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Sudan Index

Trade union activity was banned by the Bashir government following its rise to power in the 1989 coup, and many union officials were imprisoned. Prior to 1989, the trade unions that were active were nevertheless under state control, most having been established in their latest incarnation by the government in 1971. The labor union movement originated in 1946 with the formation by some Sudan Railways employees of the Workers' Affairs Association, the predecessor of the SRWU. Two years later the Trades and Tradesmen's Union Ordinance of 1948, which was based largely on the British model and the concepts of voluntary association and limited government intervention in union affairs, gave official sanction to unions. The 1948 ordinance permitted formation of unions by as few as ten individuals, and a proliferation of mostly small, ineffective bodies emerged. The major exception was the rail union, which, as an official body, became Sudan's wealthiest and most powerful union. In 1949 the workers' association helped form the national Workers' Congress, which in 1950 became the Sudan Workers Trade Unions Federation (SWTUF). Dominated by communists, the SWTUF was closely associated with the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP). The SWTUF failed to receive government recognition, and its interests and actions tended strongly to be along political lines. After national independence, the federation had frequent confrontations with the new government, including a successful general strike in October 1958. This strike was one of the factors that contributed to the military takeover of the government the following month (see The Abbud Military Government, 1958-64 , ch. 1).

At the time of the 1958 coup, the SWTUF controlled roughly 70 percent of all labor union membership. The new military government repealed the 1948 ordinance, dissolved all unions, and detained many of the federation's leaders. Some union organization was again permitted after 1960 but it was prohibited for white-collar workers, and federations were not allowed. Upon restoration of the civilian government in 1964, the 1948 ordinance was reinstated, and the SWTUF reemerged. Union membership increased rapidly and had risen to about 250,000 workers in about 500 to 600 unions by 1970. Most were small (three-quarters had fewer than 200 members), financially weak, and generally not very effective. The few larger unions were in the public sector, led by the SRWU.

SWTUF leadership remained in communist hands. The SCP was allied with the group that carried out the military coup of May 1969, and the SWTUF and the unions were welcomed as partners in the proclaimed socialist struggle to better the conditions of the workers. Strikes, however, were prohibited by a presidential order issued shortly after the 1969 takeover. The relationship was abruptly ended after the abortive communist coup in mid-1971. The government dissolved the SWTUF and executed a number of its leaders.

Late in 1971 the government promulgated the Trade Unions Act, under which directives were issued in 1973 that established eighty-seven unions based on sectoral, occupational, and industrial lines. Somewhat more than half were "employees'" unions (for white-collar employees), and the rest were "workers'" unions (for blue-collar workers). The existing unions were variously merged into the specified groupings. The act contained measures to strengthen unionism, including a provision for compulsory dues and employer-paid time off to serve as union officials. The SWTUF was reinstituted for the "workers'" unions, and the Sudanese Federation of Employees and Professionals Trade Unions formed in 1975 for the white-collar group. Their representation of union interests was carried on within guidelines set by the government and the Sudan Socialist Union (SSU), the mass political party established by the government in 1972. In the late 1970s, they led strikes, which, although illegal, resulted in settlement of issues through negotiations with the government. The last major attempt by organized labor to strike occurred in June 1981, but the strike by the Sudan Railways Workers' Union was broken by the Nimeiri government, which arrested its leaders.

Prior to 1989, the SWTUF, in its weakened state, included forty-two trade unions, representing more than 1.7 million workers in the public and private sectors. The federation was affiliated with the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions and the Organization of African Trade Union Unity.

Data as of June 1991

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