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Union History

Established in Kampala, Uganda since 1938, Amalgamated Transport and General Workers' Union (ATGWU - Uganda) is responsible for organising and representing its members in the Transport, Oils, Chemical, Private Security and Property Services Industries. It is a trade union with a proven track record in handling labour related issues for its members.

ATGWU was later re-rigestered in 1974 after merging with other unions. It is affiliated to itwo Global Union Federations.  These are the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and Union Network International (UNI). At the local  level it is affiliated to National Organisation of Trade union Uganda (NOTU).


The development of Unions in Uganda can be traced as early as the 1930’s when the first trade union was formed. The Trade Unions which were formed then were used for political gains in a bid to fight colonialists and the BugandaGovernmentKingdom. Therefore, the basic functions of the trade unions were taken over by overtly political organisation “Scott, 10: 1966). Despite the above, however, the economic depression gave a fertile ground for the normal functioning of trade unions plus of course the external influence.

The early unions were formed on racial premise. The Asians who were skilled as compared to the Africans took on the “juicy jobs”.  Trade unions developed in Uganda from 1938 although the ideas about trade unionism had been developed as a result of the building of the Uganda Railway. In this paper we shall also the formation of the formation of the national centre plus the splinter groups, political ambitions of some union leaders who were partly responsible for the closure of both the National Centre (Uganda labour Congress) and the LabourCollege.


The first trade union called the “Uganda Motor Drivers’ Association”, was formed in 1938 by Mr. James Kivu being assisted by Mr. Ignatius K. Musaazi who later became so prominent in Uganda and Buganda’s politics, who was later honoured by the Government and buried at the Hero’s square at Kololo. The Union was duly registered with the Labour Department but as noted earlier it rarely functioned, as a true trade union for all the six years it existed comprised of both the young and politically active group of taxi drivers’ association. It also included both employees and owners who were demanding for government subsidies. The association continued to gain momentum and recognition and reached its climax in 1945 when they organised a number of strikes and riots their major grievance was wage claim although it was later ascertained the motive behind these strikes and riots were politics and not economic. Consequently, some member especially the leaders like Kivu and I.K.Masaazi were deported to Karamoja and the Union wound up its activities.

When Musaazi and others were released in 1946, he continued to pursue his line of union organisation. As a result in 1949, the Transport and General Workers’ Union was registered. The majority of the members were taxi drivers including those in Busoga. To add more weight to the Transport Union Musaazi founded the Uganda African farmers’ Union as a focus for opposition to the Protectorate’s marketing control of cotton and coffee “(Scott, 1966). Musaazi and his group had not given up the struggle for political independence and this is reflected in the 1949 strikes and riots. This certainly caused the total ban on trade unions and their leaders were deported once again.

From this period until 1952, there was still general apathy to form trade unions without any political connotations. The reasons were clear: most farms produce enough food for family consumption and sold off the surplus. The second reason was that people were earning quite substantial amounts of money from the sale of cotton and coffee, as a result of this; there was little interest to leave the traditional agriculture economy while such conditions still prevailed.

Even large scale migration fro Rwanda – Burundi, the Western areas and later from Kenya could not solve the labour shortage. Employers continued to compete for the scarce labour by offering reasonable pay and conditions. The above situation was summed up by (Scott, 1966) that “under local conditions in which ties of family and locality were still dominated and where few of the African Population had yet to seek paid employment in order to live, it was not expected that much interest would be shown in trade unionism. Economic prosperity plus an unsatisfied demand for labour, which meant that a man (had) a full choice of employment, continued to serve as an insurance against unrest” (cited in LDR, 1951-16)

The development of true trade unionism commenced between 1952 and 1960’s, being assisted and guided by the liberal regime of Sir Andrew Cohen, and then by a depression of agricultural prices.


This was the beginning of real trade unionism when it would be separated from politics. The Ordinance was basically to provide trade disputes settlement machinery. Both parties (i.e. employers and employees) had to notify the labour commissioner of a trade dispute and the Commissioner had to appoint a conciliator if he was convinced that there is a problem.

The procedure would be that he/she first discussed with each side separately and then being both sides together at a meeting under his chairmanship. But if the dispute remained unresolved, after fourteen days of conciliation, the Labour Commissioner was empowered to offer arbitration. And if such an offer was accepted by both parties, he/she would advise the Minister of Labour (now Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development) to appoint either a single arbitrator or an arbitration tribunal including representatives both sides. The Minister had the power to intervene in case there was undue delay to accept arbitration. In case the arbitration tribunal was instituted, it was required where practicable, to pass its verdict within twenty – eight days.

