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Sudan’s Trade Union Movement: an empty-handed return!


The 50th Anniversary of the Sudanese October Revolution

The Trade Union Movement: An Empty-Handed Return!

By Elwathig Kameir

November 3, 2014 - On the 50th Anniversary of the Sudanese October 1964 revolution, this modest contribution aims at providing a reflection into the political history, from a sociological and political perspective, of the Sudanese Labor movement’s role in the revolution and its ramifications for the prospects and future development of the movement. The paper hypothesizes as follows: although both the state and civil society in Sudan have historically been weak, the trade union movement, in contrast, has retained a measure of strength and vitality and remained relatively powerful compared to the rest of civil society organizations (CSOs), notably political parties, at least until the National Islamic Front (NIF) assumed power on the 30th of June 1989, in a peaceful military coup d’état. In this context, trade unions, in addition to their ability to protect the material and professional gains of their members, have historically continued to fight for democratic reform, as well as spearheading the struggle against colonial rule. Trade unions also played an active role in the restoration and maintenance of democracy, while retaining their own autonomy and unity. Thus, they have distinguished themselves from the rest of CSOs as the most active and effective in the public domain and have come to occupy a pivotal position in the country’s socio-economic and political formation.

In order to reach a clear and objective understanding of the labor movement’s role in the October revolution, it is pertinent to: first, explore the genesis, evolution, and development of trade unionism, in the context of the struggle against colonialism, and the transition of the labor movement from "economic unionism" to "political unionism". Secondly, the splits and divisions, of a political nature, which plagued the labor movement during its early beginnings, remained haunting the movement even in the aftermath of the revolution. Thirdly, the self-government and the immediate post-independence period (1954-1958) ushered the state-trade unions relationship into a new phase marked by confrontations and conflicts with the successive national governments, until the leadership of the army usurped power on 17 November 1958. The antipathy, or at least indifference, of the "traditional" forces towards the trade union movement, during colonial rule, seemed to have been carried over to characterize the state-unions interaction during this period. Fourth, it seems that the mutual animosity between the "traditional forces" and trade unions has also been carried over to the self-rule and post-independence phases, despite the difference in the nature of governance systems during those phases.

Pursuing this analytical approach, the thesis of the paper is that: the leading role of the labor movement in confronting colonial rule and resisting its policies, and making great sacrifices on the way, qualified the labor, professional, technical, and tenants’ trade unions to play a key role in opposing the first military rule, and then igniting, and guiding the subsequent popular uprising, in addition to participation in the transitional government, with a considerable share of seats, although the latter was short-lived. However, the trade union movement, in general, and the professional unions, in particular, has failed in realizing its cherished objectives, while transforming itself into an effective political trend, rooted in a broad social base and commanding a considerable voting power. Though the movement remained vocal in the call for plural democracy, and gained a measure of political influence during the democratic "spell" of 1964-69, however, it did not succeed in establishing a broad political alliance or in attracting significant popular support. Besides, historical and perpetual conflict with the "traditional" political forces, which was further aggravated during this period, not only instilled a sense of apprehension in the movement of the plural democratic system, but also backed up and lent support to the perpetrators of the military coup d’état, which put an end to the second parliamentary episode on 25 May 1969. Thus, the Sudan Workers Trade Union Federation (SWTUF) issued a statement, on the same day, inviting "all the vanguards of revolutionary struggle to strike a final blow to the remnants of the reactionary political system, which had been dismantled by the May Revolution and the Free Officers’ assumption of power in the name of the people and the impoverished masses".

The study will follow a "holistic" approach, founded on a number of methodological premises:

1. Though the labor movement’s structure includes professional and farmers (tenants) unions, this article will lay emphasis on the Sudanese Workers unions (The Sudan Workers Trade Unions Federation SWTUF). This choice is justified by the sheer size of the workers in the labor force, their strategic position in the modern production structure, the depth of their experience being the oldest trade union organization and their pursuit of a different mode of labor politics, particularly when compared with the professional unions. The dearth and scarcity of data on the other trade unions is yet another obstacle dictating this choice of emphasis, especially the earlier phases in the evolution of the movement. However, the role of professional and farmers trade unions will be alluded to in the course of the analysis whenever deemed necessary.

2. The labor movement (including professional trade unions) have historically exerted economic and political influence due to their ability to protect both the material and professional gains of their members. Besides, the unions enjoy an independent base of financial resources, thus allowing a measure of freedom of movement and a wider margin for action. The decisive factor, however, which has helped in consolidating the socio-economic and political power of trade unions, lies in their occupation of an organic and strategic position at the heart of the services and production systems, particularly those owned and managed by the state.

3. A distinction is made between "political unionism" and militancy of the labor movement and its politicization and polarization along "partisan" lines. This methodological premise is important for understanding; a) the prevalence of conflictual state-unions relation even during liberal regimes; and b) why the trade unions, seemingly champions of democracy, ironically and unprecedentedly lent their support to the coup d’etat of May, 1969. This occurred, notwithstanding their struggle, at various times, for the restoration and maintenance of democracy and a plural political system which would have constituted the perfect niche and political environment for the flourishing and upsurge of the labor movement. On the other hand, this perpetual conflict between the labor movement and the successive ruling elites has significantly contributed to the demise of parliamentary democracy in the country.

4. The socio-political history of the conflict of Sudan, specially the post-independence phase, was marked by conflict and discord between the "traditional" political forces and the "modern" forces, on the one hand, and between the labor movement and the government(s), on the other hand, during both civilian and military regimes, albeit to varying degrees. The character of the state\government relations, it is maintained, determines to a large extent, and has a tremendous impact on, the socio-economic and political role of the trade unions. The defining parameters of this role are primarily; the unions’ struggle for democracy, maintenance of their autonomy and unity of the labor movement. To that end, the trade union movement has entered into alliances with various political forces, but fell short of creating a broad political coalition that would provide an independent electoral base.

5. I am fully aware that the concept of the "modern" forces is controversial, even among the groups that favor its use, whether they are trade union groups or political entities. This, is in addition to the strong reservation of many circles that perceive dividing Sudanese politics and society into "traditional" and "modern" as unrealistic and unjustifiable. While others see the terms "modern"- "traditional"- sector- as products of Marxist ideology (Marxism and Questions of the Sudanese Revolution), which overwhelmed the political literature at the time, and might appear inconsistent with the concepts of sociology and political science.

