In building our global union direcory and collecting data on union coverage around the world, we're starting to wonder whether unionism wasn't some secret plot devised by Monty Python. Consider some of the examples below.
Workers in Bangladesh must choose a union from among 5000, averaging less than 500 members each, and dispersed over 31 different federations. Among these (and try saying this with your mough full) are:
* Jatiyo Sramik Federation Bangladesh
* Bangladesh Jatiyo Sramic Federation
* Bangladesh Jation Sramic Jote
* Jatiyo Sramic Jote Bangladesh
* Jatiyo Sramic Federation and
* Jatiyo Sramic Jote.
Here's how the Confederation Nationale du Travail introduces itself to potential anglophone members:
"The name of the CNT circulates from now on regularly, on the leaflets, in the demonstrations, sometimes in the media. But if the three letters start to be known, which they mean remainder often quite fuzzy. Several elements contribute to that. “National Confederation of work” indicates well that it is about a trade union, for the remainder the terms are hardly explicit; and comprise a “main road” well not very convenient, nowadays, in France. Then, the references of the CNT, revolutionary trade unionism, anarchosyndicalism, often leave the place to a “anarchism” which does not correspond to him. Lastly, its sulfurous image, tinted of a violence that the media readily present like free, disturbs perception external of its militant reality. The existence of another “CNT”, survival of old scission, also contributes, when one is interested in the CNT, to complicate the apprehension of it. Then, the CNT, it is what?" Erk alors - good question!
In a world dominated by long names and impossible acronyms, here are are the four most awesome we have found so far:
• Samostalni Sindikat Radnika Poljoprivrede, Prehrambene i Duhanske Industrije, Vodoprivrede, Ugostiteljstva, Turizma i Trgovine Bosne I Hercegovine
• The Federation of Commerce, Catering, Consumers' Cooperatives, Health Resorts, Tourism, Sport, Hotel, Fish Industry and Allied Workers' Unions of Azerbaijan
• The Trade Union of Workers in Catering, Tourism, Communal Economy, Handicraft and Companies Training and Employing Disabled Persons of the Republic of Macedonia
• Sindicato Progresista de Trabajadores de la Industria Textil, de la Manufactura, Corte y Confección de Artículos de Tela, Ropa en General, Similares y Conexos de la Republica Mexicana
Speaking of Mexico, did you know that in 1921 the Mexican Catholic Church declared membership of the Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana a mortal sin? We haven't been able to ascertain the fate of the 600,000 souls at risk today.
On a different note, imagine for a moment that you're a trainer of some kind in the United States. You'd want to join a union, right? Well, it's the land of choice. You could join the American Federation of Teachers. Or the United Federation of Teachers. Or the United Association of Labor Educators (with a membership of only 600, but spread over the United States, Canada, Trinidad, Germany, England and Scotland). Or you could join the Teamsters, who cover workers quite literally from A-Z: "from airline pilots to zookeepers". Or the California Teachers' Association. Or the National Education Association to which it belongs. Or the Communication Workers' Union. Or the Freelancers' Union. Or the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America International Union. Or the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World). Never mind, it might have been worse - you might have been a nurse.
In our search for data we've been dismayed by the number of "national socialist" unions in existence. That said, we won't be boosting their Google count by naming them here.
Another thing which surprised us was the gender-specific language which still lingers in so many union names. There's the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the National Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Romania - Brotherhood, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.
We couldn't find a single "Sisterhood", however the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers certainly isn't ambiguous. Nor are India's National Union of Working Women; the Bahrain Women's Union; the Burmese Women's Union; or the Korean Women's Trade Union.
Then there are whole new perameters for union membership which we would never have thought of, as exemplified by the Union of Swedish-speaking Engineers in Finland. Or the Guild of Italian American Actors. Or the Hebrew Actors' Union.
And then there's the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh. The picture on the right is cribbed from their website. It's absolutely gigantic (7,639,000!!); an Indian union federation which promotes Productivity Consciousness. This is a thing which Western workers have clearly lost, or become alienated from, or sublimated, or forgotten or something. "The two aspects of work culture are efficiency in action and nobility of purpose. The crudeness on one hand and crookedness along with self-centeredness on the other hand will have to be overcome to be cultured at work. The former can be eliminated through training and practice and the latter through love and service. Then work is worship."
But if we were to pick a favourite from our database it would have to be the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union. This was set up for all the right reasons in the 1940s, however nowadays the only way to join is by taking a "Happy Tour" with their tourism operators. "Nothing too big we can't handle and nothing too small we won't do. We assure you, that the moment you enter... we make you happy."
Now there's an attitude you don't find set out in many union strategies!
The initial results of our data collection will be available by 19th July on Swivel. Click here to check it out, or here to help us build the data set.