by Abdulkadir Ali Bollay

Immediately after our return from the International Labour Conference, in July 1957, the heads of the Somali trade unions set up a summit known as Dopolavoro, which was held at the Theatre, which was opposite the Guglielmo Marconi primary and middle schools (later renamed Yassin Osman). Representatives of local trade unions, subsidiaries of the Somali Workers’ Trade Union [Sindicato Lavoratore della Somalia] gathered. Each subsidiary represented workers in different fields. They consisted of: the health workers’ union, that of agricultural workers, manufacturing workers, teachers, veterinarians, those who work in hospitality (hotels, coffee shops and the like) and finally, dockworkers employed at the ports in Mogadishu, Merca and Kismayo. When the general meeting began, it was first addressed by Ahmed Gure Maamun (Axmed Guure Maamuun) who spoke about the considerable and wide-ranging work which the Trade Unions had done.

He then gave the floor to me, Abdulqadir Ali Bollay, where I spoke about my experience at the recent International Labour Conference in Geneva. I also spoke about some of the successes enjoyed by the Somali trade unions, successes which had been so highlighted and celebrated at the International Labour Conference. I noted how, at the Conference, the Somali trade unions had been praised and congratulated on having brought out the adoption of the Labour Code. That year had been of particular note for the trade unions in Somalia, particularly those of the factory workers, at the sugar factory in Jowhar, the cotton mill workers in Mogadishu and the agricultural workers who worked in Shalanbood and its surroundings, since they enjoyed great advances in terms of their pay, a development which became the basis for the implementation of the other pointers in the Labour Code.

Bollay, in 1956, giving an interview about the Somali trade unions.

In May 1958, as Secretary-General of the Somali Trade Unions, I led a delegation ―one member of the delegation being Hassan Abdi Amalow (Xassan Cabdi Camalow), who was a member of the Central Committee of the unions―to a regional trade union conference for African trade unions, which was held in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Organised by the ICFTU (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions), the conference was attended by delegates from east, central and southern Africa, namely, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa and Rhodesia. There, it was decided to strength the cooperation between the unions and that they should keep in close communication with each other.

The following month, I set off for Geneva, Switzerland, to take part in yet another annual International Labour Conference. In terms of African labour affairs, it was agreed at the Conference that the trade unions of the continent should be further developed and more effort be devoted to the implementation of the Labour Codes. At the Conference’s conclusion, I received an invitation from the Secretary-General of the CISL (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati dei Lavoratori), Bruno Storti, who invited me to his organisation’s headquarters in Rome. Then, I proceeded to the Italian capital, where I duly met him and we discussed how his organisation could help in the training and education of the Somali workers. Agreeing to this request, his organisation soon rolled out educational opportunities for our members.

As part of its support to the Somali trade unions, the CISL sent one of its experts to Somalia so that he could support the trade unions there. Similarly, the CISL gave our organisation a vehicle, one Land Rover, so that the leaders of the Somali trade unions could more easily travel throughout the country to undertake their work. The expert who was sent to Somalia was Onofrio Spitaleri, who worked with our trade unions for one year. In July 1958, we organised a general meeting of all Somali trade unions. Since they had now increased in number, it was important to organise such an event to strengthen the unity between the different subdivisions. The result of this cooperation was that a coalition of all such national trade unions should be created, known as Ururka Guud Shaqaalaha Soomaaliyeed [The Confederation of Somali Trade Unions].

The member trade unions were: that of government employees; teachers; health workers; farmers; dockworkers; factory workers and public sector workers. Once the umbrella organisation was established, representatives were elected from each. They were:

(1) Ahmed Abdi Yusuf as Chairman of the Somali Trade Unions;

(2) Abdulkadir Ali Bollay, Secretary-General, Somali Trade Unions;

(3) Qassim Abdirahman, Deputy Secretary- General, Somali Trade Unions;

(4) Abdisalan Ahmed, Secretary of the district and regional unions;

(5) Saeed Ali Boos, Treasurer of the Somali Trade Unions;

(6) Abdulkadir Sheikh, Coordinator of the Somali Trade Unions;

(7) Ali Raage Khayro, Organisation Officer, Somali Trade Unions.

In November 1958, the Confederation of Somali Trade Unions invited a delegation from its Italian opposite number, the CISL. We discussed with them how we could cooperate, especially in how our trade union in Somalia could benefit from their support, in training our own trade union leadership. The CISL then offered to provide training in trade union affairs for two people at a specialist college in Italian city of Florence. Hassan Abdi Amalow and Ahmed Sheikh Ali took this opportunity. In that month, the Somali Labour Code was adopted; within the same month, the agricultural workers got an opportunity to enter an agreement with their employers, in line with the Labour Code. At the time, agricultural workers were paid in direct correlation to how much they worked, not allowing for any illness or absence. So, when the deal was sealed, it was agreed that agricultural workers in Somalia should receive their wages in a regular fashion, with the promise that if the workers were to be affected by illness, they should still get their wages in full. All in all, the Somali trade unions played a crucial role in the protection of workers’ rights and also in the training and education of workers, both in the late- and post-colonial period, especially in the former when there were few safeguards or opportunities to secure workers’ rights. When the military regime took power in 1969, a new organisation was established called Xiriirka Guud ee Shaqaalaha Soomaaliyeed (XGSS, still translated as the Federation of the Somali Trade Unions). When the October Revolution took place, this then became the new name of the Somali trade unions. The military regime enhanced the power of the Somali workers, which itself became a step in the right direction in the development of Somali society and the increased productivity of the country.

The XGSS had a chairman, a central committee and an executive committee as well as a sub-division tasked with craftsmanship and the workers’ pages in the national newspaper Xiddigta Oktoobar called Shaqaalaha Adduunkow Midoowa [Workers of the World, Unite!]. It was published every Tuesday and carried all news and messages concerning the workers in the different regions of the country. The crafts sub-division played a considerable role in designing and documenting (through photos and reports) the major events in the year, such as 21 October, International Mothers’ Day and International Workers’ Day (1 May). Every Friday evening, members of the Federation would meet to discuss matters relating to the workers as well as the recent decisions which had been reached by the Central Committee of the Federation. The outcome of these discussions would then be published in Xiddigta Oktoobar.

The civil strife in Somalia certainly affected the Federation. But I would advise, as the nation recovers, that the Federation, which exists in the country now, should become a driving force, playing a pivotal role in the revitalisation of Somali society and the pacification process. I call upon the current government to devote the necessary attention to employment and workers’ affairs, which will help the country to improve productivity and economic output. I hope that the current administration will also rebuild the headquarters of the Somali trade unions, to generate job opportunities for the younger generations, particularly in the primary and secondary sectors and to improve the standards of education among Somali workers. At this crucial time in the country’s history, they can undoubtedly play an important role, as the earlier trade unions, particularly in the late-colonial period, had done. I conclude with the timeless motto of the Somali trade unions: ‘Shaqaalaha adduunkow middowa!’ [Workers of the World, unite!]. [END.]

Born in Mogadishu, Abdulkadir Ali Bollay went to Italy in 1952 to study for a degree in social affairs and journalism. From 1956 to 1959, he was Somalia’s representative to the International Labour Organisation in Geneva. In 1961, he joined the Ministry of Information where he edited the official government papers, such as Corriere della Somalia, and later its successor, the Somali-language Xiddigta Oktoobar between 1969 and 1979. His autobiography, written in Somali, was published in London, where he now lives.