6. With these reservations in mind, it is conceivable to describe some of the social formations as "traditional’, and others as "modern", in the context of the historical and objective evolution of the Sudanese economy and society. This development was accompanied by the emergence of political entities that have a traditional political orientation (political sectarianism), and a program targeting traditional constituencies, on the one hand, and the emergence of new political forces (The Sudan Communist Party- SCP) and trade union forces that formulated their vision and programs to address the modern formations. This distinction, dictated by analytical necessity, however, does not preclude the articulation and overlap between these configurations. To this effect, the paper uses the twin terms of "traditional forces" and "modern forces" as political concepts, which differentiates between social forces judged by the variation in their respective political programs regarding the country’s fundamental national questions, especially the relation between state and religion, identity, and citizenship rights The expression traditional has been closely associated with the social base whether it is sectarian or tribal or ethnic Though the Muslim Brotherhood is a religion based movement, it is distinguished from the sectarian forces by its radicalization and inclination towards fundamentalism. However, the Muslim Brothers, and the Islamists, in general, cannot be lumped together with the traditional forces in one category. Indeed, their social base lies in the various segments of the Sudanese educated middle class.

7. The “modern forces” refer to those categories which proliferated as a direct result of the policies followed by the colonial state in the Sudan, and aimed at the partial modernization of the means, processes, and management of production activities in correspondence with the new orientation of the colonial economy, which geared towards the international market. One important implication of these policies on the social structure of the country was the growth of new social categories consequent upon the expansion of modern export production. These included farmers, workers, professionals, technicians, employees, students, officers and soldiers in the army and the rest of organized forces. The presence and role of these modern production forces, in the different spheres of life in Sudanese society, have immensely increased, especially after independence in 1956. However, any talk about the social forces, whether traditional or modern, takes place on the political level. As such, the term “modern forces”, in essence, is a political concept.

The Genesis and Evolution of the Labor Movement:
Resistance to Colonial Policy

a. Though the labor movement did not assume an organized form until the post-World War II period, early beginnings of the movement can be traced back to the turn of the century, manifested in one sort or another of labor protests. Official records refer to a number of labor disputes and strikes in different parts of the country as early as 1903, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1913-14, 1919 and 1920 (AL-Saoori, 1986, Beshir, 1987). All these protests and strikes were largely economic in nature and motivated by the poor conditions of work and the low levels of wages. They were triggered by colonial policy, which aimed at the control of the labor market, through the manipulation of wages, on the assumption that the workers’ cost of social reproduction will be catered for by the subsistence economies in their respective homelands. However, with the growing colonial demand for wage-labor to work in construction and public works, particularly of railways, the size of the labor force started to grow. This gradually led to workers’ awareness of their immediate economic interests and welfare and the necessity of collective action for the maintenance of their rights, especially after the sharp increase in the prices of basic commodities brought about by World War I.

b. The year 1924 was an important milestone in the evolution of the labor movement. It is when the White Flag League started to mobilize and agitate among workers to serve national political objectives and to become actively engaged in the Society’s political activities. Though the objective conditions at the time were not yet ripe for a full-fledged organized labor movement to emerge, the early beginnings of political consciousness among the workers was noted (Salaam, 1974, Beshir, 1987, Haj-Hamad, 1996). The 1930s and early 1940s represented a landmark in the development of the labor movement towards organized action to safeguard workers’ interests. This development was largely a response to the 1929 world depression which had a deleterious impact on the country’s economy and, thus, the workers’ living conditions and standards, in particular when the prices of agricultural exports, especially cotton plummeted.

c. This phase in the evolution of the labor movement was marked by two significant developments that considerably affected the movement’s future. First, concerned with the promotion of collective and organized action, the Sudanese workers introduced the novel idea of forming Workers Clubs. These clubs served as a forum for meetings to discuss workers’ economic interests and welfare, create social bonds, and reflect on the country’s national issues, particularly after the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. Secondly, another feature of this phase was the tendency of the labor movement to interact with the Graduate Congress Movement and actively participate in the public debate of national issues.

d. However, an important observation deserves to be noted in this regard. Despite this positive interaction, at a time when the labor movement was prepared for responsiveness and cooperation with the graduates, the intellectuals’ movements did not seriously attempt contributing to the development of workers forces. Instead, they were merely appreciative of the anti-colonial stance of the labor movement and otherwise remained tied to their "sectarian" loyalties (Haj-Hamad, 1996). This indifference, however, paved the way for the development of an independent trade union movement separate from "sectarian" formations and with a base anchored in the urban, decentralized organizations of the society.

e. This period witnessed the workers’ translation of their collective action strategy into a series of strikes. More than five strike actions occurred between 1936 and 1940, and 14 further strikes were reported in 1941 and 1942. These events constituted the prelude for the workers’ persistent call for the formation of their own trade union organizations. The workers demand for their right to organize was met by suspicion and fierce resistance on the part of the colonial administration.

f. The onset of the Second World War was the turning point in the development of trade unionism as both an economic and political protest movement during the colonial period. The war adversely affected economic conditions in the country, as reflected in a sharp increase in living expenses and consequent worsening of the workers’ incomes and living standards, all this accompanied by an acute scarcity of basic commodities. Coupled with the growing size of the labor force in urban areas, a new series of labor strikes started in 1946. In the same year, a Workers Committee was founded at the headquarters of the Railways Department in Atbara and demanded recognition from the Department’s Management which adamantly refused such a move, even after over 6 months of negotiations.

g. With the mounting pressures of the workers and their persistence, the Management backed down and decided to recognize the workers’ right to express their demands through a representative body. "Labor Committees" which were essentially consultative, modeled on those in Britain, were thus proposed by the administration. The Committees’ membership combined elected workers’ representatives and appointed members to serve as advisors to the management. According to Beshir (1987), this arrangement was by no means intended to encourage trade unionism, but rather aimed at slowing down the momentum of strike actions. This maneuver was not lost on the workers who rejected the whole concept and refused to be part of the Labor Committees, and instead, took the initiative and formed their own Workers Affairs Association (WAA).

h. In the face of the Management’s unrelenting opposition, the WAA pressed ahead with their organized action which combined the presentation of memoranda, demonstrations and staged a strike which lasted from 12 to 23 July 1947 (Al-Saoori, 1986, Beshir, 1987). Despite the authorities’ recognition of the WAA, the railways workers speeded up their legitimate demand for a proper and representative trade union organization. A prolonged strike, lasting a whole month (16\3 - 18\4\1948), was staged to achieve this objective. The strike was met with support and solidarity from the country’s major socio-political forces, albeit belated and was limited to moral and financial assistance and the offer of mediation in the impasse that developed between WAA and the Railways Management (Taha, 1970). The colonial Administration then succumbed to the workers’ unrelenting struggle to form their own democratic trade unions. The government was, thus, forced to promulgate the 1948 Trade Union Ordinance and other related Acts.

i. Though the 1948 Ordinance recognized the rights of workers to organize into (individual) trade unions, it did not permit the workers to form Trade Union Federations, thus, hindering their unity. Besides, it gave the Trade Unions Registrar, a government employee, unlimited authority over the procedures of trade unions’ registration. The Ordinance also included other provisions which limited the workers freedom of association in contravention to the ILO Convention No.84, Right of Association (Non-Metropolitan Territories), 1947.

