and work traditions that were prevalent during the 1950s and 1960s, but these were no longer suitable given the growth of the working class and the diversity of its groups. In the absence of internal democracy and with the weak participation of the union base, the trade unions lost their attraction for the workers. Moreover, since the early 80s, many union leaders who had contributed to building their organizations and had won wide respect in working class ranks departed, and leadership of a growing number of trade unions went to a new generation. The latter have no definite political hue and work for their own private interests in return for subjugating the trade unions to government. Meanwhile a dwindling number of unions maintained their independence where there remained some power for some opposition parties.

This study notes the effects of the political environment and the internal erosion of trade unions on the structure of the Labour movement. The study also notes the movement's growing bureaucratisation since the mid-1990s, accompanied by diminished negotiation weight due to growing unemployment, continued competition by foreign Labour, and the weakness of economic growth, needed to maintain existing jobs and create new ones.

Furthermore, the study sheds light on the organizational structure of the Labour movement, represented by the General Federation of Trade Unions and its member unions. It notes the unsuitability of this structure within the structural transformation in the Jordanian economy, in particular the rising number of large enterprises within the services and industry sectors. The study shows the urgent need to reconsider the organizational structure of the trade unions, especially in terms of facing the challenges represented by globalisation, structural reform, and accelerating privatisation.

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After presenting the most significant problems and challenges currently facing the Jordanian Labour Movement, the study suggests far-reaching reform of Labour movement institutions and structures. The study also recommends due consideration to the importance of training and education. Furthermore, the study calls for use of alliances, possibly within the framework of partnership agreements as well as of accelerating globalisation, with the aim of building a better negotiating role and position for the Labour movement.

In summary, the state of affairs of today’s Labour movement resulted from circumstances of Cold War polarization and conflict, conditions that are no longer prevalent. It seems that the need now is more urgent than ever to reform the structure of the General Federation and its member unions and to introduce reform into the Labour law and government policies. This is to be accomplished with the aim of allowing for the establishment of new trade unions and reviving union pluralism and independence. Another aim is to deal with trade unions as partners in socio-economic development and to refrain from viewing them as tools for harnessing Labour initiatives and struggles and maintenance of political stability. The study ends with a set of conclusions and recommendations.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Januar 2002

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