Around the world, workers and their labor unions and have joined in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protesters in the United States, demonstrating support for peaceful marches, and decrying racism, police brutality and inequality—in the United States and in their own countries.
In South Africa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) expressed outrage “at the extent to which racism is deeply entrenched and vicious in the U.S., particularly against blacks and other minority groups in a country purporting to be the world’s leading democracy.” COSATU also is one of the organizers of “Black Friday,” a campaign calling on South Africans to wear black every Friday to show solidarity in the fight against racism.
The South African Federation of Trade Unions wrote: “Saying ‘Black Lives Matter!’ is not just about opposing police brutality though. It is also about the structure of society: the political and economic systems that devalue black lives, black land, black culture and blackness.”
In a letter, the Nigerian Labor Congress condemned the murder of George Floyd and demanded justice for his killing, and demanded that world governments and institutions “take very strong and stern steps to stamp out racism in all its shades on the streets, in the workplace, and on play grounds.” And the Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers took to Twitter, calling George Floyd’s murder “unacceptable in this modern day.”
Meanwhile, the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions said, “We recognize that anti-blackness is an injustice that must continue to be addressed fearlessly in the United States and around the world. We strongly believe that labor unions have a crucial role to play in this fight.”
In a letter of support, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions said, “Racism has no place in the modern-day world,” adding that it “supports the fight of the American people to dismantle racism and establish equality and social justice.”
Africans also marched in Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal.
Union activists support rally in support of Black Lives Matter in Thailand, Nigeria, Brazil and Tunisia.
Across Brazil, unions have organized rallies and panel discussions, and have sent letters in support of the U.S. protest movement. The CUT, which also participated in #BlackoutTuesday, said, “There have been centuries of oppression, inequalities and social injustices. Especially in this pandemic moment, the working class is the one who suffers the consequences both for the defense of lives as well as for the defense of jobs and rights, in addition to ensuring survival for many who can no longer guarantee their income in the informal economy.”
Brazil’s National Confederation of Workers in the Financial Sector (CONTRAF) repudiated all police violence against black people—especially in Brazil, where “75.4% of victims by Brazilian police were black” in 2019. And Brazil’s UGT, garment-sector federation CNTRV and the Center for Human Rights and Immigrant Citizenship conducted an online anti-racism campaign.
Tunisia’s UGTT called on all the unions around the globe to “build an international united front against racism and hatred, and to build social justice and equality in the USA and all over the world.”
On the other side of the world in Bangkok, about 50 Thai trade union leaders, staff and members gathered for the rally at the U.S. embassy to call on the U.S. government to stop police violence, racism and discrimination against black people. Garment unions in Bangladesh and Myanmar—in their own difficult fight for survival during the COVID-19 pandemic—posted photos of solidarity. To protesters in U.S. streets, the Bangladesh Sommolito Garment Sramik Federation tweeted, “What you are doing is necessary and vital to dismantle the oppression that saturates our world and deliver a future where justice prevails.”
All are Solidarity Center partners.
See the Solidarity Center’s statement on Black Lives Matter and the fight for social justice here.
The Solidarity Center believes that Black Lives Matter and stands unequivocally with the millions of Americans and allies around the world peacefully calling for equality for Black people and an end to all forms of racist violence. These mass demonstrations are a demand for a society that fully lives the value of opportunity for all—which includes respect for human dignity and racial, social and economic justice.
Vigilante murders and state-sanctioned acts of violence—and their attempted cover-ups—committed against George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many other Black men, women and children reflect historic and systemic racial injustice and inequality, specifically anti-Black racism, in the United States. The effects of such inequality are evident today as Black communities are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and Black workers, many on the front lines, are hit hard by the economic downturn. The lack of access to decent social services continues to relegate Black communities to the fringes of society. Black women’s economic prosperity and freedom are doubly jeopardized by racism and sexism.
Sadly, we know that this is not unique to our country. Anti-Blackness is global, and all countries around the world have their own histories of oppression rooted in white supremacy, sexism, orientalism, colonialism, economic exploitation, classism, homophobia, ethnic and cultural tension, religion and xenophobia. These systems are distinct but interrelated and have been used for generations to shape societies, exploit resource-rich countries, entrench poverty and dependency, and deny fundamental human rights.
These same systems lead to discrimination and marginalization of whole communities and normalizes the exploitation of immigrants and dehumanization of those seeking asylum in our country. These systems cause pain and division among and harm to all people. Because of this, the Solidarity Center stands with the global labor movement to reject racism, discrimination in all its forms and police brutality in the United States and everywhere around the world. Dismantling systemic racism, discrimination and inequality are vital to ensuring workers everywhere are empowered to create just and enduring democratic societies.
