In the 20th century, the slogans written on posters and sung in workers’ demonstrations on city streets expressed their needs, their problems, their struggles. Can the new social spaces on the Internet also give a voice to workers?

72. 1st of may 1945. Leather workers celebrating. Posters say: eternal glory to those who have fallen in the struggle for freedom; long live the great fraternal USSR; long live the 1st of may. 1945. Interactive Museum of Industry, Gabrovo, Bulgaria.

In the 20th century, many self-employed workers in industry-related professions organised themselves into trade unions to coordinate and regulate their activity. With the evolution and change in the industrial landscape of the 21st century, many of these professions have disappeared and new professions have emerged, for example in the creative industries. Today, how important is it for the new self-employed in industry to join?

73. Booklet “Portuguese Federation of Trade Unions of the Pulp, Paper, Printing and Press Industries”. 1978. Teófilo Rego Archive, Casa da Imagem – Manuel Leão Foundation, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

Freedom of association and the right to organise are fundamental principles proclaiming the right of workers and employers to freely gather and organise to advance and defend their interests and rights.

Workers and employers have the right to create and be part of organisations of their choice which, in turn, can define their constitutions, rules and procedures, elect their representatives, organise their activities, and develop their programmes without the interference of administrative authorities. They can also form and join federations and confederations, expanding their networks at the international level, to promote more global standards of protection.

Under freedom of association, workers also have protection against anti-union discrimination – i.e. cannot be denied a job for being part of a trade union or association, and shall not face any intimidation by employers regarding association with other workers and trade unions.

The freedom of association is of particular importance within the industrial dynamic and sector development, from historical landmarks such as the onset of the Industrial Revolution (leading to the guarantee of basic health standards, work hours and other protections) to current times, with the need to ensure access to employment in the industry sector for women.

Trade unions and workers associations were and still are of paramount importance in the promotion of gender equality at work. Currently, despite women being traditionally underrepresented in the trade union environment and association movements – due to its male-oriented dynamics, gender biases and the lack of family friendly trade union/associations – the proportion of women has been increasing in the latest years, which is seen as a positive trend, in line with many of the EU initiatives and policies.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, reinforces and acknowledges the importance of the freedom of association, the right of collective bargaining, and collective action as being at the heart of the labour laws but also of industrial relations in Europe. The importance of collective bargaining and collective action by women and for women has been focused on as one of the paths to strengthen gender equality and closing gender gaps in the labour market.