Strong Unions Make Strong Democracies: A Case Study of Tunisia

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet (led by the Tunisian labor movement) for its contribution to pluralistic democracy building in Tunisia following the 2011 Jasmine Revolution. Tunisia, like the many nations in North Africa and the Middle East who went through the Revolution, is in the transitional stages to democracy, but faring better. The recognition of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet’s work by the Nobel Committee is evidence of the transformative power of democracy building through strong labor policies. In addition to their political engagement, and efforts to enhance working life and welfare, the Dialogue Quartet is a driving force of human rights as part of their democratic work in the nation.

The Guardian op-ed by Houcine Abassi and Richard L. Trumka locates strong unions as the basis for strong democratic nations. That is, strong labor unions boost productivity and economic growth; quell social unrest and create peaceful nations; and protect the rights of citizens. As economic inequality is on the rise, unions that support and protect workers’ rights are being undermined and attacked globally. 

In the United States, unions have been instrumental in aiding workers gain better salaries, have safer work environments, secure healthcare and retirement benefits, and be protected from discrimination. Some view attacks on labor unions as a ploy by the corporate elite and their political allies to monopolize wealth:

“Americans have seen their own standard of living decline while the rich get richer, so more and more people are standing up and speaking out. This is part of a growing recognition that we need to transform the global economic model so it benefits workers, not just multinational corporations.”

While Tunisia is still very much in its nascent years, workers here in America might learn from their example – one that places labor rights as the vehicle for democracy, equality and economic growth. By empowering and protecting workers, the nation has been made stronger.

What are your thoughts on labor policies in the U.S. and abroad? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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