Empowering Trade Unions: Insights from the industriAll Europe Workshop in Bratislava

By Staff
5 Min Read

Building trade union capacities for better collective bargaining and sustainable industrial recovery in Central and Eastern Europe
– BTUC4Recovery

IndustriAll Europe’s workshop in Bratislava on 8 -9 April 2024 brought together 30 participants from different levels of trade union leadership from OZ KOVO Slovakia and OS KOVO Czech Republic. The two-day event was a key component of the industriAll Europe project’Building Trade Union Capacity for Better Collective Bargaining and Sustainable Industrial Recovery in Central and Eastern Europe – BTUC4Recovery’, co-financed by the European Commission.

The BTUC4Recovery project aims to strengthen trade union capacities for organising, social dialogue and collective bargaining. With a focus on increasing and activating membership to improve representativeness, industriAll Europe is encouraging greater input and participation from its affiliates to have a stronger voice at European level.

The participants acquired new knowledge, skills and methods to increase union membership, activate their membership base and avoid stagnation. The international exchange of information and experience, and examples of good practice were key take-aways.

Participants reflected on the organising experiences of workplace organisations to date and discussed common features of successful organising. Effective tools for engagement were identified, including addressing specific problems rather than abstract statements, listening to workers, prioritising face-to-face communication, providing regular updates on union activities to workers and not just members, and strategic planning of campaigns, together with community-building initiatives.

The workshop was used as an opportunity to learn from different campaigns and approaches. Ben Eagan, Director of Organising at UNI Europe, gave an update on UNI’s organising work (‘Forward through Collective Bargaining’), and pointed out that organising is about renewing the collective power of trade unions to bargain collectively and effectively.

Mika Hakkinen, head of organising at the Finnish Industrial Workers’ Union, explained how they organise, starting with identifying issues, educating trade unionists, activating workers, presenting the union’s solutions and winning the case. This can all be done at workplace level and later at sectoral or political level – as happened during the recent strike in Finland . But there are no shortcuts; if you don’t have the workers with you at workplace level, you won’t get them out for bigger or more abstract issues.

At the end of the workshop, participants noted the wealth of practical information that had been shared and emphasised the need for ongoing support from the federations to sustain local union efforts. They stressed that organising is not just about recruitment, it also requires a holistic commitment from the whole union. Success comes from collective effort, patience and persistence.

In times of industrial change, a strong union base is essential to ensure that workers have a voice when shaping their future. So the need to strengthen unions from the bottom up remains imperative.

Participants were additionally invited by the OZ KOVO union at VW Bratislava to help distribute leaflets. They handed out some 3,500 leaflets to workers entering and leaving the factory between shifts, informing them of the results of a recent survey in which the union asked workers whether they were negatively affected by the lack of an air-conditioned and heated changing room and whether they would like to have bottle-filling stations available at the VW site. More than 80% answered yes, and supported the action by placing stickers on their clothes or bags.

The IndustriAll Europe workshop underlines the commitment and practical will of trade unions to build a more resilient labour movement in Central and Eastern Europe and to support each other’s actions.

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