The above procedures are still followed (in principle) up to this day, the only addition is that once all these have been exhausted, the only option is to seek a redress with the industrial court which is the final arbiter. The Industrial Court was commissioned in 1964 and started functioning in 1965 with its first President called Kaggwa. It is non functional currently


In 1952, under the then Uganda Trade Union Ordinance, the Uganda Posts and Telegraph Workers’ Union was registered on 7th September 1952. By that time, the Railway African Union was registered in Uganda. It was not registered in Uganda because it was a branch of the Kenya based Union which had extended its tentacles to Uganda to protect the Kenyan workers who had come to build the Uganda railway line.

The colonialists were forced to give concessions and this resulted into the enactment of the Trade Unions Ordinance of 1952. The following were some of the provision of the Ordinance:

-        General Workers’ Unions were prohibited but instead allowed were industrial unions

-        Union funds has to be supervised by the Government

-        All Unions’ donations had to go through Government

-        No Union was to have political affiliation

-        Ugandans were free to form political parties

-        Ugandans were to form co-operative societies.

As time went on, more and more trade unions were formed. By 1955, four unions were already registered under the above mentioned Trade unions Ordinance. These were:-

i)                   The Uganda Post & Telecommunications Employees’ Union

ii)                  The Railway African Workers’ Union

iii)                The Clerical, Commercial and General Workers’ Union and

iv)                The Basoga Motor Drivers’ Union.

The second legislation of great importance and which is much talked about in trade union circles was the Trade Union Ordinance of 1952. It provided for compulsory registration of trade unions and any union operating without proper registration would not be permitted and its leaders prosecuted. The Ordinance also allowed greater supervision of the activities of trade unions especially in respect of finances. Unions were obliged to submit financial returns to the Ministry of Labour.

The Ordinance also gave wide powers to Registrar of Trade Unions to inspect unions and enforcing a schedule of rules to be included in the constitution of each union. It further made sure that trade unions are not mingled with political activities like the earlier “unions of Kivu, Musaazi and others”. It also laid a very important clause that all the officers of the union except the Secretary General should have been employed for not less than three years in industry or occupation with which the union was directly concerned.

It was forbidden to hold office in more than one union or for an official to have been convicted of fraud or dishonesty (Scott 1966: 36-7). However, the majority of the above provisions were greatly contested not only by trade unions within the country but also outside. They saw this as a direct intervention by the state in the internal affairs of the trade unions. ICFTU (1958) noted that unions cannot grow into strong independent organisation firmly rooted in the collective will of the workers if the government is perpetually setting them and holding them by the hand (Cited by Scott, 1966:38). In fact, there was general complaint that trade unions in Uganda were being modelled to the contrary to the above assertion, pointed out “British Law allowed the formation of any kind of union provided its rules established the democratic rights of its members.


The General Council preferred that colonial legislation should be brought even closer to the British structure which allowed this flexibility. In this way, African Unions would be given freedom to develop according to the demands of their particular situation “Scott, 1966 citing TUC annual report, 1959:228)



The first union to be registered under the new Ordinance was the Kampala Local Government Staff Association which was mainly composed of Europeans and higher paid Asians. Others which followed included:

-        Busoga African Drivers’ Union

-        Railway Asian Union

-        Uganda Post and Telecommunication African Welfare Union

-        The Railway African Union (which continued to be registered in Kenya although it had its operations in Uganda because of the Kenya Railway Workers then).


Despite the formation of these unions, there was still a trade union vacuum. Scott, notes that from 1952 until 1955, agricultural prosperity continued and with it the labour shortage. Because of this situation, it is logic that labour was on high demand and therefore conditions not so appalling to warrant a trade union intervention.


Secondly, workers were profoundly suspicious of unions because of their earlier involvement in politics. The above situation was justified by the 1954 Labour Department Report which stated that even though a state of emergency existed in Buganda for most of the year and the Labour Department to turn to works committees as a stopgap. They consisted of members of management and representatives of all workers employed in a particular work place. Their major points of reference were mainly with welfare, amenities and sometimes productivity and efficiency.


Problems started to emanate in 1955 when there was a wage increment for established officers with arrears dating from January 1954. The lower cadres expressed their disgruntlement over such a decision. It is reported that a total of 2,300 employees of the Public Workers Department went out on strike against the advice of their works committee. They also claimed back pay on grounds of long service plus other minor grievances.