The Transition to “Political Unionism”

i. The workers relentlessly continued their resistance to the colonial policy that aimed at the establishment of trade unions, on condition that such organizations should remain economic and social in their purpose and activities and completely refrain from any sort of political involvement (Taha, 1970). However, this orientation was shattered to pieces as the workers vehemently continued to struggle for removing all restrictions and limitations of the 1948 Ordinance. Thus, on August 5, 1949, the Railways WAA invited another 14 WAAs to the first Workers Congress to deliberate on the shortcomings of the 1948 Ordinance, and other related Labor Acts, and to identify the basic concepts of trade unionism in the context of the national orientation of the labor movement and its relationship with other social forces. The Workers Congress gained the government’s recognition and entered into negotiation that resulted in modifications of the 1948 Ordinance and the Trade Unions Registration Law. The Congress articulated the fundamental principles that would guide the labor movement. These primarily included, among others, workers’ unity as the backbone of the trade union movement, autonomy and independence from any sectarian and partisan influence, the correspondence of workers’ interests with national interests and objectives, the predominance of workers’ loyalties to their respective trade union organizations over any political or sectarian allegiance, the consolidation of the workers’ free will and the right of electing their leadership (Salaam, 1991). Workers in the different sectors of the economy intensified their efforts to organize and register their trade unions in accordance with the 1948 Ordinance (Modified 1949). The number of registered trade unions reached 80 organizations by May 1950, a development that resulted in the evolution of the Workers Congress into the Sudan Workers Trade Union Federation (SWTUF), which convened its General Congress on 15 November, 1950.
ii. In addition to the economic plight of workers and the colonial labor policy, the growing nationalist consciousness following World War II was a another factor that significantly contributed to the transition from "economic unions" to the politicization and radicalization of the trade union movement. Available evidence clearly indicates that the resentment of the British by the workers, both as employers and rulers, played a profound role in the rise of the labor movement (Taha, 970). As correctly observed by Haj-Hamed (1996); "The emergence of the labor force in the Sudan had preceded the development of the local bourgeoisie, and, therefore, the labor movement’s social development and consciousness of itself was not determined by its contradiction with the Sudanese bourgeoisie forces, but, rather, through its struggle against the employer, represented by the oppressive colonial state, in such a manner that the issues of economic demands were intertwined with the "national" questions in confrontation with the "colonial" employer".

iii. Thus, SWTUF, since its inception, closely interacted with, and actively participated in political activities and established links with the nascent nationalist movement. Though the 1950 constitution of SWTUF laid emphasis on defending the rights and interests of workers, it did not take long for SWTUF to zealously engage itself into political work. Thus, SWTUF, for instance, played a prominent role in the establishment of the Gezira Tenants Union, students unions, as well as the Unions of Farmers in the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, White Nile and Northern Sudan.

iv. However, it was SWTUF’s first Convention, in December, 1951, which ushered the Federation into nationalist politics. The Convention’s agenda concentrated on the national question and amended the constitution in such a manner that would openly allow the SWTUF to engage in national politics. Four major amendments were added as political objectives, as well as the means of pursuing them by the Federation; 1) the immediate defeat of colonialism in Sudan; 2) the right of self-determination for the country, in an atmosphere free of foreign influence; 3) absolute non-cooperation with the colonial regime; and 4) bringing together the Sudanese people in a united front comprising political and other groups whose political aims are similar to the Federation’s (Taha, 1970). The period during which the Convention met witnessed heightened political, and protracted, conflict over the Legislative Assembly (LA) and the Governor General’s Advisory council (GGAC), sponsored by the colonial Administration and designed to prepare the country for self-rule. The SWTUF closely collaborated with the Unionist parties and the SCP, among other organizations, in opposition to both institutions.

Political Alliances and Schisms within the Incipient Labor Movement

1. Though the anti-colonial struggle was "national" in character, divisions started to surface due to differences over the country’s future, and the nationalist movement was, thus, split into two bitterly opposing camps. On the one hand, there were the unionists, backed by the Khatmiyya supporters, calling for unity with Egypt. On the other hand, there was the Umma party, supported by the Ansar sect, suspecting Egyptian intentions, they participated in the two colonial constitutional institutions (GGAC and LA) (Taha, 1970). Concerning the position of the SWTUF as to the ensuing conflict, and following the declaration of 1951, a United Front for Sudan Liberation was formed. It comprised the SWTUF, the SCP, the unionist parties, student unions, tenant farmers organizations and other groups. The united front worked on a definite "anti-imperialist" program designed to raise the level of confrontation with the colonial regime. During 1952, the Front was active in organizing political rallies and demonstrations and generally agitating against the government (Taha, 1970). The Front called for the immediate departure of all foreign troops from the Sudan and granting the Sudanese people the right of self-determination. These events resulted in the conclusion of the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement on self-determination in 1953.

2. However, while the "traditional" parties and the two religious sects were in favor of the agreement, the SWTUF joined the SCP in opposing it. Thus, the Federation made an undemocratic decision, contrary to the wishes of its grassroots, following the footsteps of the SCP, which adversely affected the workers’ relations with genuine political partners in the nationalist movement, which had supported the workers’ cause, while opening unnecessary frictions and conflicts with the traditional forces. Besides, the SWTUF, in an attempt to mobilize its membership against the Agreement, called for a three-day general strike in protest. This position was criticized by observers and considered a grave mistake as it engaged the Federation in a political-"partisan" conflict, which incurred a considerable damage to its popularity among member unions and the rank and file. This event came to have serious implications for the future development of the labor movement. On the one hand, the SWTUF’s position set it on a collision course against the "traditional” Political parties, and whose consequences still haunt the trade union movement (Taha, 1970, Ali, 1996). This might explain the observed tensions in the state-unions relations during the three intervals of liberal-"quasi" democratic regimes, when "traditional" parties ruled the country in coalition governments (1956-58, 1964-69, 1985-89). This is because the SWTUF joined the SCP (and the left in general) in their opposition to the agreement, which conveyed the message, to the "traditional" parties, that the trade unions were controlled by the communists and "leftists", and the former, in turn, became determined to fight the labor movement largely on the basis of its allegiance to the latter (Ali, 1996). Meanwhile, the declared strike failed, for most of the unions joined the national consensus in favor of the Agreement and refused to participate in the strike action. This heralded the first serious split within the labor movement and threatened its cherished objective of unity. The trade union movement, thus, remained divided until the SWTUF convened its 5th General Congress in May, 1958.

