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Brief History


Trade Unions in Kenya started forming in the 1940s after the 2nd World War.

This was as a result of the discrimination of Africans during the 2nd World War through unequal treatment during and after the War like on Land allocation.

In late 1940s, a number of Trade Unions had been formed.

In 1952, the existing trade union came together and formed the Kenya Federation of Registered Trade Unions, KFRTU with Aggrey Minya as the Secretary General.

In the same year, several trade union leaders were arrested and detained following the declaration of a state of emergency for allegedly associating with MAU MAU.

In 1953, Tom Joseph Mboya took over from Aggrey Minya as the Secretary General for the Kenya Federation of Registered Trade Unions, KFRTU.

In 1955, the KFRTU was changed to Kenya Federation of Labour, KFL at a Conference held at Akamba Hall in Ziwani.

At this time, most of the politicians had been detained and the trade unionists were the only voice calling for political independence.

The agitation for political independence by trade unions was occasioned by discrimination and unequal treatment by the colonialists.

It is then that trade unionist like Tom Mboya found themselves with the dual role of fighting for political independence and improvement of the welfare of Workers.

In the late 1950s, trade unionists as part of the campaign for political independence demanded the release of all political de

tainees. This was eventually granted when Jomo Kenyatta and others were released in 1961.

At this time, most trade unionist went ahead to form and join various political parties and eventually joined the government at independence in 1963.

Here, trade unionists were instrumental in influencing the government’s policies like the much publicized Sessional Paper no. 10 on African Socialism and its application to planning in Kenya of 1965.

At the same time, some trade unionists formed a rival Federation, the Kenya Trade Unions Congress.

The government in effort to resolve the rivalry between the two trade union centres dissolved both of them and appointed a ministerial committee under the Chairmanship of the Late Dr. Julius Gikonyo Kiano which went ahead and recommended the establishment of only one National Trade Union Centre, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions, COTU(K) in 1965.

From then, trade unions have continued to be strong institutions influencing various government policies through Social Dialogue.

As agents of Social Justice, COTU(K) continued to champion for the rights of not only workers but Kenyans as a whole and this was evident when COTU(K) was part and parcel of the change process that ushered in the NARC Coalition Government in 2002.

COTU(K) through the support from the Fredrich Ebert Stiftung, FES went throughout the country in 2000 calling for change towards good governance and for democratic process and this saw a great change in the labour movement as it continued to clamour for change.

In August 2001, a new leadership under Bro. Francis Atwoli took over COTU(K) and passed a resolution that the Labour Movement must continue to support and initiate other organs clamouring for a change in government from KANU to a new regime.

These nationwide campaigns had a massive impact in the country and eventually saw the election of President Mwai Kibaki and his running mate the late Hon. Wamalwa Kijana to take over the reigns of leadership of Kenya form a KANU regime that had led for over 40 years.

When the clamour for a new Constitution started, COTU(K) was one of the 1st pressure groups to champion for a new constitution and was part of the organisations that constituted Bomas of Kenya that eventually came up with the Bomas Draft.

COTU(K) has remained steadfast and straightforward in the fight for a new Constitutional dispensation in Kenya. We were the first organisation in 2007 to warn the government that Kenyans were not prepared to go for an election under the present constitution.

COTU(K) foresaw and warned the government that there would skirmishes and violence if Kenyans went to elections under the existing laws. This came to pass.

Today the little support COTU(K) is getting from DAI through a grant from USAID for transport and logistics for the few meetings so far held, the Labour movement is determined to sprearhead change in Kenya.

Already we have held meetings in Mombasa on 18th October 2009, Machakos on 24th October 2009, Embu on 25th October, 2009 Meru on 31st October, 2009 and Thika on 1st November, 2009 which have created a nationwide impact on clamour for Constitutional reforms and the implementation of Agenda item 4 on long term issues and solutions.

The Media coverage particularly the live transmission by Citizen TV has created a significant impact and we propose to extend to other Television Stations so that the change that the ordinary Kenyans have been yarning for years can be realized through these efforts together with other-like minded organisations like LSK, AMWIK, FIDA, ActionAID and other human rights bodies.

These efforts are aimed at creating a departure from the existing arrangement of governance.