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Road transport workers focus on organising the unorganised

4 August 2006

The ITF’s International Road Transport Action Week campaign is playing a key role in helping affiliates to organise unorganised workers, build capacity and develop strong ties of solidarity.

Opening the Road Transport Section conference today, vice-chair Asbjorn Wahl of Fagforbundet, Norway, standing in for section chair Peter Baranowski (Germany), who was absent due to ill-health, pointed to a growing body of resistance to neoliberal values and the enormous opportunities this presents for unions to “fight for democratic control of the economy.”

Section Secretary Mac Urata reminded delegates that there are many ways of measuring a successful action day – or action week, as the event has more recently become. These include: tangible bargaining outcomes for the union, focal points for organising, a means of building the union’s status with employers, members and the public, and as a channel of support and encouragement for other unions.

“It may not benefit your union in a particular year,” he said. “But then you benefit others.” Urata also expressed satisfaction that the section’s longstanding work to organise unorganised workers could now be applied to the ITF-wide theme of Organising Globally.

The speeches from the floor that followed amounted to a strong endorsement of the action day campaign, particularly in terms of the assistance it has provided for unions in their efforts to organise often unorganised groups of workers, such as taxi drivers, truck drivers and workers employed by anti-union multinational companies.

Ronald Mbewe of the Transport and General Workers’ Union of Malawi explained that participation in the action day had given the union a tool with which to market itself to truck drivers at border posts and trading centres. Without such a tool, the problem in organising these drivers, he said, is that as well as owner drivers, there are many “sole traders”, who own trucks or minibuses, each with few employees, so that every organising push can target only very few new members.

Jim McCall of the Teamsters in the US reported the loss of 300,000 members as a result of deregulation, but said that international solidarity had “come to the aid of the Teamsters” in its dealings with multinational companies such as First Group and DHL.

“We are now looking forward to using action week as an opportunity to help us in our organising efforts,” he said. “In ports, civil aviation and road transport, we will all be uniting to show our support for organising along the supply chain.”

In the Ivory Coast, the day of action led directly to the agreement of the security forces to participate in a trade union seminar, aimed at reducing the problem of the harassment of drivers at border posts.

“Now we have regulations governing road transport operations, and drivers have pass cards which prevent harassment. With the help of the ITF, we can ensure that governments listen to us,” said Ladji Coulibaly of Ivory Coast. In Niger, Seydou Ramatou of the Syndicat des Agents de la Meteorologie et de l’Aviation Civile (SAMAC) reported that a number of police check points had been done away with following the action day.

During a largely upbeat conference, there were sadly many reports of the intimidation and oppression of transport workers. Several speakers had personal stories to share of police beatings, arrests and detention as a result of their trade union activities. Each received gestures of support from the floor.




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ITF House, 49-60 Borough Road, London SE1 1DR  |  +44 20 7403 2733   |  mail@itf.org.uk