HomeSocialWokers’ Mp Rwakajara implores Trade unions to embrace Social Movement Unionism

Wokers’ Mp Rwakajara implores Trade unions to embrace Social Movement Unionism

By Muhumuza Jimmy 


In a bid to exert their influence, trade unions in Uganda have been urged to build broader coalitions with social and political movements.

Arinaitwe Rwakajara (Workers MP, NRM) echoed this during a consultative meeting on Friday, December 1, 2023.

The engagement which took place at Serena Hotel in Kampala united an array of leaders from various entities such as the National Organization for Trade Unions (NOTU) and Uganda Public Employees Union (UPEU) under one roof.

Social Movement unionism

“Social Movement Unionism (SMU) builds alliances with other social movements, such as; environmentalists, women’s rights groups, religious groups, cultural organizations, civil society organizations (CSOs) and political organizations among others. By working together, these groups can exert greater pressure on governments and employers to address social and economic injustices,” Rwakajara emphasized.

Without this, he warned that their fight for better working conditions still has a long way to go. 

“If you think that you will do your things as trade unions without allying with organizations, please delete it from your head. You will not have any influence. You will not have these four sources of power; institutional, structural, associational and if you cannot draw these you are wasting your time brothers and sisters,” he added.

Some members of trade union in a workshop at Serena Hotel

Statistics by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) indicate that 70% of the workers in Uganda are engaged without a legal/written contract which goes against national employment legal provisions.

Similarly, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) 2003 report indicates that 87% of the employed population outside agriculture are in informal employment and only 29% of the informal enterprises proprietors have previous working experience.

Of those, only 38% have their last job matching their qualifications.

On the other hand, Rwakajara pointed out that by embracing SMU, labor organizations will avoid slipping into decline as was the case in South Africa where union density grew by 130% between 1985 and 1995.

In his book titled “The Labor Movement in the Face of contemporary challenges”, Rwakajara describes Social Movement Unionism as a form of trade unionism that is premised on mobilizing, equipping, and positioning.

He says it is strongly associated with the labor movements of developing countries and concerns itself with more than just organizing workers around workplace issues like pay.

Rather, it engages in wider political struggles for human rights, social justice, and democracy. The model grew out of political struggles in developing countries and was theorized as a district industrial relations model in the late 1980s and 90s.

Although local labor entities tend to behave in an apolitical model, Rwakajara urged all and sundry to leave no stone unturned even if it means bringing the incumbent regime on board and making political concessions.

“I have walked with unions to organize; you find a Chinese doesn’t want to talk to you,” he illustrated.

“Do you know that in the Government there can be one person who is benefitting out of Chinese and is causing all that havoc? If we engage all institutions, they may realize by the way you mean people are suffering, no we cannot accept,” Rwakajara added.


However, the idea of closely working with the Government did not augur well with some trade union leaders like Robert Wanzusi Matukhu.

 “The Government of Uganda, what do they think about trade unions? Do they want to see trade unions that are strong or successful? Isn’t the Government very happy that we are in the way we are? If we are going to build partnerships with a partner who has that kind of thinking, then we must also look at how that partnership must evolve,” Matukhu observed.

On his part, Amos Obote, the Program Manager of the Patient Navigation Program at Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) emphasized capacity development.

“In a collaboration, you can be cheated if you don’t have your strengths right. You are talking about the socio-political environment, most of the unions are poor and needy. Someone who comes with money tears them apart,” Obote noted.



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