Written by: Nihad Abu Ghosh
Every union derives its strength from the legitimacy of its representation to its members. This is linked to a set of factors. The most prominent of which is the union’s popularity and the assembling of the worker masses around it. This is measured by the workers’ percentage in a particular sector joining the union, as membership in unions is voluntary and not obligatory. The legitimacy of representation is linked to the ability to collectively negotiate on behalf of the sector’s affiliates and to put pressure on the opponent (the employers or the government). This is done using the union’s mandate that allows protest, obstructing work or striking.
The legitimacy of representation is also linked to the extent of it being democratic, i.e., holding fair and transparent elections. This must be done according to a well-known and announced electoral system, along with the supervision of a neutral body. In order to consolidate the democracy of elections, their periodicity and regularity must be ensured. The general assembly must be announced to interested candidates and observers. Additionaly, the conditions for candidacy should be smooth and available to all who meet the conditions.
The process of forming and licensing unions is sometimes subject to complex conditions, whether legal, security or bureaucratic. This leaves the process to be subject to the executive authority’s interests. Those who suffer most from this are the working class and its unions, while the formation of professional unions, such as the syndicates of doctors, engineers and lawyers are subject to stricter requirements. This includes academic conditions and licenses to practice the profession, which are jointly supervised by both the existing unions and competent authorities, such as relevant ministries.
Unfortunately, the situation in Palestine became more difficult due to the complex legal environment, which is a mixture of laws inherited from the period of Jordanian and Egyptian rule, the British Mandate and Israeli military orders. The Palestinian legislative mechanisms have been halted due to the disruption of the Palestinian Legislative Council since 2007, which was dissolved permanently by the Constitutional Supreme Court in 2018. This led to more confusion for union work, as the gap increased between the unions’ reality and the legislative framework that regulates them involving the workers and their unions. Although the objective reality requires, more than anything else, the activation of the legislative authority because of the rapid developments on the ground, it is required to keep up with modern legislation that takes into account changes in working conditions and the international obligations signed by the State of Palestine. As a result, problems arose and workers are suffering, which allowed for a significant increase in movements, both local and sectoral, with several demands on a variety of issues.
The adoption of the Palestinian Labour Law of 2000 led to the abolition of the Jordanian Labour Law, which was the general framework for organising the union's work. This was done without setting an alternative framework. What plunged union work into widespread chaos is having more than 300 unions competing with each other for status, competence and representation. This led to the division of the unions vertically and horizontally in the same profession based on the geographical region and political parties. It is also worth mentioning that the composition of the main body of the trade unions, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, consists of the forces and factions forming the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. For a long time, the mentality of sharing leadership positions according to the quota system prevailed; which weakened the democratic process in these unions. It kept them dependent on the supranational understandings of the political factions and weakened their ability to represent the workers’ real interests.
As a result, this led to the formation of non-partisan labour union frameworks, some of which were based on a single sector, work location or regional and/or personal considerations. It is sometimes due to personal and individual factors. Others relate to the encouragement of employers which led to the further fragmentation of the labour movement and the weakening of its official frameworks in representing the interests of workers and lobbying in their name. This keeps these frameworks closer to being interfaces for political propaganda rather than tools to assemble labour demands and assert rights.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's views and not necessarily the Association's or donor's opinion.