The final decision rejected the general principle of back pay, but provided compensation for various groups shown to be under –paid in the past. Salary regarding and the use of strike action were also settled. Indeed, this marked the beginning of a more serious trade union growth.




The boom in coffee and cotton which the country had joined for sometime came to a halt around 1953 when the Korean War armistice was concluded. Although the government price stabilisation policy could not permit an immediate collapse since farmers continued to receive much the same price spending from reserves which had been built up in, the years of prosperity reduced.


The Labour Department report of 1956 noted that “ Industrial Expansion had observed what otherwise would have been a labour surplus, and that a 14% drop in numbers employed in building and construction work indicate a general slackening in the economy as a result of falling world prices for agricultural products”  (cited by Scott 1966:15). Indeed, significant unemployment was noted in urban areas as the economy continued in downward trend.


Trade Union Organisation became vocal by appealing to the workers to resist outside labour and exploitation by unscrupulous employers.


The wave of urbanisation continued to blow across the country and as more people got involved in wage earning compared with agriculture which in turn led to greater stabilisation of the labour force. This made the work of union recruitment and organisation much easier than previously.


The second point considered having spurred the growth of trade union was based on the outside international influence. The deportation of the Kabaka of Buganda in 1953 by Sir Andrew Cohen greatly inspired a number of British Labour Party officials to encourage an amicable way of solving problems. Scott notes that he country became a focus for the opposition’s attack on colonial policy and the interest expanded beyond the Kabakaship. As a result, the British TUC took a subtle interest in Uganda’s Labour relations. At the same time, the African continent had started getting attraction from the international trade unions. Uganda being part of the continent began receiving visiting mission from a wide variety of organisations. In 1958, ICFTU established an International Trade Union Training College for Union officials from all over English-speaking African countries. It should be recalled that East and West ideological concepts were still raging high with each side trying new coverts.


ICFTU continued to place its dominance on trade union development in Africa in general and Uganda in particular. It continued to offer assistance in the form of on-the-spot advice and education and full-time advisers were posted to Nairobi, charged with East and Central African. It can even be mentioned here that the present (1998) co-ordinating office for the entire Africa (ICFTU- AFRO) is based in Nairobi. At the same time, the American Federation of Labour had also sent an adviser present in East Africa. The other mission of this Federation was to co-ordinate aid. However, the presence of two rivalry organisations was a reflection of the general disagreement between the British and the American over the direction aid. Of course both were trying to win over key leaders with a political future. Until this day, the African American Labour centre (AACL) has its Headquarters in Nairobi.


The earliest International Trade Secretariats (ITSs) that operated in Uganda in 1957 was that of the transport workers. It continued giving both financial and material assistance to the Railway African Union with a permanent adviser based in Nairobi. Another ITS was Public Service International (PSI). It also dispatched to all the three territories advisers. In Uganda Charles Franken from Holland was given the task of creating a single national public employees union. Franken from Holland was given the task of creating a single national public employees union.

Franken found three inactive staff association in existence:

  1. The Kampala Local Government Staff
  2. The Uganda African Civil Servants Association and;
  3. African Medical Assistants Association.


All the above were based in Kampala. Outside Kampala, in Jinja there were two genuine trade unions.

  1. Uganda Public Service Union founded in 1960 that catered for un established employees in the Ministry of Works and other allied manual workers. Its founder was Wangatia, a Kenyan national who could not speak English but was quite a dynamic and influential character (see Scott 1966:120).
  2. The second union also founded in the same year, was the Municipal and Township Employees Union, also led by a Kenyan, Absolom Mbwanga. By around that time he was working as an Accounts Clerk in Jinja Municipality Offices who was greatly assisted by Uganda TUC to form the union. Other public service unions (workers in district administrations) included- Bugishu (230 members), Bukedi (270), Kigezi (100) and Lango (1,100). Franken preferred to have a single union to the dual structure separating local administrations from central government as in Britain and worked towards this end. Indeed, by July 1962 when he finally left, he was well pleased with the internal organisation of UPEU (see Scott 1966:124)


From the foregoing, it can be noted that the International influence did a great job in shaping trade unionism in Uganda with Organisation like ICFTU, TUC (Britain). American Federation of Labour and ITS taking a lead.


  1. The third point considered to have stimulated the growth of trade unions in Uganda was the pressure of trade union rivalries often based on political or ideological influences.


