tTrade unions have been facing rapid globalisation with markets dominated by multinational enterprises and neo-liberal economic policies since the 1990s, associated with increasing exploitation of labour, a creeping trend towards informal, precarious jobs and far-reaching structural adaptation programmes. This has in turn gone hand in hand with a considerable deterioration in living and working conditions as a result of the erosion and undermining of labour and social standards. Unemployment, poverty among large sections of the working population and an extremely unequal distribution of income and wealth characterise the African societies in which trade unions operate.
On top of this, the structures of trade union organisations are above all marked at the national level by excessive ageing, male dominance, dwindling numbers of members, scarce resources as well as a lack of properly functioning representation structures at companies and in public administrations. Above and beyond this, the trade union landscape is becoming increasingly fragmented and marked by competitive attitudes and isolation. The design of the social dialogue has not been assigned very much importance in particular in those countries in which traditional ties to political parties have dominated the scene down to the present.
The task at hand is to strengthen actors at various levels themselves on the one hand, reducing their structural deficits while on the other hand establishing them as partners capable of acting and intervening in certain relevant fields of issues. Only if internal organisational deficits are surmounted, strategic alliances are forged and viable campaigns are developed will trade unions become recognised actors (again).