Trade Unions (in the Arab world)

All the trade unions existing in the Arab world have been set up since World War II. They are grouped in the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions (ICATU) created in 1956 and whose headquarters, first in Cairo, moved to Damascus in 1977. The organizations considered as free, democratic and representatives are a minority : many members represent more their government than the workers.

Another regional union has been set up in 1989 : the USTMA (Union Syndicale des Travailleurs du Maghreb arabe) (headquarters in Tunis). It considers itself as the equivalent for the MAU* of the ECTU in Europe.

Saudi Arabia, where trade-unions are forbidden, and Lebanon, where they recently brought the government down, represent the extremes of the situation in this respect.

Situation in some countries :

Morocco: (Main unions)

Union Marocaine des Travailleurs (UMT), created in 1955, ICFTU affiliated, around 650.000 members, associated with the socialist party UNFP (Union des Forces Populaires)

Confédération Démocratique du Travail (CDT), created in 1977, around 250.000 members (of which 50.000 women), linked to the USFP party (Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires).

Union Générale des Travailleurs du Maroc, created in 1960, 600.000 members, close links with the Istiqlal party.


The General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), set up in 1956 as a fighting force in the FLN, declared its autonomy in 1990. It is supposed to have about 450,000 subscriber-members (more than 1 million declared members). Is not a member of the ICFTU.

The Union of Islamic Workers, inspired by the FIS* and now under a dissolution decree, has recently been created.


The General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) is the only existing union. It has about 350,000 members and is affiliated to the ICFTU.


Only one union – according to the law – created in 1957: the General Federation of Egyptian Workers (2,500,000 members), non affiliated to the ICFTU.

In other countries:

Independent unions exist in other countries (Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania and Yemen). An independent and powerful union also existed at one time in Sudan.