Around the world, protesters, trade unions, civil society and human rights organizations are calling for a new economic and social order centered on equality and justice. Solidarity Center union partners in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Nigeria, South Africa, Thailand, Tunisia, among others, have initiated solidarity rallies, written letters of support and taken to social media to call for change—in the United States and in their own countries.
Brazil’s General Union of Workers (UGT) called George Floyd’s killing, a “tragic action that has an international context, as discrimination is a crime that does not respect borders, languages, religions or social status.”
To protesters in U.S. streets, the Bangladesh Sommolito Garment Sramik Federation tweeted, “What you are doing is necessary and vital to dismantle the oppression that saturates our world and deliver a future where justice prevails.”
The South African Federation of Trade Unions wrote: “Saying ‘Black Lives Matter!’ is not just about opposing police brutality though. It is also about the structure of society: the political and economic systems that devalue black lives, black land, black culture, and blackness.” And the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions said, “We recognize that anti-blackness is an injustice that must continue to be addressed fearlessly in the United States and around the world. We strongly believe that labor unions have a crucial role to play in this fight.”
The labor movement, globally, protects and defends the human rights of workers. This must include joining the fight for racial justice and confronting racism and all forms of discrimination, especially within union ranks. Unions have the most racially diverse membership in the world and cannot afford to uphold discrimination or reinforce racist viewpoints and beliefs. Because of their ability to bring workers together across race, unions are uniquely positioned to reduce racial resentment and become a leading force for racial equality and inclusion. At a time when the United States is reconciling with its history of genocide, slavery and exclusion, other countries are grappling with similar or parallel histories–or, in the Global South, still living the experience of fighting colonialism, racism, abuse and exploitation. The labor movement has the opportunity to help shape a society that is anti-racist, free of exploitation, explicitly intersectional feminist, pro-worker, pro-migrant, class conscious and that values the dignity of Black lives. And we join our sisters and brothers in trade unions all over the world who are protesting right now demanding the same from their countries, and their labor movements.
To achieve real power for workers, the Solidarity Center supports the right to free speech, assembly and protest, calls for the demilitarization of the police and the active prosecution of police officers who use excessive, brutal and unjustified or illegal force. These acts are a threat to workers everywhere. There cannot be justice in a society in which democracy is threatened and where protest is met with state violence. Nor can there be a true democracy without racial justice. The labor movement must be a consistent force for racial equity, which goes hand-in-hand with economic justice and dignity for workers.
More than 500 political, civil leaders, Nobel Laureates and pro-democracy institutions—including the Solidarity Center—are calling for the defense of democracy and warning that fundamental freedoms are under threat from governments using the COVID-19 pandemic to tighten their grip on power.
In a letter released today, the signatories from around the world and a broad political spectrum said, “Repression will not help to control the pandemic. Silencing free speech, jailing peaceful dissenters, suppressing legislative oversight and indefinitely canceling elections all do nothing to protect public health. On the contrary, these assaults on freedom, transparency and democracy will make it more difficult for societies to respond quickly and effectively to the crisis through both government and civic action.”
The pandemic and the global movement for racial equality have demonstrated that “democracy is more important than ever,” the group said in a press release. “Democracy allows for civil society to mobilize, for inequalities to be confronted, for policy issues to be openly debated, for trustworthy information to freely flow, and governments to be accountable to citizens—all essential tools for successfully dealing with the current public health emergency and its consequences.”
They added that the key elements of liberal democracy—credible and free flowing information, fact-based debate about policy options, voluntary self-organization of civil society and open engagement between government and society—are vital to combating the pandemic. When voices are suppressed, “the results can be deadly, not for just one country but for the entire world.”
In Zimbabwe, “there is no economy to talk about in the moment,” says Peter Mutasa, president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), a Solidarity Center ally. “Everyone is living on subsistence and selling in the streets. Those jobs are not paying. They don’t offer decent protection. They’re not decent jobs.”
Mutasa discussed Zimbabwe’s economic crisis and unions’ efforts to support working people during a discussion on the recent Working Life podcast.
Some 95 percent of Zimbabwe’s workers eke out a living in the informal economy, with between 70 percent and 80 percent of people struggling to get by on less than $1 per day. Workers’ share of income has steadily declined since the country became part of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment programs in the 1990s, says Mutasa.
Mutasa has been involved in union building since he graduated high school in 1997 and took his first job as a bank teller. Surprised and disheartened to find that conditions were not what he had expected, such as no lunch break and overtime pay, Mutasa met with a member of a union who talked with him about his rights as a worker, launching his union activism.
Now, “We need the international community to refocus and bring back attention, so that we prevent a catastrophe by managing the situation,” he says. “This is the message we have for the international community: Everything is not all right in Zimbabwe.”
Listen to the full podcast here.