The titles Comrade, Brothers and Sisters have become accepted forms of address in trade unionism reflecting the camaraderie within the labour movement. These titles also speak to the high esteem in which trade unionists hold each other. They understand that life of the trade unionist is one of bravery, building consensus, and struggle. They understand the power of unity and the need for tact and compromise in the daily skirmishes of these leaders, fighting for workers’ rights to be respected and for workers to act responsibly in performing their duties.
The role of a fearless, dedicated trade union leader is not an envious one. Strangely, such a spirit can draw the wrath of both employer and employee. Employers will feel that the trade union is aiming to drain their profits while some employees may have difficulty with the strategy. The leader is always in a bind trying to strike balance and be firm at the same time. For those who are enlightened though, a trade union leader is a courageous hero.
A true trade unionist is driven by a deep conviction and by principles that promote justice, freedom and equality. He or she is often labelled as political or anti-government, especially if they represent government/public employees. On the other hand they are hailed as heroes by members, supporters and sometimes by the parliamentary opposition. A true trade unionist does not gloat in the praises neither is he daunted by the criticism. He plods on relentlessly regardless of adulations or condemnation knowing that he gives a voice to the voiceless and is a soldier in the army for good, embracing the quest for human dignity, fairness and justice.
Regardless of their own personal beliefs or political leanings, they are determined to join hands and heart, and effort in the fight for the just cause of workers. As such being a target of abuse and vilification by politicians their pundits and others does not deter them. They are convinced that association of workers in a trade union is one of the most powerful forces of collective human action! and the world of work is a better more caring place for it.
In the face of great opposition and verbal smear the trade unionist stands against the tyranny of oppressive Governments and employees. In dictatorial systems where the rule of law is compromised this stance is an extremely dangerous one, leading to many trade unionists being jailed and even killed. Notwithstanding they press on. As the voice of reason they cannot turn a blind eye to injustice and are resolute in their efforts to push back against repressive regimes, unfair capitalist pursuits and powerful corporations.
According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) there were 2832 murders between January 1986 and April of 2010 in Colombia. The report states in part: “on average, men and women trade unionists in Colombia have been killed at the rate of one every three days over the last 23 years.” Fallen heroes leave behind not a life of wealth but a legacy of fortitude that inspire other soldiers to stand and continue the fight, the good fight of good will.
It is this reality that sometimes pushes some comrades to shift allegiance from the trade union to a partisan interest. In my view Trade unionists who become politicians (partisan) must at minimum remain true to the principles that promote what is fair and just for the worker and maintain a pro-union or neutral stance particularly when in the position of Government Minister.
It is baffling to see workers who in ignorance or misguided allegiance would prefer to stand against their own union interest in support of a popular politician or their partisan interest. In spite of such unconscionable behaviour some boldly accept the benefits they opposed when the union is victorious in negotiations. They do this without even an acknowledgement of the sacrificial efforts of those who took the merciless slur and insults in the struggle for justice for workers.
Trade unionists are often subjected to victimisation but they must cultivate the courage to counsel themselves to be selfless in service and above all else to remain a fighter for that which is right and fair, without expectation of gratitude. They are constantly cognizant that their thankless pursuit is nothing short of a life punctuated by sacrifice and selfless service.
If heroes are those who do magnanimous things for human kind, there is no greater service than to stand in the gap on behalf of a brother or sister. The Labour leader is no superman or superwoman but one who knows too well that to see evil and not call it out, to see workers exploited and do nothing, is to be party to the curse of human indifference. The world needs more unsung heroes, more soldiers who will struggle successfully for fair living conditions for all workers, present and future. The world needs people who will strive to ensure that the working class finds their piece of the pie.
We have seen a world where the top one percent is in a race to amass wealth and power beyond their reasonable share. If we do not challenge this outrageous conduct the working class will be the losers; and we cannot allow that to happen.
This article is intended to provoke the respect due to so many who sacrifice name, ambition, career, family and even their lives in the humble service to others. Being a trade unionist is more than a job. It is a conviction, a vocation, a life of commitment to building a world of peace, equity, impartiality and balance.The trade unionist embraces a leadership concept of building others up and leading from the front. For that, they deserve our appreciation and support.