Trade unions regularly join forces with civil society organizations to support causes that go beyond defending the socioeconomic interests of their members. For example, Québec’s major trade union centrals are part of the Front de défense des non-syndiqués, led by the grassroots organization Au bas de l’échelle. Mélanie Dufour-Poirier, a researcher in industrial relations at Université de Montréal, analyzed such heterogeneous coalitions in Québec, Peru and the Philippines. She conducted more than 75 semi-structured interviews to understand how these alliances function and how they can be sustained over time.
Such coalitions can revitalize trade unions by allowing them to return to their role as agents of social transformation.
She found that the development of a cross-cutting common vision, supported by training measures and democratic practices, was crucial to ensuring the smooth functioning of these alliances. Indeed, by joining forces, the constituent groups are undermining some of their decision-making autonomy. It is a choice that they must justify to their members by highlighting their common denominator, coupled with flexible internal operating procedures. For example, for trade unions in the Philippines, the second most repressive country in the world towards activism, going beyond their immediate demands and bringing them into the public arena through coalitions becomes a question of survival, both individual and organizational.
The organizations that form these coalitions may have very different approaches, particularly when it comes to choosing representatives: their spokespersons may be elected or appointed, implying fundamental differences concerning the legitimacy of their mandate. The sustainability of a coalition is played out in the back-and-forth of influence and information exchange between the members and their leaders.
Such coalitions can revitalize trade unions by allowing them to return to their role as agents of social transformation. The widely varying success and sustainability of these alliances remind us that they are complex and fragile. This research opens up multiple avenues for reflection to better understand the future prospects of heterogeneous coalitions as a strategy for union revitalization.