- Commonwealth initiatives
Trade unions in the Commonwealth
Trade unions are some of the oldest institutions of civil society in the Commonwealth. Over the decades trade unions have been actively involved in coalescing and advancing the interests of labour in collective bargaining, organised industrial action and providing services including legal advice to their members. In a significant number of cases they have acted as one voice through collective federations and national trade union centres. Worldwide modern trade unionism has a sizeable part of its history in the Commonwealth. The UK had an early role in trade unionism as the birthplace of industrialisation. Today, in most Commonwealth member countries one will find at the very least a teachers union, a civil service or public service union and a trade union centre or federation.
For a number of member countries trade unionism is strongly linked with political transformation. In South Africa trades unions are historically associated with the successful struggle against apartheid. Two general strikes in 1946 and 1947 in Sri Lanka led partly by trade unions were key events towards the country’s achievement of independence in 1948.Trade unions in the UK have played a powerful role in politics indirectly through lobbying and directly through the Labour Party where they have significant power in choosing the Labour Party leader whom, at several points in history, has been elected prime minister.
The Commonwealth through its institutions, regular conferences and time-honoured connections provides an important forum for trade unions and civil society as a whole. Several Commonwealth institutions engage with national trade unions on policy and best practice.
The Commonwealth Foundation is the leading Commonwealth organisation working in the area of national civil society today. The Foundation, an intergovernmental organisation, was established in 1965 and is funded principally by governments. The Foundation exists to empower charities, NGOs, professional associations, trade unions, faith groups and cultural practitioners. It carries out some of its work through the provision of grants.
The Commonwealth Trade Union Group, exists as a mechanism to strengthen links between trade unions in the Commonwealth. Its work follows the more formalised role of its predecessor the Commonwealth Trade Union Council which wound down in 2005.