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Date: Tue, 16 Jun 98 23:19:46 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: ASIA: Crisis Brings Repression for Trade Unionists
Article: 36987
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.22879.19980623181546@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** headlines: 120.0 **/
** Topic: ASIA: Crisis Brings Repression for Trade Unionists **
** Written 2:52 PM Jun 15, 1998 by labornet in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 7:11 PM Jun 14, 1998 by labornet@igc.org in labr.newsline */
/* ---------- "ICFTU: Crisis and Repression in Asi" ---------- */M/p>

Crisis and repression in Asia(4)

From ICFTU Online..., 143/980611/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 ICFTUs latest Survey shows.

The countries of Asia reacted differently to the unprecedented crisis that swept across the region in 1997. Some, such as South Korea or Thailand, finally set up a form of tripartite dialogue and involved the trade unions in the search for solutions, while others, such as Indonesia, continued their repression. Little good it did them, as recent events have shown.

1997 was marked by many violations of trade union rights in Asia. Twenty seven countries are cited in the Asia/Pacific section of the ICFTU Survey. The military dictatorship in Burma once again stands out for its ferocious repression of its opponents, including the national trade union federation, the FTUB, whose leaders have had to go underground for fear of their lives.

One of them, U Myo Aung Thant, a member of the petrochemical workers union, was sentenced on August 15 1997 to life imprisonment for "high treason". His trial took place in secret. Mr. Thant was accused of smuggling explosives into Burma after a trip to Thailand. The fact that he was arrested hundreds of kilometres from where the explosives were found did not seem to matter to the judges who for good measure added another ten years to his sentence for equally fictitious crimes. Arrests of opponents did not however stop workers from expressing their discontent, notes the ICFTU Survey.

More and more strikes are also taking place in China in protest mainly at rising unemployment.

"Pressure is mounting. It is hard to say just how long the governments repressive tactics can prevent the situation from exploding" comments the ICFTU on China, which it accuses of repressing all signs of independent trade unionism. The events in Indonesia should make Chinese leaders stop and think.

In its Survey, the ICFTU notes a series of attacks against independent trade unionists, whose leader Muchtar Pakpahan remained in prison for the whole of 1997. Only the FSPSI, the trade union organisation recognised by the authorities, can carry out activities. Activities which, recalls the ICFTU, are closely controlled by the regime which appoints retired army officers to leadership posts in the organisation. At the end of 1997, many strikes broke out in the country following the economic crisis. The Ministry of the Interior indicated that the SBSI would be banned. Now we know what became of that regime.

The ICFTU Survey also reports on the strikes which broke out in South Korea at the beginning of 1997 and which finally resulted in changes to the labour legislation. It is worth recalling however that dozens of trade unionists were arrested during the dispute which brought the two national centres in South Korea closer together.

The textile workers of Bangladesh and Cambodia were the prime targets of repression in both these countries. In Bangladesh, a rally last December of 2,000 clothing workers who were protesting about their working conditions ended in bloodshed. The demonstrators were attacked by a group of individuals armed with iron bars and knives. One person died.

In Cambodia, strikes in the clothing industry were also met with severe repression, while demands for the recognition of the independent trade unions fell on deaf ears.

The handover of Hong Kong to China was followed by the suspension of three new directives protecting collective bargaining and other trade union rights. But the prize for the most incongruous act goes, says the ICFTU, to Australia which "not content with its new trade union laws, spent one million dollars in its attempts to break the MUA dockers union".

The ICFTU Survey describes in detail the hiring of mercenaries sent to train in Dubai, with the task upon their return of breaking the MUA. The operation was abandoned after it was publicly uncovered by the trade unions. But the Australian government has not abandoned its plans. Australia will no doubt occupy a prominent place in the next edition of the Survey.

Damning figures

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)
Boulevard Emile Jacqmain 155, B - 1210 Brussels, Belgium. For more informatino
please contact: Luc Demaret on: 00 322 224 0212 - press@icftu.org

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