In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the Solidarity Center supports democratic unions and civil society organizations as they defend the human right to freedom of association, promote worker equality and raise awareness of the global economic context in which they labor.
|A protest in Bahrain. Photo: IPS
The rich history of union activism in much of the MENA region goes back to the 1920s, when labor movements formed the working-class base of the struggle against colonial authorities. Today, global economic and political dynamics are eroding the universal human rights that democratic trade unions defend. Government efforts to liberalize come at a great cost: the erosion of worker rights and economic fairness.
While in some MENA countries, cumbersome laws facilitate government intervention in trade union operations, generally excluding or discriminating against certain workers based upon political ideology, gender, national status or job class. The Solidarity Center partners with the many regional trade unions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to improve domestic labor law and its implementation, and to give workers a voice in shaping the economic and political development of their countries.
Region-wide programs strengthen workers’ political and economic rights by promoting rule of law, defending freedom of association, building capacity and internal union democracy and encouraging trade union organizing. Dedicated to advancing the workers’ human rights, each trade union and civil society organization in the MENA region grows stronger through alliances with each other and with the global labor movement. This strategic approach is an element of all the Solidarity Center’s work in the MENA region.
The Solidarity Center has offices in Algeria, Morocco, Palestine and Qatar, and programs with union and NGO partners in 11 countries across the region.
Morocco: Fired Call Center Workers Gain Global Support
. March 6, 2014—Five workers fired from their jobs last month at a call center in Casablanca, Morocco, are receiving strong support from their co-workers and their global union movement.
Bahrain’s Sad Anniversary: Three Years of Worker Repression
. February 14, 2014—Three years after the people of Bahrain stood up for a more participatory government, the crackdown on dissent and rampant discrimination in the workplace continues.
Iraqi Parliament Debating Worker Right Legislation
. January 10, 2014—The Iraqi Parliament is currently debating legislation that for the first time could contain worker rights protections in line with core labor standards, including freedom of association.
Union Playing Big Role in Tunisia’s Transition to Democracy.
December 19, 2013—After months of mediation, participants in Tunisia’s National Dialogue selected a caretaker prime minister just a few days before the third anniversary of the country’s revolution—the spark that started the series of 2011 uprisings known as the Arab Spring
Algeria: Autonomous Workers Confederation Files ILO Complaint.
December 5, 2013—
The autonomous Algerian Trades’ Union Confederation—the Confédération Générale Autonome des Travailleurs en Algerie (CGATA), or Autonomous General Algerian Workers Confederation—filed a complaint with the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Algeria: Reinstate Rachid Malaoui, End Union Rights Violations Now
. November 8, 2013—All unions and international organizations defending human rights are called upon to support SNAPAP by sending letters to the President of the Republic of Algeria, demanding that Rachid Malaoui be reinstated as soon as possible
Organizing Women Workers in Palestine
. October 30, 2013—amam Abdel Hafiz and three other members of the organizing team of the Qalqilia branch of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) each day talk with some of the more than 4,000 workers who head for jobs from Palestine to Israel and the West Bank.
Morocco Textile Workers: Low-Paid and Almost Always Female
. October 4, 2013—In Morocco, the precarious working conditions of female garment workers involves “low wages, long, unpredictable hours and the lack of possibility for upward mobility,” conditions that “often keep workers within a vicious cycle of poverty,” according to a new report.
Women Unionists Meet in Morocco to Strategize Gender Equality
. September 27, 2013—Nearly two dozen women trade unionists from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Palestine are set to meet next week for a unique skills-building and strategy conference in Casablanca, Morocco.
Iraqi Workers Wage Nationwide Protests.
September 17, 2013—Iraqi workers and their unions recently took part in nationwide protests to demand better wages and working conditions and improvements in essential services, such as electricity and infrastructure.
Tunisian Labor Federation Calls Strike After Lawmaker Murdered
. July 25, 2013—The Tunisian Labor Federation (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT) is calling for a general strike on July 26 to protest the assassination today of Mohammed Brahmi, a deputy in the National Constituent Assembly.