3. The SCP, through following a misguided strategy and tactics, in opposing the 1953 Agreement, led to the split of the trade union movement, an event which left its mark on future relations, ranging from mutual suspicion and mistrust to open conflict, between the "traditional" forces and the trade unions, particularly the professional organizations at a later stage. However, independent sources and scholars have noted the SCP’s contribution to the initiation and development of the trade union movement which enabled the movement to play an effective role between 1947 and 1954 (Beshir, 1987). The role of the SCP can only be appreciated in the context of the impact of the rivalry between the "traditional" forces, the followers of the Khatmiyya and Ansar sects, on the future of the country. This "bitter rivalry between the two groups and the association of each one of the parties to the Condominium worked to confuse the aim of the nationalist struggle, thus alienating the rising generation of educated and urbanized Sudanese who were interested in ridding the country of colonial rule but were not too keen about the "unity of the Nile valley", and were weary of the Umma’s party close association with the colonial administration" (Taha, 1970, pp.81-82). The SCP, therefore, found a fertile ground among these disgruntled sections of urban society and for crystallizing the goals of the nationalist movement towards liberating the country from colonial domination and building of an independent Sudan protected by its own people (Taha, 1970).

4. The SCP provided the trade union movement with a source of ideology and organization and a political vision which have left its mark on the movement for a long time (Beshir, 1987). The communists, though acknowledging the "objective" conditions that led to the emergence of the labor movement, pride themselves in supplying it with the decisive "subjective" component of leadership which was necessary for the movement’s development. In their view, "the mushrooming of the movement was a result of the role played by this "subjective" element, at a time when awareness of the "objective" conditions required a great measure of consciousness, far-sightedness, imagination and overcoming of difficulties" (Al-Gadal, 1993, p.352).

Political Polarization and Confrontation with National Governments

a. The self-government and the immediate post-independence period (1954-1958) ushered the state-trade unions relationship into a new phase marked by confrontations and conflicts. The antipathy, or at least indifference, of the "traditional" forces towards the trade union movement, during colonial rule, seemed to have been carried over to characterize the state-unions interaction during this period. The allies of yesterday, in their joint anti-colonial struggle, thus, became adversaries when the first elected national government took the reigns of power in 1954. Tension and confrontation have become the characteristic feature of the unions-state relations during all subsequent elected governments until November 1958. The "traditional" forces, therefore, felt no particular urge to involve themselves in the workers’ struggle for organization and recognition (Taha, 1970). This led observers to conclude that: "a fundamental characteristic of the colonial time, as well as the post-independence Sudan, was a polarization of political elements in the country into two opposing groups. On the one hand, the traditional elements represented by their parties (Umma, National Unionist party [NUP], Peoples Democratic Party [PDP]) and their religious sects, and on the other hand, the non-traditional elements, which constituted a fluid coalition between the SCP, the SWTUF, white collar and professional organizations, tenants-farmers unions and others" (Mustafa, 1993).

b. Though this polarization, which perceives the state-unions’ relation as a conflict between "traditional" and "non-traditional" forces, diagnoses the Sudanese politics correctly, the amalgamation of the NUP together with the Umma and the PDP, in their anti-trade unionism stance, at least during early independence, is a sweeping statement that requires to be qualified. In order to properly appreciate the conflictual state-unions relation, three points need to be stressed and analytically addressed. First, though communists, and their allies, constituted the leadership of the SWTUF, they did not fight, at least not ostensibly, the sectarian localities of the Federation’s membership, but exhibited a clear awareness of the role and function of the trade union and tried to hide, even though pretentiously, its "leftist" partisan political inclinations (Ali, 1996). Besides, SWTUF’s leaders, communists as they were, worked hard to avoid the alienation of their members who had sectarian affiliations, particularly to the Khatmiyya. They followed a methodology that aimed at instilling a trade unionist "spirit" and consolidating the workers’ belongingness to their respective unions. This policy resulted in making the workers more conscious of their affiliation to the trade union than to their sectarian localities (Haj-Hamad, 1996). Secondly, The NUP was largely a "center" political party whose support originated from intellectuals, employees, traders and urban merchants and a large sector of workers and farmers. Thus, the very nature and composition of the NUP’s following, and in contradistinction to the UMMA and PDP, urged the party to seek influence in the trade union movement and gain a position in its leadership. Thirdly, the Khatmiyya, to a large extent, constituted the social base for the majority of the workers and their general political orientation was of a "unionist" nature.

c. The above observations are intended to underline the fact that the historical and objective conditions, within which the labor movement emerged, were favorable to forging a strategic alliance between the NUP, and "unionists" in general, and the workers’ democratic movement. This could have, further, been feasible, when the communists, who provided the leadership for SWTUF, were working within the organizational framework of the Sudan’s Movement for National Liberation (SMNL). The SMNL, which became the SCP in 1956, was not yet a mature Marxist-Leninist entity in both ideological and organizational terms, and opened up to other political parties. Thus, the doors were, naturally, open for mutual interaction between the workers and the movement of the "unionists" intellectuals. However, this opportunity was lost on the leadership of this movement, who, instead, looked for "sectarian" sources of mass support readily provided by the Khatmiyya leaders, while shying away from the closest democratic social forces that were historically and objectively qualified to stand beside those intellectuals in their struggle against the non-democratic "traditional" forces. The NUP’s intellectuals, however, "replaced this "historical" equation with a "circumstantial" alliance with "sectarianism", at the expense of their alliance with the democratic trade unions forces, which required, on their part, the exertion of conscious efforts and struggle among the workers, in contrast to the "sectarian" masses whose loyalty is readily available" (Haj-Hamad, 1996, p.50-51).

d. However, this miscalculated alliance back fired on the "unionist" intellectuals, for immediately after the first meeting of the two "Sayyids" in October, 1955, the rug was pulled from under them. The Khatmiyya no longer tolerated the measure of independence that the "unionist" intellectuals maintained, and the leaders of the two sects agreed on voting the first nationalist NUP government out of power in November, 1955. Though this move was unsuccessful, the two religious leaders, after their second meeting on 4th December 1955, were able to deny the NUP ruling singularly on 2 February 1956 and formed a coalition government. This was the prelude of completely removing the NUP from the government and the resultant hegemony of the Khatmiyya-Ansar alliance over the rule of the Sudan on 5 July 1956, after one week only of the formation of the PDP, the political front of the Khatmiyya on 28 June 1956.

e. Distancing itself from the workers, and entering into an unholy alliance with the nascent "bourgeoisie" and the sectarian forces, the NUP acquired an anti-trade union spirit and acted to create a rift among its ranks. The NUP, even before coming to power, embarked on a policy of impairing the effectiveness of the SWTUF by infiltrating the leadership of its most influential trade unions, especially the SRWU. The NUP’s government was not persuaded by such overtures and declared a policy of "tahrir la ta’mir" i.e. liberation and not construction. This policy was strongly opposed by the SWTUF on the ground that liberation is meaningless without development and that it was not becoming to deny the forces which struggled and sacrificed of the fruits of liberation (Taha, 1970). The communists were wary, and felt the threat, of the "center" intellectuals who provided their only potential competitor over control of the SWTUF, and were, therefore, inclined to use every available political means to deny the NUP any measure of influence in the Federation, including the removal of the party’s representatives from the leadership positions in the member-unions of the Federation.

