A survey, published on Wednesday by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), has found that 2008 offered yet another dangerous and difficult year for trade unionists around the world. In the foreword to the report, the authors sum up the extent of "the continuous and often massive and harsh violations of fundamental trade union rights;"
Countries where widespread and grave anti-union practices have unfortunately continued include: Colombia, Burma, Belarus, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Iran, Pakistan and the Philippines. Countries such as Honduras and Guatemala should this year be added to this list. In many other countries, where violations are not as outrageous, there is an overall growing tendency to undermine workers’ rights. Interference in trade union activities has been reported in Iraq, Kuwait, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Venezuela, among others. Despite some legislative proposals or measures in some Middle East countries and Gulf States, migrant workers are still denied trade union rights in many countries. In addition to that, companies continued to take advantage of poor legislation and weak implementation to undermine workers' rights.The report comes, unfortunately, as little surprise. On May Day, I gave just a couple of examples which demonstrate that the struggle of labour movement is a long way from over. Ever more such incidences crop up every day.
Worldwide in 2008, at least 76 labour activists were killed as a result of their actions for workers’ rights. Latin America remains the deadliest continent for trade unionists with over 66 murdered in 2008. 49 Colombian trade unionists lost their lives (including 16 union leaders, 4 of whom were women), a 25% increase over 2007. Trade unionists were also killed in Guatemala (9), Honduras (3) and Venezuela (4) among others. In Asia, at least 6 murders were reported (Nepal and the Philippines), as well as 3 in Africa (Nigeria, Tunisia and Zimbabwe) and 1 in the Middle East (Iraq).
In countries in every region, trade unions continue to be banned, or their establishment restricted. China still bans independent trade unions. Those attempting to unionise groups of workers or organise protests are often arrested, with some given prison sentences and others condemned to ‘re-education through work’.
Certain categories of workers also continue to be excluded. This includes public servants, agricultural workers, migrant and domestic workers, etc. The right to strike is often unduly limited, with lists of public services in which strike action is restricted going far beyond the ILO definition.
Again this year, several thousand trade unionists and workers were dismissed for participating in strike actions or protests; thousands more were harassed or discriminated against and hundreds arrested. The situation of domestic workers, mostly women and migrant workers in the Middle East and the Gulf States as well as some African and Asian countries, is also disturbing. Outright denial and other violations of labour and trade union rights were common in export processing zones, for example in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Swaziland, Bangladesh, Kenya, Mauritius and Pakistan.
Furthermore, the ongoing globalisation of the world economy coupled with the global financial and economic crisis put inordinate pressure on labour markets, working conditions and workers’ rights everywhere. Workers continue to be threatened by employers with relocation, outsourcing and downsizing, with inevitable negative consequences for the effective exercise of their trade union rights.
In Cape Town, South Africa, in protest at the escalating housing crisis there and the criminalisation of land invasions and shack-building, the Macassar Village Land Occupation orgainsed by the South African Shack Dwellers Movement has faced police intimidation and seen four people, including a two year old child, wounded by their rubber bullets. Their response was the brave insistence that "if they arrest us again, beat us again, demolish our shacks again and steal our building materials again, we will return to the land and we will rebuild – again!"
In South Korea, unionised workers at the South Korean Ssangyong Motor Company have been on strike since May 21. The company wants to lay off 36% of its workforce due to its status in bankruptcy protection. The union, in response, is demanding that management keep the workforce at its current levels and that the government step in with financial assistance to protect jobs. Management are refusing to negotiate with the unions.
In Egypt, workers at the Tanta Linen textile company have begun an open-ended strike over pay and conditions, including bonus levels, meal compensation, and unpaid commission. This follows on from events in May when, according to Libcom, "strikes and sit-ins [have been] taking place in six different provinces around the countries. [sic]"
In Greece, the battle fought by trade unionists, anarchists, and immigrants against the fascist paramilitary Golden Dawn continue to rage. The report below, also from Libcom, summarises the latest skirmish and the events surrounding it;
On Tuesday 9/06 anarchists in solidarity to immigrants who are being daily terrorised by fascist thugs of the Golden Dawn neonazi party and their local allies in the area of Agios Panteleimonas, moved to unblock the entrance of the local children playground which the fascists want to keep locked in an effort to impose segregation between greeks and immigrants, and "to preserve the blood purity of the white race"...While unblocking the playground the anarchists were attacked by fascists who were soon routed before the arrival of riot police forces who engaged the anarchists in battle with the aim of protecting the fascists. During the clashes one policeman was injured and five protesters were arrested on criminal charges. After the end of the clashes, a local greek father, Mr Tasoulas, defying the reign of terror in the area, took his son to play in the coveted playground. Soon they were surrounded by fascists who blocked the exit of the playground and threatened to linch the father calling him a traitor. After he managed to handle the child to a sympathetic neighbor, the fascists beat the father in full presence of the chief of the local police station. The strong police forces present at the scene then arrested the father and took him to the local police station, where his solicitor, a leading figure of the legal world and human rights activist, was piled with eggs by fascists who threatened her life.These events should not be viewed as something happening far away over which we have no influence. In the UK, strike action is escalating over cuts to jobs and services, with the upcoming 24-hour strike by Royal Mail workers being just the latest example. And, of course, we face our own battles ahead as far as fascist movements are concerned.
The new tension in the area comes after the euroelection ascent of LAOS, the fascist Popular Orthodox Alarm Party, to the 4th position with 7% of the vote. This in combination with the governing party's landslide defeat, has led the government to endorse the core of the extreme-right wing policies of LAOS, and pledge a mass sweeping operation against illegal immigrants and their greek supporters within the summer. As the concentration camp planned to be built in the old NATO airbase of Aspropyrgos is now deemed impractical, the government has committed several old military camps of disgraceful humanitarian standards around the capital for the purpose of "cleaning the city of foreigners". The measures and discourse comes as little surprise as it comes from a political party famous for wanting to displace homosexuals in desert islands in the late 1970s. Furthermore the "Law and Order" operation of the coming summer is said to also include a mass attack against anarchist squats, and solidarity actions to immigrants by the movement as a whole. This the government hopes to achieve via a virtual military occupation of the center of Athens for the summer months modeled on Olympics 2004, as well as the introduction of a disputed legislation that would eventually render protest marches illegal. Due to the lack of a legislative majority by one MP, the government has resorted to yet another legal trick by increasing the total number of MPs by one, non-elected member of its own liking for the summer session of the Parliament.
The dictatorial rule of the right-wing and the ruthless employment of its parastate agents is increasing the tension across the country. Last week one police station in Athens was attacked and a central tax office was bombed by a Marxist guerrilla group, while a series of luxury brothels frequented by the ruling class were destroyed. At the same time, the movement is on its guard in expectation of next Saturday's Gay Pride parade which last year was attacked by parastate fascist thugs, as well as in expectation of an evacuation of the old courts in down-town Athens which are occupied by immigrants and are a constant target by the bourgeois media who waste no time in supporting the fascists in a most unambiguous manner.
The ITUC report has emphasised that, in the current climate, "workers everywhere have begun to feel the full impact of surging unemployment on their lives and that of their families and communities as decent work and decent jobs disappear" along with the aforementioned "continuous and often massive and harsh violations of fundamental trade union rights" by states, companies, and paramilitary groups. Faced with such a situation, the only just response can be to "stand side by side with workers in their struggle for justice" by showing solidarity internationally and organising against these threats at home.
Otherwise, "continuous and often massive and harsh violations" will not just continue but grow. The cost of complacency the rights that workers have fought and died for over the past 123 years will evaporate before our very eyes.