Morocco: Police Assault Bus Employees Seeking Worker Rights
. July 12, 2013—The Moroccan workers federation, UMT, is condemning an attack on workers and their families in Fez during a peaceful sit-in this week.
Women's Economic Empowerment in the Middle East.
June 26, 2013—Michelle Kaminski writes: "Funny isn’t it – the vast majority of humans I’ve met in my life either are, were, or will be workers. And half of them are women. So, if human rights don’t apply to women or to workers, just who do they apply to?"
Egyptian Court Overturns Verdict Against Trade Unionists.
June 18, 2013—An Egyptian court overturned jail sentences for five trade unionists arrested after they went out on strike at the Alexandria Container & Cargo Handling Company, according to the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress (EDLC). Yousri Maarouf, EDLC president, faced three years imprisonment for leading dockworkers in a struggle for decent employment conditions.
Qatar Foundation Releases Standards for Migrant Workers
. May 16, 2013—The 2022 World Cup competition in Qatar may be nine years away, but the tiny nation is already making plans to improve the country’s infrastructure and image. While Qatar still has a long way to go in meeting international labor standards, especially when it comes to migrant workers, there are already some encouraging signs coming out of the country. The Qatar Foundation recently unveild a set of detailed standards for the treatment of the potentially hundreds of thousands of migrant workers hired by the foundation, its contractors, and all subcontracting agencies to build the infrastructure for the event.
Jordanian Unions Establish Independent Federation.
May 15, 2013—Nine unions representing more than 7,000 workers recently held the founding congress of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Jordan (FITU-J), demonstrating a concrete commitment to independent trade unionism as workers in Jordan seek to mobilize for greater political freedom, improved economic conditions and strong social justice.
Report: Most Palestinian Workers Paid Less than Minimum Wage.
May 7, 2013—More than half of Palestinian workers—59 percent—earn less than the national minimum wage established in October 2012, and women workers are paid half as much as male wage earners, according to a new report. A large majority, 85 percent, of Palestinian workers do not have a written contract guaranteeing their conditions of employment.
Bahrain: Medics, Patients Persecuted in Ongoing Repression
. April 11, 2013—For sick or injured Bahrainis, going to the hospital means risking a prison term—or even death. Describing the “militarization of hospitals,” Rula Al-Saffar, president of the Bahrain Nursing Society, said patients with “head traumas, broken bones or burns” are first interrogated by police to determine if they are involved in protests against the government.
Egypt: Cement Workers Seek to Shed Low-Wage Temporary Status.
March 15, 2013—Mohammed Hamid, a cement worker in Alexandria, Egypt, has worked for the same company for 12 years. Yet he says he is classified as “temporary,” which means he makes far less than full-time workers and receives no benefits. Many of his co-workers are in the same position. So in February, he and other workers at Portland Cement waged a sit-in at the corporate office—and were routed by more than 1,000 security forces with attack dogs and electric prods. Several workers suffered injuries, including broken bones.
Working Women Empowered: Making Democracy in Tunisia.
March 5, 2013—In December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a 23-year-old market vendor in Tunisia, self-immolated to protest deep-seated government corruption that made it impossible for him to earn a living. Following his desperate action, Tunisian women helped spur protests and end autocratic regimes in Tunisia and throughout the Arabic-speaking world. Today, Tunisian women remain in the forefront of ensuring democratic change in their country during the difficult years of government transition.
On Second Anniversary of Uprising, Bahrainis Say Crisis Is Worse.
February 14, 2013—Tens of thousands of Bahrainis are in the streets today, the second anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain, to protest the government’s lack of progress in moving toward a more democratic political process. But any Bahraini student who is absent from class will be expelled, and any teacher who does not show up for work will be fired, according to Jalila Al-Salman, a founder of the Bahraini Teachers’ Society.
Tunisian Union Calls Strike to Protest Murder.