f. To be objective and fair, it should be recognized that the leaders of the SWTUF tried very hard to extend their hands to the first national government and organized a grand celebration in honor of the government’s leaders. The NUP, on its part, however, met this gesture with hostility under the instructions of the minister of social affairs, whose animosity to the Federation pushed him to great lengths.

g. It is pertinent to note here that the antagonistic attitude of the NUP government towards the labor movement was by no means limited to the SWTUF, but the agricultural tenants’ movement were similarly subjected to pressures and aggression. However, though tenants’ unions were not dissolved, the government followed the strategy of weakening the movement, albeit through different means. Thus, soon the Gezira Scheme Tenants Trade Union (GSTTU) found itself in conflict with the government, which led to the detention of the Union’s president and secretary general (SCP, People’s Revolution, 1956, p. 33).

h. However, the final straw which broke the relation between the government and the tenants, in particular, and the labor movement, in general, occurred when 281 farmers of Joda scheme (on the border between North and South Sudan along the White Nile) were arrested on 23 February 1956 and detained in a small room, which lacked ventilation and was originally used to store pesticides, where 190 of them died of suffocation. This incident was met by public anger and condemnation manifested in a series of demonstrations and strikes by different sections of Sudanese society.

i. Added to this, on the political front, the Anti-Colonial Front (AFC), together with the SWTUF, on the one hand, and the sectarian forces, represented in the Umma party and, later the PDP, on the other hand, coordinated their attack against the NUP government. This coordination was further elevated to a higher level by forming, on 29 January 1955, the Independence Front. The objectives of the communists (ACF), by allying themselves with the country’s most "traditional" forces, were to strike a final blow and pre-empt any interference by the NUP in the SWTUF and, therefore, create an independent social base and preserve complete control over the labor movement. However, such a strategy proved to be short-sighted and short-lived, for when the sectarian "traditional forces" gained total political hegemony in July, 1956, the relationship of alliance turned into one of confrontation and perpetual conflict.

Shifting Coalitions and Escalating Confrontations:
The Demise of the Parliamentary System

1. Therefore, the "traditional" forces saved no effort to play on the split created within the ranks of the labor movement, originally following the opposition of the SWTUF to the 1953 Agreement, in a calculated strategy to further weaken the SWTUF, to which the communists provided leadership and spirit. These efforts succeeded in their quest to thwart the general strike, which the SWTUF called for on 27 April 1956 in protest against the government’s hostile attitudes and aggressive policies. The strike was, thus, opposed by the splinter government workers unions, including the SRWU, an occasion which the government did not hesitate to use in deepening the split and to by-pass the SWTUF. It, thus, immediately declared its readiness to negotiate with individual government workers unions. In concert with the government’s move, the break-away government’s workers unions, led by the SRWU, called for what was referred to as A General Congress (of the United Trade Unions) on April, 1956, to deliberate on an alleged betrayal of the SWTUF to the trade union movement’s objectives . The Congress came out with the idea of forming three separate federations; one for government workers; the second for workers in the private sector, and the third for independent craftsmen and other workers. Such a proposition essentially meant the effective dissolution of the SWTUF and rendering it a powerless and politically inept organization. The Congress called for by the splinter group to form a Sudan Government Workers Trade Unions Federation (SGWTUF) was attended by eight unions only, out of a total of twenty, and the newly formed Federation was, thus, born weak and was unable to maintain itself as a viable organization (Taha, 1970).

2. On its part, the SWTUF worked hard to win back the splinter unions and retain the unity of the labor movement. On this score, it was able to substantially improve the position of its leadership in the SRWU and elected a less hostile Executive Committee. The SWTUF’s ceaseless efforts to maintain workers’ unity were given a push by the government’s threat to reduce the cost of living allowance as of January, 1957. This prompted the SWTUF to call for a general strike to which all unions responded, including the SRWU, and the government, confronted with a united labor movement withdrew its threat (Taha, 1970). The SWTUF grabbed the opportunity and declared its willingness, with the objective of reuniting the labor movement, to accept the formation of a new government workers union within its structure (Gasm Al-Seed, 1990). The government’s attempt to widen the rift within the SWTUF was, thus, once again doomed to failure. Seemingly unfazed by the SWTUF’ victory, the government introduced amendments to the 1948 Ordinance which allowed the formation and registration of trade union federations along the lines proposed by the United Trade Unions Congress back in April, 1956. Notwithstanding the early death of the SGWTUF, the government helped in creating a new federation, albeit this time called; the Sudan Central Government Workers’ Trade Union Federation (SCGWTF).

3. In the midst of government hostility toward the labor movement, the SWTUF successfully held its 5th Convention, named the Unity Congress, and passed a new constitution which resolved the issue of the Federation’s position regarding "partisan" politics and reconfirmed the labor movement’s independence from any form of external political influence. The SWTUF was, thus, able to regain its lost credibility and retained its popularity and resumed its collective bargaining with the government on the workers’ demands (Salaam, 1991). The government went further to declare the SWTUF an illegal organization, and refused to register the SGWTUF on procedural grounds (Taha, 1970). Frustrated by the labor movement’s success in uniting its ranks, the government stepped up its intimidation and anti-SWTUF tactics, and every day pulled a new trick to reopen the wounds . On the other hand, the economic situation was rapidly deteriorating, including the failure to dispense with the 1956-57 cotton crop, and the soaring living expenses, while the wages remained fixed. This was compounded by a shaky coalition between the Umma and the PDP and an ensuing conflict over issues of foreign policy and ratification of the USAID Agreement in the face of strong opposition. All these circumstances created a favorable environment for the SWTUF to mobilize the workers along both economic and political lines.

4. These developments led to a dramatic turn of events by the SWTUF’s announcement of a general strike in October, 1958. This gained the unanimous support of the workers’ unions and many other organized groups and the opposition parties. The strike constituted the convergence platform for the opposition to mount its attack on the government, and resulted in the formation of a National Front that comprised the SWTUF, tenant unions, student unions, the SCP, the NUP and other elements. The Front’s objective was to replace the government, led by Abdulla Khalil, both of whose internal and foreign policy was regarded to have miserably failed in responding to the country’s mounting problems. Aware that his government will not survive a vote of confidence, the Prime Minister invited the Army, under the leadership of General Ibrahim Abboud, to take over power on November, 17, 1958.

5. It is important here to note that, ironically, the NUP, which floundered the historical opportunity of forging strategic links with the labor movement, before and during wielding power, came later to join hands with the SWTUF and the SCP against the sectarian "traditional" forces from whose actions they all suffered. This equally applies to the communist leadership of the SWTUF, which extended support to the same forces in their plans to defeat the NUP government. The adversaries of yesterday became allies of today. It can be affirmed that it is this sort of political opportunism and expediency which planted the seeds of suspicion, of the labor movement,( and the workers in particular), of political parties.

