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Free, democratic and well-positioned trade unions -
Crucial cornerstones for democratic and civil society developments in the Third World just as much as elsewhere.

Annual reports published by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) or amnesty international (ai) show that, especially in Third World countries, trade unions and trade unionists are not only subject to growing political pressure and an increasing restriction of their rights but that they also and frequently so become victims of violent acts. In its 2005 annual report, the ICFTU reports of 145 murdered trade unionists, an increasing number of murder threats and reprisals against trade unionists.

This is why solidarity and support through trade unions in democratic states where the rule of law prevails, through NGOs and through international trade union organizations is imperative. As our history shows, only a joint and solidarity-driven representation of the employees' interests through their trade unions will lead to humane working and living conditions.

As a result of the far-reaching consequences of economic globalization, trade unions face hitherto unknown challenges. Traditional patterns of action no longer take effect and strategies which do not go beyond national boundaries very often prove to be inefficient. The internationalization of capital, production and services as well as the political clout of transnational enterprises when it comes to defining global rules, force trade unions to become active on the global level as well, if they want to live up to their claim of representing the employees' social rights on a global scale.

International solidarity is of the essence when it comes to an efficient representation of employees' rights, especially for trade unions in the Third World. If a trade union is a member of an international trade union organization from its industry, companies can less easily choose to ignore its wishes and demands. The financial might of large corporations requires a counterbalance in the shape of a strong international community of employees, as neither local markets nor an ever more liberalized and deregulated global market grant employees the income they need to lead a decent life or humane working conditions. Bearing this in mind, trade unions are not European or "Western" organizations, but organizations which represent employees' rights all over the world.

International trade union organizations, the International Labour Organization (ILO) or institutions such as the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) use a broad range of opportunities and tools to support trade unions in the Third World. They directly support organizations on the ground, promote working condition framework agreements with globally active corporations, and help advance the regional co-operation between trade unions as well as international exchange projects. New FES-supported approaches include the development of a "Labour Policies and Globalization" master's degree course, which is sat by trade unionists from all parts of the world who are invited to spend one year at Kassel and Berlin University, or the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Library's co-operation with the Global Union Research Network (GURN), which was established in 2004.

Rainer Gries
Deputy Manager of the
Friedrich Ebert Foundation Library

Trade Unions in the Third World

Kenya: Automobile workers
Source: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Rainer Gries