February 8, 2013—The Tunisian Labor Federation (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT) is holding a general strike today in response to the murder Wednesday of a popular political leader. Chokri Belaid, a respected human rights lawyer and leader of the Democratic Patriots party, a major partner of the opposition Popular Front, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen as he left home on his way to work.
ILO Report: 52 Million Domestic Workers Worldwide.
January 9, 2013—Some 52 million people over age 15—primarily women—labor as domestic workers around the world, according to a report released today by the International Labor Organization (ILO). Of those, 83 percent are women. The vast number of domestic workers, 21.4 million, are in Asia and the Pacific region, with 19.6 million in Latin America, 5.2 million in Africa and 2.1 million in the Middle East.
10 Injured in Violent Attack on Tunisian Trade Union.
December 4, 2012—Ten people were injured today after they were attacked by a mob of men wielding knives, sticks and rocks at the Tunisian Labor Federation (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail UGTT) in the capital, Tunis.
Charges Dropped Against Egyptian Trade Union Leader.
December 4, 2012—An Egyptian court late last month closed the case of trade union leader Kamal Abbas, who was sentenced in absentia earlier this year to six months imprisonment on charges he “insulted a state executive.”
Bahrain: Trade Unionist Released from Prison.
December 3, 2012—Jalila Al-Salman, acting president of the Bahraini Teachers’ Association, was released from prison Nov. 25, according to Education International (EI). Al-Salman, who was jailed in March 2011, was serving a three-year term for exercising her right to freedom of assembly and for demanding reforms in Bahrain’s educational system.
Egyptian Union Law Decree May Mean Government Interference, Unions Say.
November 30, 2012—Labor unions and worker rights organizations are decrying a newly decreed amendment to Egypt’s Mubarak-era trade union law, which threatens freedom of association and the right to organize independent and representative trade unions.
Moroccan Trade Union Leader Released from Jail.
November 29, 2012—Excellent news from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF): Mohamed Chamchati,the unjustly detained general secretary of the Moroccan merchant seafarers’ union, has been released. Like his colleague, Said Elhairech, who was freed in October, Chamchati was arrested in June on clearly mistaken charges. Yesterday, he and others were released without charge.
Bahraini Teachers Jailed.
November 5, 2012—Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila al-Salman, the president and vice president of the Bahraini Teachers' Association, were sentenced to five and six months in prison after a court in Bahrain upheld their convictions last week. The two were arrested in 2011 after supporting calls for reform in Bahrain.
Union Members Stave off Attack on Tunisian Trade Union.
October 10, 2012—The offices of the Tunisan Labor Federation (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT) in Tunis, Tunisia, were attacked at 8:45 a.m. today by up to 200 thugs wielding rocks and bottles.
On World Teacher Day, Unions Back Jailed Bahraini Teachers.
October 5, 2012—Today, World Teachers’ Day, reminds us how valuable teachers are for building our future—and how fragile their profession can be.
Jailed Moroccan Trade Unionist Released.
October 2, 2012—Moroccan trade unionist Said Elhairech has been released from prison and all serious charges dropped against him, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) said today.
ITUC: Bahrain Bans Trade Union and ILO Observers.
28 September 2012—The ITUC has issued a statement condemning the Bahrain government’s refusal to allow at least seven representatives of the ITUC, national trade union organizations and the United Nations’ ILO to enter the country to take part in the Congress of the country’s trade union center GFBTU.
Human Rights Award Goes to Workers from the Arab Uprisings.
September 14, 2012--Yesterday in Washington, D.C., Hassine Abassi, Gerneral Secretary, Tunisian General Union of Labor (UGTT) and S. Salman Jaddar Al Mahfoodh, General Secretary, General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU), received the 2012 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award on behalf of their respective labor movements, as emblematic of the labor movements across the Middle East working to preserve democracy, justice and freedom during a ceremony at the AFL-CIO’s headquarters in Washington.
Join in Global Solidarity for Jailed Moroccan Union Leaders
. September 28, 2012—The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is organizing global support for the release of two Moroccan union leaders jailed in mid-June for defending the rights of ferry workers stranded in France and Spain after their company declared bankruptcy.
