The government's attack on development aid is an attack on trade union organising

International issues The decision to cancel all development aid agreements with the trade unions and other parts of the civil society could have serious negative consequences for the ability of Swedish aid to achieve the goals of poverty reduction and democratic development, according to the chairpersons of the three Swedish trade union confederations. 

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Trade union rights are democratic rights. This is increasingly clear in a world where more and more regimes are restricting free speech and the right to organise. Trade union organisations are often among the first to be banned from operating in countries where authoritarian leaders are in power.

Through cooperation agreements with The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida, Swedish trade union movement and other non-governmental organisations has long been an important part of Swedish development aid. Our international work is based on our core trade union mission and is founded on UN and ILO conventions about human, trade union and democratic rights, which Sweden has also have endorsed.

Sida's decision to terminate all agreements with Swedish civil society could have serious negative consequences for the ability of Swedish aid to achieve the goals of poverty reduction and democratic development.

Trade union struggle dangerous for many

In cooperation with local organisations, we and the rest of Swedish civil society are well rooted in the communities where we work, which is often a prerequisite for effective development aid. For example, through the aid organisation Union to Union, the Swedish trade union movement supports around a hundred trade union development projects in as many countries.

Through these development projects, we work together for secure employment conditions, against threats, violence and harassment, for increased democratic space, strengthened gender equality and a sustainable use of the planet's resources. In a globalised world, business activities extend across borders; therefore, trade union work must also do so.

The first step in trade union work supported by Union to Union can for example be for workers in a factory to organise and start negotiating with the employer for higher wages and fairer conditions. This is not a simple step; in many countries, forming a trade union can put your life and health at risk.

The government is destroying functioning organisations

Over a hundred years ago, organising was also the first step in Sweden towards the successful model we have today, based on negotiations between the social partners. This is a model that has contributed to few strike days as well as economic development for Swedish companies and Sweden as a nation.

For some time now, Sida has been commissioned by the government to investigate changes in the support to the strategic partner organisations. One of the proposals the government has wanted to investigate is that Sida itself takes over the distribution of money to local organisations in partner countries. This would mean that the role of Swedish civil society in Swedish aid would more or less disappear.

According to the assignment, Sida was to submit its proposals to the government by 8 April. Sida has now decided to cancel all agreements with the civil society. For those who do not receive new agreements, the consequences will be severe cuts and completely cancelled activities in various parts of the world.

Reconsider the decision, Sida

In its reform agenda for the Swedish development aid, the government makes it clear that it wants to contribute to a strong civil society and support organisations, democracy movements and networks that stand up for human rights and freedoms, and monitor and safeguard democracy and the rule of law.

Sida's decision goes in the opposite direction. We appeal to Sida to reconsider its hasty decision and we appeal to the government to urgently show that it is serious about the words in the reform agenda. This would not only strengthen the aid in the recipient countries but also provide a broad involvement in Swedish civil society.

Global trade union activity creates democracy. The world needs more of that, not less.

Susanna Gideonsson, LO,Swedish Trade Union Confederation
Therese Svanström, TCO, SwedishConfederation of Professional Employees
Göran Arrius, Saco, Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations