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Unions must get their act together

Photo: iStock/MHJ

In his Budget speech earlier this month Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called for further discussion on the proposal floated by the General Workers Union to introduce mandatory union membership.  

In an ideal world, workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union or not but in an ideal world workers are not reduced to slaves. Ideally the top 1% wealthiest people in the world do not own more than the rest of the population put together. 

Mandatory unionisation is therefore a step in the right direction, especially for workers who would be fired the minute they join a union. 

However, introducing compulsory unionisation will not bring about a revolution or improve working conditions unless unions get their act together.

Working conditions in Malta continue to deteriorate as they do elsewhere. Yet, when was the last time workers went on a national strike in Malta?

Last month, when the Malta Union of Teachers announced a one-day strike the general reaction was of one of shock and surprise. And when the union called off the strike, the whole country let out a huge sigh of relief. 

And without a shadow of doubt, the day union membership becomes mandatory no union will call for a strike and stand up for workers who are over-worked and under-paid. 

Thousands of workers who work in various sectors such as construction, transport, security, catering, health and accommodation are employed precariously. Yet, the unions make very little noise about this. 

Not only are most unions in Malta politically aligned to the two big parties but they have absolutely no desire to rock the boat. Otherwise they would be accused of harming the economy and scaring investors away. 

But this is the time when unions must put their political allegiances aside and put the workers’ interests before the sacred cows of growth and investment.

The Labour government prides itself as the most pro-business administration of all time. From time to time, Muscat and his government pay lip service to the plight of workers. However, the most they could do is an insignificant increase to the minimum wage and a couple of legal notices granting workers more rights, with the latter unsurprisingly withdrawn following an uproar by employers.  

This government, like its predecessors, has blind faith in an economy built on construction, cheap labour and the exploitation of global tax evasion. 

The Maltese economic miracle is made possible by the exploitation of workers, including thousands of foreigners, and by denying citizens of other countries millions of unpaid taxes. 

In Malta successive governments have been led by people, mostly men, who are more inclined towards receiving kickbacks from big business than irking the major political party donors by improving labour laws and working conditions. 

Most politicians are more interested in accommodating big business in return for a hefty donation or maybe some hidden shares than in fighting precariousness and injustice. 

Malta is not alone in having a political class controlled by the few who own almost everything. And mandatory union membership is only a small step in the right direction.

What workers in Malta and the rest of the world need is an international movement that will fight against injustices stemming from capitalism and rising neo-fascism. 

As former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and US senator Bernie Sanders recently proposed, the world is in dire need for a ‘new international’.

Sanders recently wrote: “In order to effectively combat the rise of the international authoritarian axis, we need an international progressive movement that mobilises behind a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people, and that addresses the massive global inequality that exists, not only in wealth but in political power.”

Social and political injustice is a global phenomenon which manifests itself in varying degrees in different countries. This obviously applies to Malta too but unfortunately I cannot see many people in a rush to create or join such a movement. Maybe they will once the economic miracle is over. 

17 Black owner identified as Electrogas director Yorgen Fenech

‘Government should not fan the flames of hate and violence’ – Naomi Klein