UHM Voice of the Workers is commemorating its 56th anniversary with the inauguration of its stat-of-the-art headquarters in St Thomas Street Floriana. Beyond these well-deserved celebrations, we need to look further and focus on the role of trade unions in today’s fast-moving world and the manner they have to face the ever-changing reality.

Autonomy is a crucial requirement for a workers’ union to flourish as it must not to be hindered in its mission to safeguard workers’ rights without fear or favour.

This does not mean that a union must be indifferent, that it shies away from working with political parties, or that stays on the fence. Being autonomous means that first and foremost one understands and embraces one’s mission and acting in the interest of that mission with the only exception being the national interest. It means sitting entertaining invites to sit in the living room of social partners and political parties but keeping a certain distance so as not to end at bed with them.

It is also crucial that a serious union is autonomous in terms of its thinking and financing. If a union compromises its autonomy in one of these aspects, it means that it becomes dependent on others. Such course of action is not easy because there will be circumstances which warrant unpopular decisions, feeling isolated and being forced to facing daunting challenges.

Another important element of trade unionism is industrial democracy. UHM embraces this principle in practice and is statutorily bound by that any collective agreement must be endorsed by the workers through a vote. That is why it is saddening when employees take industrial democracy for granted. Workers must do their part and be actively involved in this mission to safeguard the milestones reached by our predecessors.

Industrial democracy also means looking at issues from an objective perspective. While everyone is entitled for their political beliefs, workers must leave partisan politics aside and take care to safeguard their daily bread. Industrial democracy demands that every worker should join the union of their choice without fear or favour.

Throughout its history this union has acted with industrial responsibility both in its work and in its proposals. At present we came up with the COLA adjustment proposal for collective agreements include increases for the cost of living. This could easily have been a moment which brought social unrest. However, UHM took a diligent approach and came up with a solution while seeking the feedback of other unions. Agreement was reached and the proposal was presented to the government as united front. While the outcome of these talks is still pending, this was a clear demonstration of how to put industrial responsibility in practice.

Autonomy, democracy and responsibility are necessary for unity. As past union leaders used to declare, a union need to be on its feet but never on its knees, a union committed to serve but not to be served and a union that when faced by a challenge will be a catalyst for solutions. The opening of these modern premises means that UHM Voice of the Workers looks forward with courage and optimism.