Although not much literature has been written about aid from non-western countries, the reality is that there was significant aid and intervention by these countries which is based on visual evidence. At least, there is literature, equipment plus the study visits offered by the former communist states to the African Countries. In Uganda, such assistance tended to rest in the hands of individuals leaders who were in most cases not supported by the majority industrial workers. In fact, such assistance was enjoyed by the splinter groups like the case of Uganda Federation of Labour (UFL) led by John Reich and federation of Uganda Trade Unions (FUTU), led by Eriabu Kibuuka. FUTU was affiliated to both by all African Trade Union Federation (AATUF) based in Prague (Czechoslovakia) and World Federation for Trade Unions (WFTU)


Ban Pan-Africanism was still a much stronger counter to ICFTU influence, and Ghana a base of the AATUF. Until this day (1998), Ghana is the Headquarters of the Organisation African Trade Union (OATUU) which is the alternative for AATUF. At a conference in Casablanca in 1961 as postulated by Scott, all members of the All- African Federation were advised to sever their association with all other internationals, a move clearly directed against the ICFTU and its affiliated secretariats. This move was engineered by WFTU which saw that it could not get enough affiliates and used the non-aligned philosophy to weaken ICFTU and its allies.


This move led to protest from E. African leaders and the Nigerians that it was an infringement of the right of each national centre to decide upon its own affiliation (see Scott, 1966:57). Indeed, AATUF made little progress in E. Africa. In Uganda, such developments led to a number of splits in the National Centre (TUC) as will seen later.

  1. The fourth factor was the influence of Kenyan Migration.

The Ganda tribe dominated both the works committees and the early trade unions. This is because they were in regular employment and were more interested in wages and better conditions of work. Besides, they still relied on the land for subsistence and as an alternative source of income. Therefore, there was no enthusiasm for them to get deeply in issues of trade unionism. But the Kenyans were much urbanised as noted by Scott and that they stayed in employment for longer periods.


The Kenyan involvement in Uganda’s trade union is greatly attributed to the Uganda Railway Construction. Before 1955, the only effective trade union was the Railway African Union which had its registration in Kenya. It is highly believed that these workers spread the idea of trade unionism in the minds of Ugandans and as noted earlier, most of them were involved even in the formation and subsequently leading them (see Wangatia’s and Mbwanga’s contribution in the formation of Uganda Public Service Union and the Municipal and Township Employees Union respectively).


The political (Mau-Mau Rebellion) and economic pressure continued to push the Kenyans to Uganda yet this period coincided with unemployment and food shortage to the extent that “official action was taken to discourage this migration” (LDR, 1957:7 cited by Scott 1966:17). But this was not done effectively as “employers in the new industries offered good employment prospects to Kenyans who often had previous factory experience and stayed long enough to be trainable” (Scott 1996:77). It is noted that in 1955, Mr. Tom Mboya was sent to Uganda by ICFTU to assist in the formation of Uganda Trade Union Congress (UTC). Indeed, he noted that the Baganda were quite satisfied and did not look on themselves as workers, and so there would be no possibility of organising a trade union in Uganda (and) for in many Uganda Unions, the leadership had to come form Kenya workers resident in Uganda” (Mboya, 1963:198 cited by Scott 1966:17).



After the formation of the national centre plus the development of strong and better organisation trade unions, the employers saw the need to form their own centre to address issues which they felt were pertinent to their existence.


Before the Second World War was on, there existed two employers’ association i.e. “Tea Planters Association” and “Cotton Association” but their major concern was mainly fixing of prices and exerting informal pressure on the colonial administration.


In 1954 a Federation of Uganda Employers was registered by the registrar of Trade Unions. This was seen as a welcome gesture by the Ministry of labour by praising the Federation’s keen interest and urged them to reach out more employers of labour in Uganda, particularly in the areas of organised recruitment.


But this Federation did not live long because of poor organisation and apathy especially from the Indian employers who preferred to employ family members. By 1948, it was virtually defunct.


However, it was not completely done. A decade later, a body on a purely consultative role called “Society of Employers” was formed upon the advice and assistance of the Secretariat of the Overseas Employers Federation who had visited East Africa in 1958 on the mission of revising employers’ federation. Earlier, the Labour Department had advised the Employers to “organise themselves on a comparable basis to that adopted by the organisation of employees” (LDR, 1957:16)


The employers did not want to come up with a formal organisation for that such action would further stimulate union growth. In fact at first the society “met in secret and established only informal contact with the Labour Department (Scott 1966:19)


However, these clandestine meetings were up to a halt when in 1959 the Government raised the statutory minimum wage rates for urban areas without involving them. They realised that unless they formed a public body, their objectives would not be met. Indeed, in 1960, the society was duly registered with the Registrar of Trade Unions. The following year in July, the name changed to the Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE) which is the name till this date. Its main activities includes sponsoring of emerging specialised trade associations, acted as employers representative on policy issue and as an information centre. It also offered technical support during the negotiation procedures.


