On October 4, 1943, in a small basement of a Ħamrun band club, a handful of determined workers, led by Reggie Miller, convened as members of the organising board of what would eventually evolve into the General Workers’ Union (GWU). Their mission was to organise the very first rally for workers, which took place the following day, on October 5, 1943, in Msida.
Miller’s resounding call was for social justice, decent working conditions, the safeguarding of workers’ rights and the pursuit of equality. Today, as we commemorate 80 years since the founding of the GWU, these timeless principles still serve as the heart and soul of this mighty trade union.
Throughout these eight decades, the GWU has remained a steadfast advocate of workers’ rights, social justice and the well-being of all Maltese citizens. It has waged tireless battles to ensure that workers’ voices are heard, their rights protected and their dignity preserved. The union has reason to take pride in its accomplishments, yet, it is these very achievements that inspire its continued commitment to shaping a better future.
The GWU and the Labour Party commemorated the 64th anniversary of the general strike of April 28, 1958.
The essence of the GWU can be encapsulated in its mission statement, which articulates its commitment to promoting the prosperity and well-being of its members, establishing adequate living standards, upholding the dignity of labour, championing workers’ rights, social justice and equal opportunities and also ensuring the right to a secure, discrimination-free workplace.
Our 80-year anniversary conference, with the theme ‘Building a Better Future: Social Protection, Dignity, Innovation, Sustainability’, reflected our unwavering dedication to our roots, our commitment to all Maltese citizens and the primacy of the individual in every decision and action we take.
Dignity is a fundamental right that should extend from the workplace to our communities and permeate our nation. Dignity at work entails that every worker, irrespective of their background, sexual orientation, gender or nationality, deserves respect, fair treatment and a safe working environment.
We commend the government’s efforts in working with us towards the ‘equal pay for equal work’ law, a much-needed step towards eradicating discrimination and exploitation in the workplace.
However, dignity is not limited to just fair wages; it also extends to life outside work. Our society should be founded on solidarity and compassion, ensuring that no one is left behind and that every citizen can lead a life of dignity and purpose.
Malta’s social protection system is integral to this mission, supporting the most vulnerable, including children, the elderly and individuals with disabilities, thus upholding our commitment to social justice and compassion.
Strong and effective social dialogue among government, trade unions and employers is critical in shaping our nation’s future and ensuring a decent life for our citizens. It is this partnership that has, time and again, led to positive change and an effective response to the challenges of our times.
The monument on the corning of the GWU building in Old Bakery Street, corner with South Street, Valletta.
The road to dignity is not without its challenges, from health and safety to discrimination and abuse– Josef Bugeja
We must acknowledge that the road to dignity is not without its challenges, from health and safety to discrimination and abuse. The GWU’s proposal to automatically enrol every worker as a trade union member is a laudable step towards ensuring representation and justice in the workplace.
Over the past 80 years, the GWU’s commitment to dignity has extended to protecting the vulnerable in our society, including pensioners, marginalised individuals and people with disabilities. Our aim is to ensure their comfort, security and dignity.
Inclusion and diversity are the pillars of a just society. Every person, regardless of their background, should have a voice in shaping their future. Innovation and sustainability are key to social progress and economic prosperity but they should never compromise the rights acquired in the past. Innovation should simplify labour and enhance safety while sustainability should protect job security and mitigate negative environmental impacts.
The GWU leadership laying flowers at the workers’ monument in Msida.
That is why sustainable practices and investments safeguard industries’ viability and workers’ job security while minimising environmental impact or risks to health and safety. An economy that benefits both investors and workers is a goal worth pursuing, narrowing the gap between the privileged and the marginalised.
The GWU has been a force for positive change in Malta for 80 years and, while we have celebrated victories, acquired rights and contributed to social progress, our work is far from over.
The future belongs to our youth and children and we must continue to strive to bequeath to them a society where dignity, social protection and social justice are not ideals but lived realities.
So, in toasting this largest – and, if I say so myself, the best of the unions – we recommit ourselves to the values of solidarity, social justice and dignity that have guided the GWU for 80 years.
These values continue to lead us toward a fairer, equal and inclusive future, where no one is left behind, where innovation benefits everybody and where sustainability ensures a brighter tomorrow.
The General Workers’ Union will remain an exemplar of hope and progress for generations to come.
Josef Bugeja is secretary general of the General Workers’ Union.