The First Military Regime: Intolerance of Trade Unions

1. Authoritarian-military regimes, true to their nature, and pre-occupied by security and public order, are insensitive to and intolerant of civil society organizations, particularly trade unions which they perceive as a threat to their hegemony over power. Thus, the first decree issued by Abboud’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was a declaration of a state of emergency, followed by the suspension of political parties, the dissolution of the labor unions and federations and the abrogation of the 1948 Trade Unions Ordinance. The rationale behind the abrogation as stated by the authorities was dictated by the need for reviewing the Trade Unions Ordinance with a view to its amendment. However, the underlying objective, though undeclared publicly, was to create a weak and subservient labor movement that is fully under government control.

2. This hidden intention was not lost on the SWTUF, who immediately responded by demanding the right of resuming its function, as the legitimate representative of the workers, participate in, the revision of the Trade Unions Ordinance and to reserve the rights and privileges enshrined by the annulled Ordinance. The labor movement in a political environment that detested pluralism, thus, resorted to resistance, defiance and defense until the moment became ripe for offensive action and open confrontation, which generally came to characterize its approach during liberal regimes. The government in response, to what it perceived as defiance to its authority, embarked on a campaign of arrests, detentions and imprisonment of the SWTUF’s leaders, including the General Secretary of the Federation (Taha, 1970).

The Transition from Covert Resistance to Open Conflict and the Popular Uprising
1. Intimidation and prosecution of workers, on the part of the government, fueled their determination to resist and defy the authorities’ decrees and orders that aimed to sow discord and disunity in their ranks and deny them their right of organization. Thus, a number of union leaders in various parts of the country presented petitions to the government demanding the return of labor unionism on the basis of the 1948 Ordinance and the immediate release of their detained fellow unionists. These demands were met, on the part of the government, by further arrests of the petitioners. These events, throughout 1959, prompted the Sudan Railway workers to stage a strike in support of these demands. The strike, though ruthlessly crushed by the government, had an immediate political impact. It constituted a rallying political point for the university students and the SCP as well as large sectors of the society, thus, igniting the first spark of political opposition against authoritarian rule.

2. Realizing the determination of the SWTUF to resist any attempt that aims at its subordination to the authorities, the government decided, in 1960, to introduce a new labor law. Though the 1960 Amendment (of the 1948 Trade Unions Ordinance) once again allowed the formation of trade unions, it placed various restrictions on the freedom of association of workers. First, it limited the right of organization to "manual" workers only and excluded all other sectors, which previously enjoyed this right, thus, weakening the labor movement by reducing both its membership and effectiveness (Salaam, 1974, Mustafa, 1993). Secondly, the new Amendment reduced the minimum number of persons eligible to form a labor union from 10 to 50. Thirdly, it denied the right of joining any trade union other than that formed by workers in a given Government Department or private sector establishment (Taha, 1970). Fourthly, the new Ordinance prohibited the formation of trade union federations (Salaam, 1974). Fifthly, The Labor Dispute Act, 1960, laid tight restrictions on the workers right to strike (Taha, 1970).

3. Despite these restrictions and the absence of federations, the trade unions did not become the subservient movement the military regime was hoping for (Mustafa, 1993). Thus, an exchange of correspondence between the SRWU and the Railways Management, which lasted for more than a year and bore no fruits, instigated the SRWU to stage a strike, which continued for seven days, though the union was dissolved three days before, on 17 June 1962. In the aftermath of the strike, the government pursued a two-edge policy of purging anti-government union activists and involving the Labor Office in trade unions’ affairs as much as possible, on the one hand, and placating the workers by showing its enthusiasm towards "economic unionism", on the other hand. Anticipating the success of such a policy, the Commissioner of Labor invited the representatives of more than forty unions to a Labor Conference on August, 16, 1963. The conference’s agenda items were; to solicit workers support for the government, take the necessary measures for creating a new federation, in addition to discussing other issues of interest. The conference, however, to the disappointment of the Commissioner turned into a platform for denouncing the government and demanding the repeal of the 1960 Ordinance, the return of the SRWU, the formation of a federation and the lifting of the state of emergency (Taha, 1970).

4. Notwithstanding defeat, the government did not abandon its policy of the stick and the carrot. In a gesture of appeasing the workers, the government allowed "the SRWU to register and the constituent body, which emerged out of the August conference to embark, as a Founding Committee, on the formation of a workers trade union federation". Yet again the Minister of Information and Labor issued a decree canceling the earlier decision. Thus, the Founding Committee was dissolved and its powers were transferred to the Executive Committee of pro-government’s federation, because the workers resisted the government’s attempts to impose a restrictive constitution (Taha, 1970, p.116). The failure of the government’s policy to win over the labor movement, on the one hand, and the workers’ determination to struggle against it, on the other, signed the death certificate of the military regime through a popular uprising on October, 21, 1964.

Euphoria of the Revolution

1. The movement, which triggered the downfall of the military regime began at the University of Khartoum. Following the banning of public meetings there by the Ministry of Education, groups of students and other activists continued to disobey this ban, and the situation was brought to the boil on 21 October 1964 when a student attending a meeting was shot by a member of the police force as they attempted to break up the crowd. Inevitably, demonstrations and riots followed, and although the authorities sent in troops to control the crowds, civil unrest persisted.

2. The University of Khartoum staff issued a strong statement, reminding the authorities that the independence of the university has been seriously compromised, and the university compass was violated and turned into a scene of bloodshed, thus stifling freedom of thought and desecrated the sanctity of knowledge, and declared their intention of tendering mass resignations. Also, judges and lawyers issued a memorandum addressed to the leadership of the military regime, denouncing the flagrant assault on the students. It described the onslaught as an incident that shook the conscience of justice. Besides, the memo faulted the police forces for acting without obtaining an order from a “judge”, a matter that was totally unacceptable. After presenting the memorandum, the judges and lawyers gathered in front of the building of the judiciary, in the centre of the capital city, in preparation for launching a march to the Presidential Palace. Following the interception of the demonstration by the army, a general political strike and civil disobedience was publically declared on the spur of the moment, a step that precipitated the fall of the regime. Thus, General Ibrahim Abboud announced on the radio, on October 27, in a terse statement the dissolution of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

3. In the wake of these events, on 25 October, a loose organization that became known as the Professionals Front was established. It consisted largely of students, teachers and lawyers, but rapidly expanded to include members from different sections of society. Members of the Gezira Tenants Association, and SWTUF were prominent members of the Front. The Executive Council of the Front called for a general strike (24-31, 10, 1964), which finally brought the military rule to its knees.

4. As correctly phrased by Taha (1970, p.122), "it seems reasonable to conclude that the success of the strike, and therefore, of the October Revolution, would not have been possible without the active support of the labor movement". The "non-traditional" forces, of the popular uprising, then spontaneously organized themselves into a National Front of Associations (NFAs), which spearheaded and provided the leadership for the uprising. The composition of the October 31st interim-government, entrusted with the task of preparing for general elections to be held not later than March, 1965, reflected the influential position enjoyed by the NFAs. The NFAs had 8 Ministers in the cabinet, representing 50% of the government portfolio, while the rest was divided among the political parties (Umma, PDP, NUP, SCP and the Muslim Brothers) and the Southern Sudanese.