Its main weakness was the lack of discipline over members with regard to the observation of collective bargaining; another problem concerned the conflict between the idea of combination embodied in the Federation and the attitudes of many of the members. Third problem concerned the great majority of employers who were Asians and running businesses as family concern. They were usually suspicious both of recognising a union and of collaborating with their competitors and the exclusive role of the family place special stresses upon the efficiency of personnel management (Desai, 1965 cited by Scott 1966)


All in all, the existence of employers association greatly contributed to the development of trade unionism in Uganda.



The formation of Uganda Traders Union Congress (UTUC) was engineered by the Late Tom Mboya and the ICFTU representative for East Africa. In 1955, Tom Mboya visited Uganda to explore possibility for informing a national centre as there was increasing trade unions and their activities. There was great need to inform a co-ordinating body and hence the Uganda Traders Union Congress. Tom Mboya noted that:


“The British concept, that a trade union should develop from the bottom and that experience should be gained by a man as he moves up the ladder, is impossible to adopt in Africa. The whole emphasis has to be given to the top. The national federation had the task of helping to develop trade unions rather than the unions coming together to develop the national centre. It had the task of getting assistance to help weak unions, finding the leaders to spread into them and often of negotiating on their behalf” (cited by Scott 1966:134)


The above assertion was put to test in Uganda and failed because of fundamental divisions within the labour movement. These divisions were based on political and tribal differences, sometimes polarisation would be based on individuals unions.


According to Abdulla Kharim who was also very instrumental in trade union matters (one time he was President of FUTU, said that he formation of UTUC was not only for trade union matters, but the Europeans were looking for markets, raw materials and cheap labour. From his submission during a workshop held in Jinja in June 1998 on trade union history, he mentioned that there were four trade unions in existence in 1955 during the formation of UTUC namely:


    1. The Clerical Union
    2. Postal Workers Union
    3. Railway African Workers Union
    4. Busoga Motor Drivers Union

The first UTUC leadership, its President, Secretary and Treasurer was taken up by the first three union and the omission of Busoga Motor Drivers Union out of leadership was significant given the fact the all three unions held from Kampala, Busoga Union would have been a better choice as focus for the Eastern and Northern Unions.


Clerical Union with its Makayu became influential in the UTUC leadership. The busy schedule for leaders in both Postal and Railway Unions gave ample time for Makayu to dictate terms in UTUC and “had hopes of association the UTUC with nationalist politics but was unsuccessfully opposed in this by officials of the Railway African Union” (Scott 1966:134). His ambitions were not completely done.


He had the opportunity to attend a conference in Tunisia plus a training course in Brussels in which he concluded a deal with ICFTU to pay him a salary as a full-time official. This greatly annoyed Luande that he was not consulted and subsequently Railway withdraw from UTUC yet it was the most powerful single union. But this withdrawal called for serious reorganisation and even other trade unions which had in the past refused t join the centre got together and by the end of the year were in a fair way to building up a new UTUC with a revised constitution which was representative of the Movement (see LDR 1957).


Among the important clause in the constitution was its emphasis on democratic rights and the protection of the unemployment and organised. Representation to the policy making organ (UTUC) was to be based upon the paid un members, an attempt to satisfy the Railway African Union that small unions would not dictate things at UTUC which is the case with the current (1998) National organisation of Trade Union (NOTU) leadership. One finds even non contributing members having equal number of delegates and sometime getting posts at NOTU Secretariat.


Around this time, Makayu had dropped out, but “Luanda was not considered the leader most likely to inspire general confidence, especially as he was relatively uneducated and not a convincing negotiator (Scott 1966: 135). Instead, Oswald Bernard Kopoka, a Tanzanian and an intellectual giant was considered by many as an inspirational leader.

