Tim Newman, Campaigns Director, International Labor Rights Forum
Last week, ILRF released a new toolkit about the right to organize globally in advance of Labor Day here in the US. As ILRF Board President Bill Fletcher, Jr. noted in his Labor Day article on the Huffington Post:
Since we released the toolkit, there have been a number of examples around the world of the types of intimidation workers face when they attempt to organize.
As Bill mentioned, Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for union organizing. Just days before we released our toolkit, Gustavo Gómez, an employee at Nestlé- Comestibles la Rosa S.A. and a member of the SINALTRAINAL trade union was shot 10 times and killed outside of his home in Colombia. The assassination occurred days after SINALTRAINAL presented union demands to the company. Mauricio Antonio Monsalve Vásquez, a teacher in Colombia, was also murdered recently. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) notes that, "So far this year 12 workers from Nestlé, all Sinaltrainal members, have
fallen victim, and 13 teachers, 6 of whom were union members." On August 22nd, Fredy Díaz Ortiz, a member of the prison workers’ union Asociación
Sindical de Empleados del Instituto Nacional Penitenciario y Carcelario
(ASEINPEC), was shot and killed by men on motorcycles. These examples of the use of extreme violence against trade unionists also come as the government of Colombia is engaged in a public relations campaign in Washington DC to "to promote the country abroad and encourage
business investment, tourism and enhanced cultural relations with
nations around the world." Human rights and labor organizations, including ILRF, see it as part of Colombia's campaign to get the US Congress to approve the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which would negatively impact worker rights. Protests are planned for today and throughout the week in DC.
The ITUC also put out a statement today outlining how governments in the Middle East are using the economic crisis as a pretext for cracking down on trade union rights. The statement cites massive fraud in recent union elections and firings of union activists in Morocco. In Tunisia, workers who have demonstrated for their rights remain in prison while the government has suppressed media outlets who try to cover these issues. Workers protesting mass dismissals in Egypt have faced police violence while independent trade union activity in Iran is heavily repressed. In Iraq, the government has kept a law from the Saddam Hussein era which bans unions in the public and semi-public sector and is increasing forms of intimidation in other sectors.
In Brazil, Elton Brum Da Silva, an activist in the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) was recently assassinated and Elio Neves, general secretary of the Rural Workers’ Union of São Paulo state (FERAESP), affiliated to the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), survived a recent attempted assassination. Trade unionists and activists in Honduras continue to face violence and repression as they resist a coup government in their country. Meanwhile, a corrupt labor law and justice system in Guatemala, another very dangerous country for union organizing, prevents workers from protecting a whole range of their rights.
Tragically, these are just a few examples of the extreme challenges workers face when they try to organize to protect their rights at work. A range of more subtle tactics are also used by governments and companies to undermine worker rights. ILRF's toolkit helps explain some of these issues and offers some ways to take action. For example, you can take two minutes right now to e-mail several corporations that have violated the right of their workers to organize and let them know that you support worker rights.
As Bill's post noted, we need to all join together to protect worker rights -- and all of these recent stories show just how important it is for everyone to speak out in solidarity with workers globally. We hope you will keep joining ILRF and other unions and labor rights organizations in continuing to fight for workers' rights around the world.