Trade Unions in Malawi

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TRADE UNIONS

FREDRICK BANDA
INTRODUCTION
This chapter examines democracy from another angle that is the way democracy is rooted in the collective action of citizens outside of the formal institutions of democratic government. The trade union movement in Malawi dates as far back as the end of the Second World War. It has undergone a process of growth, decline and growth again over the past seven decades or so. To understand how trade unionism has developed in any country, we need to consider the political, economic and social context. In Malawi, the political context has been the most influential factor in the way trade unionism has developed. As Salamon (2000) points out, industrial relations context shapes employer-employee relationships and therefore the functioning of trade unions. This chapter examines the impact of politics on the growth and development of trade unions in Malawi from colonial times up to the present-day era of multiparty politics. It begins by defining what trade unions are, how politics impacts on their development and then looks in detail how the different political regimes in Malawi’s history have shaped the growth and development of trade unions. The chapter then looks at the structure of trade unions, how they operate and factors that have influenced the functioning of trade unions since 1994. It also looks at relationships between unions, trade unions and government and trade unions with employers. The role of trade unions beyond bread and butter and trade union involvement in politics are the two sections presented at the end of the chapter.

This chapter discusses the following issues:
a)What are trade unions and how do they achieve their goals or objectives? b)How do political systems influence trade unions and vice versa? c)How did trade unions develop in Malawi during the different political regimes? d)How has trade unionism grown since 1994?

e)How are trade unions structured?
f)What effect has multiparty politics had on the role of trade unions and their relationship with employers and the state in Malawi? g)What role do trade unions play beyond ‘bread and butter’ issues for which they are known for?

WHAT ARE TRADE UNIONS?
Background
The roots of what we now consider to be trade unions generally date back to the advent of industrialization in many parts of the world. With industrialisation came the need for a large workforce particularly in factories. The workforce changed from a rural one to an urban one and people came in their large numbers to cities in search of jobs. Many of them worked as part of the production line in factories. Conditions were often bad and exploitation of workers was rampant. Employers had the prerogative to ‘hire and fire’ which left many workers little option but to accept their meager pay and poor conditions. A British writer, Charles Dickens captured well the general mood during the industrial revolution by titling his book- Hard Times. Workers realised that individually they had no power but if they were united they would be able to face up to their employer and demand better wages and conditions. That is how unions came into being although they were initially called combinations. Many Governments declared combinations illegal. Workers were beaten up, tortured, and jailed. But the struggle went on.

Key concept: trade union
An association set up by a body of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining and improving the conditions of their working lives through collective bargaining and unified action According to the Malawi Labour Relations Act 1996, a ‘trade union’ means any combination of persons, the principal purposes of which are the representation and promotion of employees interests and the regulation of relations between employees and employers, and includes a federation of trade unions but not an organization or association that is dominated by an employer or employers’...
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