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Libya Table of Contents


Unions and Syndicates

Immediately after the revolution, the role that labor unions, professional syndicates, and other organized interest groups would play in the new society was in doubt. Regarding labor unions, for example, Qadhafi stated in a November 4, 1969, speech in Tripoli: "There will be no labor unions . . . . Laborers and the revolution are an indivisible entity. There may be certain labor organizations, but only for ordinary administrative duties." On November 30, however, Qadhafi stated in an interview that there was no thought of abolishing labor unions and student organizations, but they must "truly represent their groups with a revolutionary spirit. We do not accept intermediaries between the revolution and its working forces."

After the revolution, most prerevolutionary interest groups were abolished and new ones created. Functioning within the framework of the ASU at first, and the GPC after 1976, the new interest groups lacked autonomy and played an insignificant political role. In January 1976, the ASU National Congress emphasized that political activity was to be solely within the purview of popular congresses. After 1976 labor unions and other associations performed only administrative duties pertaining to the occupations or nonpolitical activities of their members. Strikes have been prohibited since 1972. In Qadhafi's ideology, workers should be transformed into partners; to work for wages is a form of slavery. Therefore, he urged workers to take over companies, factories, and schools and to set up people's committees to manage production and decide priorities. In theory, this system would make labor unions unnecessary.

In fact, however, unions continued to exist. In the mid-1980s, there were some 275,000 members belonging to 18 trade unions, which together formed the Tripoli-based National Trade Union Federation. In addition, separate syndicates existed for teachers, engineers, physicians, lawyers, and other professionals. Other groups represented women and students. The GPC included components of all these units. Although Libyan interest groups did not have a real political role similar to that such groups play in the Western tradition, their responsibilities included contributing to the cultural revolution, raising the revolutionary consciousness of their members, and mobilizing support for national leaders and their policies.

Before the Revolution of 1969, organized labor played a significant role in opposing the monarchy. Yet the union movement was too young to be established firmly, and it had no connection with the military group that overthrew the king. Consequently, unions and most other interest groups have not resisted the limitations imposed within the postrevolutionary framework and the concomitant lack of a real political role. Students have proved an exception, however. Early postrevolutionary enthusiasm for the RCC quickly changed to opposition as a significant number of students reacted against restrictions on the autonomy of student leaders (see Student Opposition , this ch.).

Data as of 1987