One Dead and Four "Disappeared" in Algeria Following Peaceful March.
July 17, 2012—Brutal and violent government repression of worker rights activists has resulted in the death of one and the disappearance of four others in Algeria.
Union Offices in Tunisia Firebombed.
June 13, 2012—The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has issued the following statement: Tunisian Islamic fundamentalists unleashed a campaign of firebombing trade union offices around the country yesterday, as the Salafist movement challenged the emerging democracy in the home of the “Arab Spring.”
Algerian Workers Risk Health, Protest Government Crackdown with Hunger Strike.
May 31, 2012—After more than three weeks on a hunger strike to protest government repression of the independent trade union movement, six women and two men from Algeria’s National Federation of Justice Workers are increasingly frail and face grave, possibly permanent, health threats. A ninth worker suspended his hunger strike. ACT NOW!
Libya: The Road Ahead.
October 27, 2011—With the formal “declaration of liberation” by Libya’s interim leaders on October 22, the enormous task of building a democratic and just society, and an economy that delivers decent work and economic security for Libyans and foreign workers alike, can begin.
Executive Council Praises Middle East Workers Fighting for Freedom.
August 4, 2011—The AFL-CIO Executive Council today praised the role workers and independent trade unions are playing in the popular mobilizations against corrupt, oppressive regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
North Africa Blog: The Inspiration of Exchange.
June 27, 2011—For three U.S. trade unionists undertaking a 10-day learning and outreach tour to the Middle East and North Africa, meeting workers on the front lines of change has been inspirational.
Bahrain: Unions Call for Reinstatement of Sacked Workers and End to Anti-Union Attacks.
July 5, 2011—In an interview published by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) today, senior Bahraini trade union officials have called for the reinstatement of some 2,000 workers sacked for supporting the country’s pro-democracy movement, as well as an end to violent attacks on trade unions.
Unions around the World Celebrate Release of Iranian Union Leader.
June 9, 2011—Mansour Osanloo, president of the Vahed Syndicate in Tehran, was released from Evin Prison nearly four years after his arrest and conviction on charges of “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the state.” In reality, says the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), his only offense was to help found a genuinely democratic trade union.
Promoting Democracy in the Arab Region Is Also about Defending Migrants.
April 1, 2011—From Libya to Bahrain, migrant workers have been caught hostage in the whirlwind of the popular uprisings in the Arab world. All too often exploited and denied their rights, they are today the direct or indirect victims of the repressive policies imposed in response to the wave of hope for change sweeping the region.
ITUC on Middle East/Maghreb: "End Repression!"
February 21, 2011—"At this truly historic moment, the international trade union movement expresses its support for the legitimate aspirations of the region’s people for greater democracy and social justice," says International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary Sharan Burrow.
Delegation of Palestinian Trade Unionists Visits Solidarity Center
. February 25, 2019—From February 20 through March 1, 2010, the Solidarity Center and the AFL-CIO hosted a delegation from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions for an important exchange on trade union rights and union organizing, public policy advocacy, and unemployment and economic development.
History Made as Egyptian Public Workers Form First Independent Union.
5, 2009—In a historic move for the Egyptian labor movement, the 270,000-member Real Estate Tax Authority Union will become Egypt’s first independent union, reports the Center for Trade Union and Worker Services, a Solidarity Center partner.
Solidarity Center Partners with Qatar National Human Rights Committee. March 19, 2009—The Solidarity Center signed an historic agreement outlining the framework for a joint 2009-2010 program in Qatar.
Hope for Migrant Workers in Gulf States. June 4, 2008—The Solidarity Center is part of an effort that brings together union, employer, and government representatives to improve working conditions for migrants in the Gulf States.
Education for Change: Sowing the Seeds of Solidarity. February 26, 2009—Solidarity Center hosts a seven-member delegation of women union educators from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Yemen.
Related Solidarity Center Publications
US & Global Labor Partnerships