Healthy Syndicates and Unions: Vital for Our Democratization [Archives:1998/17/Viewpoint]

April 27 1998

The Journalist’s Syndicate is paralyzed. It doesn’t function. Even worse, it has not been able to organize its congress to elect a new leadership. The Lawyers’ Syndicate is in shambles. The last congress witnessed so many irregularities that the very legitimacy of the current leadership is being questioned. The Medical Doctor’s Syndicate witnessed massive state intervention in order to elect a politically acceptable leadership, but which proved to be incompetent. The Syndicate of Engineers is defunct. It is not working. The teachers have two syndicates, each controlled by either of the two largest political parties.
The list can go on and on.

The basic problem is interference by the state, often using decoys and the Political Security Office (PSO). In the past, when there was an ideological power struggle, it may have been possible to see why such interference took place, given the influence of such syndicates and unions. But now, it is neither logical nor understandable why professional NGOs are not allowed to grow and function independently of the state and the wishes of politicians.

It is my belief that grass-roots level organizations such as unions and syndicates are vital contributors to the system because of their broad-based interaction. They give tangible meaning to popular participation within a democratic context. Therefore, any effort to broaden the participation base of decision-making in this country should, in part, involve the unions and syndicates. This means letting these organizations do their job.

The authorities need to understand that it is in the best interests of the country and the democratization process to de-politicize the NGOs and to let them do their work. The test to the possibility of this re-orientation will take place shortly. The Medical Doctor’s Syndicate will hold its next congress in July. The journalists may hold their congress before the year is out.

It is of course evident that the unions and syndicates are centers of power and influence. But that is normal in a system that declares itself to be pluralist and open for fair competition by all. If those in power want to control everything, this can hardly be called a democracy or pluralist. It becomes a central dictatorship. In other words, it is part of the game to allow different participants to exercise varying levels of influence in the system.
In addition, strong syndicates will protect and guide their members, and will contribute to the growth and prosperity of the profession they represent. It would also set norms and standards for business conduct in the profession. For example, lucrative professions like those of medical doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc., generally command low esteem and respect among the public. In part, this is due to the lack of a focal organization that promotes and nurtures the profession.

The past mentality of a central body controlling all aspects of our public life is no more valid. We can show we understand this new reality by enabling the syndicates run their show.

Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher