Date: Tue, 16 Jun 98 23:19:46 CDT
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: ASIA: Crisis Brings Repression for Trade Unionists
/** 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 email@example.com 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
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
"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
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
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
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