Unions and Syndicates
Immediately after the revolution, the role that labor unions,
professional syndicates, and other organized interest groups would
play in the new society was in doubt. Regarding labor unions,
for example, Qadhafi stated in a November 4, 1969, speech in Tripoli:
"There will be no labor unions . . . . Laborers and the revolution
are an indivisible entity. There may be certain labor organizations,
but only for ordinary administrative duties." On November 30,
however, Qadhafi stated in an interview that there was no thought
of abolishing labor unions and student organizations, but they
must "truly represent their groups with a revolutionary spirit.
We do not accept intermediaries between the revolution and its
After the revolution, most prerevolutionary interest groups were
abolished and new ones created. Functioning within the framework
of the ASU at first, and the GPC after 1976, the new interest
groups lacked autonomy and played an insignificant political role.
In January 1976, the ASU National Congress emphasized that political
activity was to be solely within the purview of popular congresses.
After 1976 labor unions and other associations performed only
administrative duties pertaining to the occupations or nonpolitical
activities of their members. Strikes have been prohibited since
1972. In Qadhafi's ideology, workers should be transformed into
partners; to work for wages is a form of slavery. Therefore, he
urged workers to take over companies, factories, and schools and
to set up people's committees to manage production and decide
priorities. In theory, this system would make labor unions unnecessary.
In fact, however, unions continued to exist. In the mid-1980s,
there were some 275,000 members belonging to 18 trade unions,
which together formed the Tripoli-based National Trade Union Federation.
In addition, separate syndicates existed for teachers, engineers,
physicians, lawyers, and other professionals. Other groups represented
women and students. The GPC included components of all these units.
Although Libyan interest groups did not have a real political
role similar to that such groups play in the Western tradition,
their responsibilities included contributing to the cultural revolution,
raising the revolutionary consciousness of their members, and
mobilizing support for national leaders and their policies.
Before the Revolution of 1969, organized labor played a significant
role in opposing the monarchy. Yet the union movement was too
young to be established firmly, and it had no connection with
the military group that overthrew the king. Consequently, unions
and most other interest groups have not resisted the limitations
imposed within the postrevolutionary framework and the concomitant
lack of a real political role. Students have proved an exception,
however. Early postrevolutionary enthusiasm for the RCC quickly
changed to opposition as a significant number of students reacted
against restrictions on the autonomy of student leaders (see Student
Opposition , this ch.).
Data as of 1987