He had worked in several places to include: Primary School Teacher in Tanganyika, an Army Education Corps, a Librarian at MakerereCollege and as a Researcher Assistant on the East African Swahili Committee. He was also appointed President to Makerere Junior Employees Union and assisted greatly in building up the union as a model for the rest of Uganda. Other contributions of Kopoka were that he was able to reconcile tribal factions led by Launde Francis Pulle (who had replaced Makayu). He also was able to organise the growing unions in Jinja which began to play an important role in UTUC, and under Kopoka’s leadership, the UTUC made an impact on the International scene. He discouraged unions to affiliate to political parties as this “would lead to a weakening of the unions’ influence on the Government and comprise their future role after independence “ (Scott 1966:136)


Finally Kopoka left the trade union movement for greener pastures. However, there were three areas unresolved: the sole dependence of ICFTU for funding of UTUC because no affiliates were contributed yet they feared to reregister them as per the constitution for the reason that the national centre would be weakened.


  1. See the Finance, Administration and General Purpose Committee Financial Report 1998
  2. See the NOTU Constitution


The second problem was the growing difference between the Ganda leaders from clerical union and Kenyan leaders of the Railway African Union which continued to mount threats of withdraw by Railways African Workers Union from the national centre. And the third and most significant weakness was the failure to extend UTUC influence beyond Kampala.



In December 1960, an invitation was extended to Uganda from the All African Trade Union Federation and two distinguished trade union leaders in the names of John Reich and Banyanga left for the meeting in Ghana. While in Ghana the General Council sent a telegram denying that both members were not the official representatives UTUC and, in any case UTUC had not met to sanction the activities of AATUF. When they returned, suspension was imposed on them pending investigation by the Committee of inquiry. They refused to submit to the Council’s decision and instead formed a splinter group called Uganda Federation of Labour (UFL) which was mainly a Jinja based centre. This was in March 1961 and Reich was made the President, Kasolo as General Secretary and the rest by the entire Executive comprised all the Jinja Unions. In a surprising move UFL denied any links with AATUF and that it was in no way opposed to the ICFTU policies (Uganda Argus 6thMarch 1961 cited by Scott 1966:139).


After failure to receive recognition from the Government, international community and Reich’s becoming an Industrial Relation Officer with Mehta Sugar factory, the centre did not create a strong challenge to the UTUC. ICFTU continued its support to UTU as they could not believe UFL’s disassociation AATUF. As a result, UTUC grew stronger and stronger and by 1961, it had 30 affiliates as indicated below:


3. See E.R.B Baingana’s paper: The Historical background of Trade Unions in Uganda presented in Jinja – Hotel Triangle June 1998 during the Workshop to write about Uganda Trade Union. History.


As politics continued to take grip of the situation and as more trade unionist got involved, Mr. H.Luanda (UPC), was elected MP for Kampla East after defeating Pulle (DP) but this caused more troubles for the national centre. Meantime Luande had some disagreement with the Party’s administration and crossed over to independence.


The events let to the banning of ULC in Uganda need to be briefly explored and these were:

-        In April, 1959 a general country – wide trade boycott organised and led by I.K Musaazi and Augustine Kamya was effected.

-        In 1960, industrial unrest started to occur within the students of the National Labour Centre, Kampala.

-        John Reich and Banyanga unilaterally went to Ghana to attend a pro-Eastern Block Trade unionists conference.

-        On their return to Uganda, the two union officials were dismissed from ULC. They then formed a break-away National Labour Centre which they named “The Uganda Federation of Labour)

-        In UFL, Kibuuka became the Vice President and Nakibinge became its Secretary General.

-        H.M Launde who had embraced full stream politics, joined the ruling Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), and in 1961 contested won election to National Assembly (Parliament) as MP. At that time, the Democratic Party (DP) enjoyed wide support among the electorate of Kampala South e.g at Nsambya and Rubaga suburbs of KampalaCity, while UPC enjoyed support in the North and East of the city areas like: Nakawa, Bukoto, Naguru, Luzira and Ntinda etc

-        Banyanga contested on DP ticket in Ntinda and failed due to the polarisation in political affiliation mentioned above.

-        After the second National General Elections in 1962, H.M Luande defected from UPC and became non-partism (independent)

-        Therefore, against this background on infusing politics into the trade union movement, the then leaders of ULC became antagonists and instead of solidarity, they toyed political party rivalism.

-        Consequently, from 1961 on wards, the Labour Organisation at national level became bedevilled among the leadership. These continued to go over the years.


