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The heavy toll of trade union repression around the world(1)
ICFTU Online..., 140/980610/ld, 14 June 1998
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the international recognition of trade union rights, the repression meted out to trade union activists shows no sign of abating. Hundreds of trade unionists were killed in 1997, as the ICFTU's latest Survey shows.
For many Algerians, Abdelhak Ben Hamouda represented their hopes for peace. As the head of the General Workers' Union of Algeria (UGTA), he was firmly opposed to the Islamic extremists who, since 1992, have held the country in the grip of terror. Nor was he ready to spare the government whose economic policies he openly criticised. He was keenly aware that in doing so he walked a dangerous tightrope.
On January 28 1997, Abdelhak Ben Hamouda was assassinated outside the UGTA headquarters in Algiers. His bodyguard and another UGTA staff member also died in the attack. It is with this shocking and still unpunished crime (a suspect killed himself in his prison cell) that the 1997 ICFTU Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights begins.
The Survey, published as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) adoption of Convention 87 enshrining the right to form trade unions in international law, lists the cases of hundreds of deaths within one year and illustrates the resurgence of trade union repression throughout the world.
This resurgence, says ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan, should be looked at in conjunction with the damaging effects of the globalisation of the economy, severely criticised by trade union organisations.
"In the age of international competition, all too many governments and employers see anti-union repression as a means of gaining competitive advantage in the world market states" Mr. Jordan.
What other explanation is there for the extraordinary behaviour of the Australian government, which ordered the training, in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, of military personnel, for the specific task was of breaking the dockers' union, all in the interests of improving the competitiveness of the Australian ports (see Trade Union World No. 1/98)?
What is the explanation for the sudden rash of export processing zones in Africa? Such zones now exist in 25 countries on the continent, and in most cases trade union rights are heavily restricted. And what of the austerity plan of the Brazilian government, specifically designed to deregulate the labour market to make it more attractive to foreign investors?
The ICFTU's latest Survey depicts a world where the laws of the market brook no opposition. A world where many governments have abdicated responsibility, leaving the trade unions as the last bulwark against social injustice.
Listing a total of 116 countries, the ICFTU report reveals that 299 trade unionists were killed in 1997. Cases of violence amounted to 1,681. Nearly 2,400 people were arrested and detained in 1997 for their trade union activities, and over 50,000 workers lost their jobs for the same reason.
290 trade unionists received death threats. More than 3,000 activists were placed under police surveillance and 450 strikes were fiercely repressed. Over 80 countries have placed legal obstacles in the way of the freedom of association, while in 79 countries the government interferes in trade union affairs.
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)
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