5. Under these circumstances, the labor movement reinforced its militancy and was able to acquire new gains and sustain the old ones which it had struggled for since colonial rule. It made remarkable achievements on a number of fronts; the 1960 Ordinance was suspended and the movement was allowed to function under the 1948 Ordinance, the SWTUF was re-established, and, most significantly, both the workers and the tenants were represented in the government, in the person of the SWTUF’s General Secretary, and the GTTU’s President. However, the reestablishment of the SWTUF did not go smoothly as the anti-Federation unions raised procedural objections to the elections of the SWTUF’s Executive Committee. They argued that it was the General Congress which, according to the Federation’s constitution, should elect the leadership. On the other hand, the mainstream unions countered that, since the SWTUF had been dissolved six years back, the right of election should be accorded to SWTUF’s Constituent Assembly of August 1963 which was supposed to meet on May, 1964 to discuss the constitution of the Federation and was not able to do so, for it was dissolved by the Military authorities three days before of the scheduled date. After a bitter conflict between the groups, the supporters of the latter option won and the Executive Committee was elected accordingly, with the former General ecretary, El-Shafie Ahmed El-Sheikh, reinstated.

6. The direct participation of the workers in the government, together with other "non-traditional" forces, marked a dramatic turn in state-union relations. The SWTUF perceived its position as a "partner" in a government whose primary responsibility was to restore democracy and implement workable economic and social programs that would alleviate the country’s economic crisis and set it on the right track. Rising up to their responsibility, the SWTUF declared that; it will postpone all workers’ demands that involved a burden on public expenditure, donate one day’s pay of each of its members to the government’s treasury and to resolve peacefully all disputes between the government and the employers, on the one hand, and between the employees and their employers, on the other (Taha, 1970).

7. However, aware that the results of the impending elections would be in favor of the "traditional" forces, and in order to consolidate their economic and political gains and to preserve the spirit of the October "revolution", the SWTF and the GTTU, together with other "non-traditional" elements formed the Socialist Democratic Coalition (SDC). On its part, realizing the strength and vitality of the labor movement and the threat it posed to their hegemony over power, the "traditional" forces regrouped into the United National Front (UNF) which aimed at weakening the October interim government. The UNF started its offensive by demanding the government’s resignation for it did not reflect the weight of the respective political forces, and, eventually, a new government was formed excluding the representatives of the NFAs. This government prepared for the general elections, and in May, 1965, an Umma-NUP coalition took the reigns of power, ushering the relationship between the state and the unions into a new phase.

Resumption of Hostilities: A Disenchanted and Disillusioned Labor Movement

1. Disappointed by this turn of events and the deceptive tactics of the "traditional" forces, the SWTUF reacted in a hasty manner by staging a general strike on 21 February 1965. This marked the beginning of the end of the honeymoon, which followed the victory of the popular uprising, between the "traditional" forces and the labor movement. The euphoria of the early days of the revolution, thus, turned into disillusionment. The strike, however, was far from successful and contributed more to sowing divisions within the SWTUF than to having any meaningful political impact. The strike was rejected by many unions, including the strong SRWU, which perceived it as an action that aimed at imposing the partisan political agenda of the SCP and its allies in the NFAs. The government, therefore, used the failure of the strike to intensify its campaign against the labor movement and the "non-traditional" forces at large. In addition to outlawing the SCP and depriving its MPs from their seats, the government took a number of measures to further weaken and deepen the split within the ranks of the SWTUF.

2. From then on the exchange of hostile attitudes and actions, between the government and the labor movement became the order of the day, particularly when the newly established Federation of Government Employees joined hands with the SWTUF. Demonstrations and marches were organized, and numerous petitions were presented to the government, but to no avail. In a move to step up protest, the SWTUF announced a one-day general strike on June, 15, 1966. Again, the SWTUF realized that this was not a well calculated action when the SRWU, still a strong hold of the NUP, refused to participate falling in step with the government, which denounced the strike as a political action engineered by the communists.

3. On the other hand, the labor movement itself, during 1965-68, was not free of political divisions and polarization along "partisan" lines. All parties, though to varying degrees, were competing to have a political constituency within the trade unions and started to be overtly concerned with trade by unions’ elections and sought positions in the unions’ leadership. This frenzied competition, thus, led to the birth of a number of "partisan" and parallel organizations to the legitimate trade unions, such as the Islamic Medical Doctors Association and the Socialist Teachers Association. Many observers regarded this development as damaging to the national role, character and orientation of the labor movement (Ali, 1996). Attempts to polarize the trade union movement along "partisan" lines were ostensibly demonstrated by the formation of the Conference of Nationalist Trade Unionists (CNTU). The Conference was organized by Muslim Brothers activists, in collaboration with elements of the other "traditional" political parties, on February, 1968 (Gasm Al-Seed, 1979). However, due to the lack of understanding of the nature of trade unions’ activity, on the part of the CNTU, they were not able to infiltrate and gain a foothold in the mainstream labor movement (Ali, 1996).

4. The labor movement, therefore, was able to resist all attempts of both the "traditional" forces and the government to sow discord within its ranks or liquidate the political gains made after the 1964 uprising. The trade unions, thus, remained strong and the government had no alternative than to respect their power and influence (Mustafa, 1993). By early 1969, the SWTUF continued in pressing the government to honor the January 1968 Agreement. At the same time, the political atmosphere was highly charged as the campaign against the Draft of the Constitution was accelerating and the political forces were already preparing themselves for impending presidential elections. The SWTUF, under the prevailing circumstances, could no longer shy away from direct political involvement, and, therefore, as part of the Socialist Front, it backed the Front’s candidate who was running for the elections against the two other candidates of the NUP and Umma party. Besides, the SWTUF utilized the occasion of May Day, 1969 to organize a march and a public rally, "where anti-government slogans were repeated and a feeling of resentment against the government was prevalent" (Taha, 1970, p.143).

5. A gloomy political climate, thus, cast its shadow all over the country amidst squabbling and an intensification of both intra- and inter-party conflicts over power. The ground was, therefore, prepared for young military officers to stage a coup d’ etat on 25th May1969, putting an end to the second liberal "quasi" democratic interval. The May regime, adopting the political stance of the "non-traditional" forces, represented a turning point in Sudanese politics, during which the state-unions relations were radically restructured, changed its nature and rearranged the role and position of the entire labor movement.


1. While the trade union movement in the Sudan consists of both blue- and white-collar workers, it is the former, which initiated the movement historically. Besides, though the labor movement did not assume an organized form until the post -World War II period, the beginning of the movement can be traced back to the turn of the century. Therefore, notwithstanding the resentment of the colonial state, the workers, in 1950, unilaterally declared the establishment of the Sudan Workers Trade Union Federation (SWTUF), which eventually gained government’s recognition in 1966. This testifies to the workers’ consciousness of their common socio-economic position and interests at a very early stage. Equally, due to the position of the colonial state as the largest employer, the labor movement assumed a "nationalistic" and anti-colonial character, which contributed to its transition from mere "economic unionism" to "political unionism".