This did not amuse the party faithfully who wanted to unseat him from the national centre being led by E. Kibuuka with assistance of other politicians formed a splinter group called federation of Uganda Trade Unions (FUTU) in 1964 and below was the line-up:


Abdullah Kharim                                              President

Wamala                                                            Vice President

E.K. Kibuuka                                                   Secretary General

J.m Sheija                                                         Financial Secretary

Ojambo                                                            Organising Secretary

J. Twinomusinguzi                                             Administrative Secretary


FUTU unlike UFL, had some influence and in the same year it had nine affiliates as listed below (based on foot note 3):

  1. Uganda Public Employees’ Union
  2. Petroleum and Chemical Workers’ Union
  3. Breweries Union
  4. Makerere College Employees’ union
  5. Uganda Garment Workers’ Union
  6. Kilembe Mines Workers’ Union
  7. Plantation Workers’ Union
  8. Uganda Night Security Workers’ Union
  9. Uganda Shoe and Leather Workers’ Union


FUTU was affiliated to both AATUF and World Federation of Labour.



FUTU continued to attract former leaders of Uganda Federation of Labour (UFL) such as John Reich and Mugala and also members of Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) Youth Wing.


It also had a solid support form UPEU being led by Kibuuka but around that time, political interference continued to be visible in trade unions. FUTU was mainly dominated by UPC who continued to resent UTUC’s affiliation with and financial dependence on ICFTU. It should be recalled that by this stage, Launde had left the UPC and was in Parliament as an independent member. This gave Kibuuka and his FUTU a strong ground to assert his influence both as a politician and trade unionist. Indeed, Scott notes that by the end of 1964, it was clear that FUTU had come to stay and that the days of the UTUC might be numbered.


The above notwithstanding, UTUC and FUTU realised that this parallelism could not take them any further. They therefore formed a Committee – Unity Committee which had:

Okwir Stanely                          -           Chairman

Kalangali John              -           Vice Chairman

Sheija                                       -           Secretary

Romano Imanyoha                    -           Member

Peter Opata                              -           Member

John Rwamashingye                  -           Member


The above Committee came up with a solution to form a unifying centre and hence the Uganda Labour Centre (ULC) in 1966.


Below was the line-up for the new national centre:


Lawrence Senkezi                                -           Secretary General

Luande Hamphrey                                -           President

Kalanguli John                          -           Vice President

Twinomusinguzi                                    -           Vice Secretary General

E.K Hall                                               -           Treasurer

Lule Darlington Henry               -           Education Secretary

Bitatwataraire peter                              -           Deputy Education Secretary

Eiabu Kibuuka                          -           Organising Secretary

Okwir Stanely                                      -           Assistant Treasurer

Sheija Ignatius                                      -           Assistant Organisation Secretary


Kibuuka continued to act as a major player in the shaping of trade unionism in Uganda. and immediately he was on the scene, this time accusing ULC for doing nothing in light of its objectives. He continued to falsely accuse ULC for being used by imperialists especially from ICFTU. In fact when there was the imprisonment of five Ugandan Ministers on 22nd February, 1966, there was serious allegation that they had wanted to topple the Government with the support of ICFTU (read Americans). Ironically, it was on 24th February, 1966 that there was a coup in Ghana in which Nkurumah was toppled and there were serious allegation that the Americans were involved.


Therefore, Kibuuka used such scenarios to justify his sinister moves and quickly advised government to close ULC.



In order to justify his accusations and allegations, Kibuuka noted that the trade union leadership had failed to convene the central governing council meetings as stipulated in the constitution. They had also failed to avail audited accounts as required by the constitution.


He further alleged that they had failed to mobilise funds from affiliates and were only depending on assistance from (ICFTU). But what was more important was the fact that Government had lost trust in ULC’s President, Mr H.M Luande who was no longer a UPC rather an Independent Member.


Apart from the allegations and political interference, there were other developments being engineering by the students at the College. In Baingana’s paper (see foot note 3), he has the following accounts:-


The Ghanaian and Nigerian girls were cautioned from falling in love with the lecturers or else they would leave behind unwanted children. When such message was put on the notice board, it greatly annoyed the Principal and directed to see the noted books of all students so to establish the culprits by verifying the handwriting. But this did not produce any results.


However, he went ahead to suspend three students from Uganda, Maurititius and Liberia and were refused to attend classes, leave alone receiving their allowances fro a period of two (2) weeks. Such criminals were accused of being anti government and indeed the police and the army were invited to guard the College and staff premises because they were hiding dangerous weapons under their mattresses which they failed to establish despite the thorough check.


All the above culminated in around May, 1968 and the LabourCollege was closed.


