Translation from Swedish by Andreas Lindahl
In Sweden, trade unions still have a high level of membership by international standards. Abroad, the conditions are different, something which Lennart Reinius at ”Union to Union” can tell you a bit about.
Lennart Reinius is head of the programme unit at ”Union to Union””. It is the three trade union confederations LO, TCO and Saco’s joint organizatiion for trade union aid. Prior to 2015 it was called LO-TCO Biståndsnämnd (Eng.. LO-TCO Aid Board) and consisted only – given the name – of LO and TCO. So how did he come to work in ”Union to Union”?
”I’ve been working with development cooperation since I was 26 years old,” he says.
First, he became involved in the work of an agricultural cooperative within the framework of what was previously called Svenskt Volontärsamarbete (which has now been renamed Forum Syd). Since then, he has devoted his entire life to aid work abroad. It has been 5 years in Latin America and 20 years in Africa. Since 2020, he has been working at ”Union to Union”.
Why, then, is international trade union work essential? Trade union rights are important, Lennart emphazises. In Sweden, we still have a relatively high degree of membership, even though it has declined since Lennart was young. Internationally, conditions are often more difficult. Trade unions are banned in many countries and trade union members are murdered. Employers do not always welcome union organizing.
”It’s a shame that they’re being strongly opposed and thwarted,” he adds with a sigh.
Unions are oftentimes seen as a threat before they are benefitted by collective bargaining agreements. The fact that trade unions come into collective agreements can be seen as a success in their efforts – despite reluctance. Although there is still a long way to go to achieving good working conditions in the world, it is important to note that progress is being made. It clearly shows that change is possible.
”Union to Union’s” predecessor consisted only of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) and the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO). Since then, Saco has been added. Has Saco’s entry changed the organization?
“Yes, indeed it has! “ Lennart answers. “Now the entire Swedish trade union movement is on board.”
Then it is clear that there is a difference between LO and the TCO unions, unions that have been involved for 40 years, and Saco, which joined only 8 years ago. There are more unions from the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) and the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO) that are involved in international trade union work than there are Saco unions with such a focus.. But Saco is now working to get more affiliates involved. One Saco union that is very involved in international trade union work is Sveriges Lärare. It is a new organization that is a result of the merger between Lärarförbundet and Lärarnas Riksförbund.
Another difference is that the professional groups – to which Saco belongs – do not have a global organization and hold on things. LO and TCO, on the other hand, has been an active member of the trade union international, which was first called the Fria Fackföreningsinternationalen (International Federation of Free Trade Unions) and is now called Internationella fackliga samorganisationen (the International Trade Union Confederation).
Originally, international union work was carried out with the help of collected funds, says I, who – within the framework of TAM—arkiv – have studied the history.of unions. Nowadays, trade union aid work is instead highly dependent on government grants. What does Lennart think this change has meant?
- That’s an important point you are bringing to the fore now, Lennart reflects.
Today, trade union internationalism is primarily financed by Swedish state funds. The unions also contribute their own contribution to certain projects. The fact that the business is so dependent on government funds makes it vulnerable to change. There is a risk that the organization will lose funding. Therefore, it is important to diversify resources in the long term. In this way, financial sustainability can be created. Lately, the state funds to union aid have been cut. This is a development that worries Lennart. The trade union aid activities contribute to ”self-benefit” because it contributes to international stability, he says. At the same time, development assistance works to ensure that we support each other in solidarity – in other words, a ”public good”.
- It’s good to know that part of the union fee goes to work in other countries,” he concludes.
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