From email@example.com Sun Sep 24 14:30:17 2000
Anti-union repression persists worldwide says report
By Gustavo Capdevila, IPS, 24 September 2000
Geneva, Switzerland, Sept. 13 (IPS) - Anti-union repression in 1999 cost the lives of 140 women and men around the world, charges the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in its annual report on the global problem of labor rights violations.
The trade unionists "were assassinated, disappeared, or committed suicide after they were threatened, because they had the temerity to stand up for workers' rights against the state or unscrupulous employers," says the document.
The victims numbered fewer than in 1998, when 157 people died due to their union activities, but the Brussels-based ICFTU stresses that the anti-union climate is intensifying and workers' rights continue to erode as the years pass.
The global organization considers it "paradoxical" that international agreements on union rights are ratified by more and more countries, but are respected less.
In the 113 countries studied for the report, some 3,000 workers were arrested, more than 1,500 were injured, beaten or tortured, and at least 5,800 suffered harassment due to their legitimate union activities in 1999.
Bill Jordan, the British secretary-general of the ICFTU, said the report reveals the "prevailing hypocrisy which sees government officials parading at international gatherings, ostensibly promoting basic workers' rights, while those who actually defend those fundamental rights at home are being harassed, attacked, threatened, sidelined or silenced--sometimes forever."
The international union leader denounced "the ruthless repression in Latin America, attacks and interference in Asia, arrests and imprisonment in Africa, severe restrictions and non-payment of wages in Eastern Europe and a growing trend of ‘union-busting' activities in industrialized countries."
According to the ICFTU report, Latin America continues to be the most dangerous region for unionists. In 1999, it was once again the stage for anti-labor violence, worker exploitation-- especially in the banana industry and maquiladoras (export processing zones)-- and the negative impacts of globalization and structural adjustments.
In Latin America, increasing numbers of trade unionists are murdered with each passing year. The victim total for 1999 reached 90, twice the number of similar deaths on any other continent.
Last year, at least three union leaders were assassinated in Guatemala, police shot a teachers' union leader to death in the Dominican Republic on the eve of a general strike, and the murder of rural unionists in Brazil continued.
The Nicaraguan police force and army violently suppressed striking transportation workers, leaving two dead and hundreds injured.
But the gloomiest picture is found in Colombia, where 69 unionists were assassinated-a few less than in 1998, but a chilling situation nonetheless, comments the ICFTU.
Massive protests in various provinces of Argentina to demand payment of back-wages met with brutal police repression, claiming five lives and leaving 25 people injured.
The United States, meanwhile, saw approximately 40 percent of public sector employees denied the right to collective bargaining last year, as well as reports of cases of extreme exploitation.
Nearly 80 percent of all unionist arrests last year worldwide took place on the African continent, which was also home to the same portion of all prison sentences handed down against trade union activities.
The ICTFU stresses in its report that government-imposed structural adjustments led to privatizations across Africa, and that cuts in public spending drove up unemployment and non-payment of wages -- leading to a burgeoning informal economic sector in which workers lack basic protections.
Additionally, the average African holds out hope that the growing clamor to cancel the foreign debt of the poorest nations will produce tangible results.
A ban on independent trade unions in Equatorial Guinea, Sudan and Libya remained in place through 1999. In the Central African Republic, meanwhile, the government "continued to target the USTC union central, and its leader, Theophile Sonny-Cole, was beaten up and prevented from attending international conferences."
Zimbabwe is yet another country that saw labor rights drastically deteriorate last year. Three leaders of the leading central union were attacked after taking part in a labor strike, an activity the government declared illegal, says the ICFTU.
The Zimbabwean union denounced that the country's export processing zones, where most workers are women, saw an increasing number of unfair labor practices.
In these areas, which are under fiscal protection, workdays are long, overtime is paid at the normal rate, strikes are banned and workers are denied legal representation in disputes with employers.
In the Asia-Pacific region, at least 37 trade unionists died last year due to strike-related incidents.
In Bangladesh, Pakistan and other countries, workers do not enjoy union rights in the export processing zones, while in countries such as Fiji, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand unions are not allowed to operate in the zones.
Strikes and demonstrations in the region were savagely repressed last year, and in 19 of the 25 countries evaluated, anti-union legislation predominates, according to the ICFTU.
China represses any attempt to create independent unions and imprisons labor leaders. Hundreds of Chinese workers were injured during confrontations with the police as they protested factory closings that meant layoffs for millions of people, says the report.
Unions are practically non-existent in the Middle East, where legal barriers prevent workers from organizing or staging strikes.
In Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar, foreign workers make up at least two-thirds of the labor force, but they have almost no rights, nor are they covered by existing collective agreements, says the ICFTU.
In Europe, seven people died last year as the result of their trade union activities, and two others committed suicide to call the government's attention to labor problems.
Four trade unionists were assassinated in Russia in 1999, and the authorities there ignored striking workers' demands for payment of back-wages owed.
The ICFTU is relating its latest report to the campaign underway to promote linking respect for basic labor standards with international trade agreements.