How Africa’s unions enhance democratization


Trade unions in Africa contribute to democratization by acting as instruments of political socialization for their members, according to new research.

Survey data from 22,000 respondents in 18 African countries demonstrates an empirical relationship between trade union membership and political participation. Specifically, labour movements encourage participation by forging “participatory spillover effects”, which mobilize unionists across different arenas of the political landscape, Ann K. Karreth writes in Democratization:

Some scholars point to the decisive role that unions played in ushering in a new era of multi-party democracy during the third wave of democratization. Other scholars argue that trade unions have made important contributions to democracy in Africa during the post-transition era by virtue of their interest in good governance and their actions in ensuring government accountability. This article unpacks a contribution of trade unions to democratization in Africa that has not yet been empirically explored. As my investigation indicates, unions have a role to play in the bottom-up processes of democratic development on the continent by acclimating its members to the processes of democratic participation, thus fostering new foundations of civic engagement across Africa.

Moreover, unions are “more effective conduits for political participation when they maintain independence from ruling parties, since organizational linkages to ruling parties weakened the otherwise positive effect of union membership on political activity,” Karreth adds. RTWT

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