Section 2 states that purpose for which NOTU was established are:-

    1. To formulate policy relating to the proper management of trade unions and the general welfare of employees;
    2. To co-ordinate and supervise the activities of trade unions in order to ensure that undertakings entered into by individual unions or by NOTU on behalf of its affiliate unions are duly honoured;
    3. To plan for and in collaboration with other interested bodies or persons administer workers’ education programs;
    4. To serve as a link between the registered trade unions on the one hand and the Government and other international organisations on the other, regarding all matters of mutual interest.
    5. To serve generally as consultants on all matters relating to trade union affairs.

The government later appointed a one-man commission of inquiry being headed by Godfrey Binaisa QC to probe the Uganda Labour Congress allegations. It took the commission a whole year to present its report. The findings were in total contrast with the allegations that were levelled against ULC. It is worth noting that the individual 24 unions continued to operate without the national centre. Rather a labour admission committee of six people being led by Senkezi, former Secretary General of ULC, was established to transact business on behalf of all unions.


Indeed, in 1970 the Government established a Trade Unions Act in which it wished to set un one trade union and the other mere branches. However, before it was put into force, the Government was toppled in January, 1971 by Idd Amin




Until 1973, the Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) continued to act as a liaison office for all the sixteen unions. However there was great need to establish a national centre to legally execute trade union business other than through Adhoc Committees. Therefore by Decree No. 29 of 1973, NOTU was established as the sole national centre where all the sixteen trade unions were supposed to affiliate.



A brief chronicle analysis of the events and circumstances which shape the labour movement’s leaderships and their performance from 1973 on wards is necessary. What follows here below will attempt to enable the reader to appreciate the prevailing situation in NOTU in the contemporary period, which is the main focus of this chapter.

In 1973, as stated earlier, the Amin Dada Military Regime despite its infamous record of dictatorship and oppression issued Decree No. 29 of 1973 which effectively restored the Uganda Workers’ labour rights of associating themselves into a central umbrella organisation.


In addition to the purpose stated in the Trade Unions laws in force, the aims and objectives of NOTU shall be:-

  1. To promote and safeguard the interests of all registered unions affiliated to it and workers throughout Uganda.
  2. To assist such unions to find practical solutions to problems of organisation and administration
  3. To settle disputes concerning representation and demarcation matters.
  4. To determine the jurisdictional boundaries of unions in line with the established policies and practices;
  5. To encourage the development of strong unified and viable unions in Uganda and to discourage the development of rival unions;
  6. To give legal advise and legal assistance to its affiliates;
  7. Generally to promote the welfare of workers of Uganda;
  8. To provide social and economic benefits to its members;
  9. To assist all its affiliates in establishing and maintaining sound industrial relations;
  10. To operate and promote, aid and encourage the establishment of co-operatives and other economic institutions owned wholly or partly by workers’ affiliated unions or NOTU on their behalf;
  11. To assist and improve workers’ knowledge and skills by organising courses and seminars, in collaboration with other interested bodies as shall be deemed necessary for the promotion of workers education and training;
  12. To secure for the promotion of workers’ education and training
  13. To secure adequate representation on government and industrial boards, committees, or any other such bodies dealing with the labour legislation or any other matters affecting labour;
  14. To safeguard the democratise character of the trade union movement and to protect the interest of its affiliates;
  15. To establish friendly relations affiliates where suitable express authority of the Annual Delegates Conference, and participate in activities of international trade unions organisations having objectives similar to those of NOTU and the Government’s declared foreign policy and
  16. To pursue any other objectives connected therewith or incidental thereto.

NOTU’s objectives as they stand appear to have been quite accommodative of the workers’ aspirations and interests. They clearly spell out NOTU’s role and functions. NOTU was intended to be a co-ordinator consultant and over seer of all trade unions’ operations in the country. In carrying out these functions, the NOTU leadership has to practice and enforce the principles of democracy, equity and impartiality.

However, the objectives (iii) and (iv) which provide for NOTU’s arbitration role in cases of disputes between its affiliate unions on matters concerning representation, demarcation and boundaries of jurisdiction, touch on highly sensitive and controversial issues, and from the outset appeared to be potential areas of conflict and division among the unions and the NOTU leadership

In 1974, a general meeting composed of delegates from 24 trade unions was held at MakerereUniversity and resolved to merge and amalgamate some related unions. As a result, out of the 24 unions, only 16 remained to form the National Organisation of trade Unions (NOTU).

This is when the current Amalgamated Transport and general workers’ Union (ATGWU) was registered after merging with unions from Road Transport industry, Oil and petroleum industry, Chemical Industry and later the East African Airways Employees’ Union – Uganda.

ATGWU’s history path is quite interesting, with a lot of experiences and challenges.  More will be published in due course on this website.



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