Organized labor is demanding that the U.S. government and companies doing business in Nigeria increase pressure on that renegade regime.
"We ask for the U.S. government to do all it can to end the (Nigerian dictator Gen. Sani) Abacha regime's reign of terror," AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said in a letter to Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
"Executions must be stopped; political prisoners, including trade union leaders, must be freed; worker control over the Nigeria Labour Congress, the National Union of Petroleum and Gas Workers and Petroleum, Energy and Natural Gas Association of Nigeria must be restored," he wrote.
Sweeney called on the administration to increase pressure on Abacha by denying visas to Nigerians affiliated with the regime; pushing for Nigeria to be banned from the 1996 Olympics; expanding current moratoriums on aid; and freezing the assets of people related to the dictatorship.
In a mass demonstration Nov. 21, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson was among eight union leaders and two others arrested for blocking the entrance to the Washington office of Royal Dutch Shell, one of Nigeria's major investors. Chevron Corp., another Nigerian investor, also has offices in the same building.
Before their arrest, three of the union leaders addressed a crowd of some 350 demonstrators, including delegates from the newly formed International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), the world's largest trade secretariat.
Chavez-Thompson called on Congress to pass sanctions against Nigeria, and urged the oil companies to "quit trading with a country that has killed its own people and denied our union brothers and sisters the right to belong to unions. When they have sought to exercise their right of protest, they are being slaughtered."
"Make no mistake about it, this is about human rights and trade union rights," said AFL-CIO Vice President Robert E. Wages of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers. "This is about whether or not global capital can exploit people and exploit the Earth. . . . We need to send a signal to Congress, to the president, to transnational corporations that we will not be silenced, that we will draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough."
Acting Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said, "Every American can make a decision which side they are on: with killers in Nigeria or with people who are advocating progressive change in that country and have given their very life for freedom."
Others arrested along with Chavez-Thompson, Wages and Roberts included TransAfrica President Randall Robinson; Food and Commercial Workers Vice President Willie Baker; Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO President Joslyn Williams; Teamsters Human Rights Director Claude Brown; Wil Duncan, executive director of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; Folabi Olagbaju of the Service Employees staff; and a representative of the environmental group Greenpeace.
Provided by the AFL-CIO Information Department.