2. The conflict with the colonial state, coupled with the ideology of nationalism, had created conditions conducive to fostering an alliance between the labor movement and the "educated elites" who were seeking to rule an independent Sudan. However, this historical opportunity was lost when the elites, particularly those in the "center" of the political spectrum, opted for a more convenient alliance with the "traditional" sectarian forces which provided them with readily available "sectarian" mass support. The labor movement, therefore, sought alliance with minority elements such as professionals, academics and students and the Communist Party (SCP) which, though small in membership, nevertheless carried more than proportional political weight.

3. The alliance between the different fractions of the "traditional" forces (commercial and agricultural bourgeoisie together with sectarian and tribal leaders) came to constitute the leadership of the political forces, which gained power at independence in 1956. Antipathy, or at least indifference, of the "traditional" forces towards the trade union movement, during the colonial rule, seemed to have been carried over to characterize the future state-union interaction. The self-government and the immediate post-independence period (1964-58), thus, ushered the state-unions relations into a new phase marked with confrontation generated by the conflict between the "traditional" and "non-traditional" (modern) forces. The allies of yesterday in their joint anti-colonial struggle, thus, became the adversaries of today, during the post-independence era.

4. Authoritarian regimes, true to their nature, were insensitive to, and intolerant of trade unions, which they perceived as a threat to their hegemony over power. Thus, the Abboud military regime (1965-1964) dissolved trade unions and political parties, abrogated the 1948 Trade Union Ordinance, arrested and detained union leaders. However, the relentless struggle of the labor movement for regaining the right of association and the freedom of the movement and the intensification of the resistance to the regime culminated in the popular uprising of October, 1964.

5. The plea for the participation of the trade union movement, including farmers’ unions, in the October transitional government, was justified by the economic weight of trade unions, and their key role in the success of the revolution, and to create a measure of political balance in the new parliamentary system, thus ensuring its stability and sustainability. This prompted the demand for designating certain electoral constituencies for graduates, who attained a specified educational level, which later allowed some of the “modern” forces’ representatives to enter the parliament. Here, a pressing question arises: did the accommodation of the modern forces in the interim government, as representatives of their respective trade unions, provide the necessary guarantee for properly instilling the pillars of the democratic system? In my opinion, the response can only be negative. The lack of an insightful political vision pushed the leaders of the labor movement to barricade themselves in strategic positions of the state apparatus and modern institutions, while preserving the trade union organizations as ready-made, and already existing, entities, to serve as vehicles for reaping a share in the power structure, instead of organized political action and the establishment of broad alliances. In so doing, the modern and trade union forces failed to create the optimal organizational framework that would have accommodated all of the forces of change, thus favouring contentment with short-term and circumstantial victory and preferring the immediate outcomes to persistence in the struggle towards a long-term and transformational gains. Perhaps it was incumbent upon the Sudanese labor movement to draw from the experience of trade unions in Britain. British workers were able to create an independent political party to represent them better and defend their interests in the legislative and executive organs of the state, instead of getting entangled in the ensuing power struggle between the SCP and the traditional political forces, on the one hand, and with the state, on the other hand.

6. The May coup d’etat was the product of two intertwined crises which characterized Sudanese post-independence politics, particularly the second democratic republic. The first crisis resulted from the apparent contradiction between the political orientation and performance of the hegemonic "traditional" parties, rooted in religious sectarianism, and the democratic system, which, by its very nature, requires modern liberal economic, social, and political institutions. This was demonstrated by the contravention of the constitution, disrespect of the principle of the separation of powers (the expulsion of the SCP’s MPs and its ramifications) and the drafting of an Islamic constitution which threatened the plural and heterogeneous social fabric of the society.

7. The second crisis is rooted in the contradiction between the "traditional" socio-political forces, and their parliamentary "mechanical" majority and the "non-traditional" (modern) forces which, in contrast, have a strong "qualitative" economic and political influence by virtue of their control over the modern production structures, while retaining low-level parliamentary representation, which ultimately denied them effective participation in the power structure. Under such circumstances, the trade union forces, in anticipation of an inevitable political change, found their "salvation" in the assumption of power by the young military officers. The latter, in turn, wasted no time into winning the hearts of the former by declaring, in their first statement, their uncompromising determination and resolve to rid the country of the hegemony of the "reactionary traditional and sectarian" forces. To the enchantment of the "non-traditional" forces, the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), which usurped executive, legislative and judiciary powers, went a step further by adopting the political agenda of the Socialist Front (which comprised the SWTUF, Farmers-Tenants Organizations, the Federations of both Employees and Teachers Unions, the SCP and other popular organizations). The Front’s candidate for the aborted presidential elections, Babiker Awadalla, was appointed a member in the RCC and Prime Minister.

8. The question is: has the trade union movement returned empty-handed after an uphill struggle for freedom and democracy? Though the paper has only partially responded to the question, however, the chapters of the book, I am currently working on, will provide a fuller and more comprehensive response. The book will address the consequent developments in the evolution of the labor movement during the second military regime (1969-85) and the third parliamentary system (1985-89) until the NIF assumed power on 30 June 1989.

Al-Gadal, M. (1993) The History of Modern Sudan: 1820-1955, Cairo, Amal for Publication. (in Arabic).

Ali, Hader. (1996) Civil Society and the Democratic Transformation in the Sudan, Cairo, Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies. (in Arabic).

Al-Saoari, H. (1986) The Sudanese Workers and Politics, Geneva-Cairo, The World Islamic Labor Organization. (in Arabic).

Beshir, M. (1987) The History of the Nationalist Movement in the Sudan: 1900-1969, Beirut, Dar Al-Jeel. (in Arabic).

Gasm al-Seed, H. (1979) Workers’ Clubs and the Nationalist Movement in the Sudan, Khartoum, Gaffat Commercial Press. (in Arabic).

Haj-Hamed, A. 1(996) The Sudan : Historical Dilemma and Prospects for the Future, British West Indies, International Studies and Research Bureau. (in Arabic).

Mustaffa,M. (1993) "The Sudanese Trade Unions and the State: Their Role in the Democratic Economic Reform and Development", University of Bremen, Sudan economy Research Group Discussions Papers.

Salam, M (1991) "The History of the Sudanese Labor Movement", Paper presented at the Conference on Trade Union Dialogue, Khartoum. (in Arabic)

Taha, A. (1970) "the Sudanese Labor Movement: A Study of Labor Unionism in a Developing Society", Ph.D. Thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.

Dr. Elwathig Kameir is a former university professor of Sociology and consultant with numerous regional and international organizations. He is also a former member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) . He is reachable at kameir@yahoo.com.

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