Black Lives Matter: Unions Must Be a Force for Social Justice

Black Lives Matter: Unions Must Be a Force for Social Justice

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.

PHOTOS (from top): Federation of Government Workers Myanmar;UGTT (Tunisia); CUT (Brazil); State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC) and Thai Labor Solidarity Committee (TLSC); Nigeria Labor Congress.

Global: Unions Stand with Black Lives Matter Movement

Global: Unions Stand with Black Lives Matter Movement

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.

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.

‘A Call to Defend Democracy’: Global Leaders, Rights Groups Call for Solidarity amid COVID-19

‘A Call to Defend Democracy’: Global Leaders, Rights Groups Call for Solidarity amid COVID-19

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.”

‘YES to Ratification of ILO C190!’

‘YES to Ratification of ILO C190!’

In June 2019, the International Labor Organization adopted Convention 190, along with Recommendation 206, the first global binding treaty to address gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work. The treaty calls on governments, employers and unions to work together to confront the root causes of GBVH, including multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, gender stereotypes and unequal gender-based power relationships.

Women trade unionists and feminist activists campaigned for more than a decade to make this historic victory possible, led by the International Trade Union Confederation, the Solidarity Center and other labor allies. One year later, women from around the world who led the fight reflect on what has changed in the last year, discuss their current plans to ensure ratification and implementation of C190/R206, and envision the changes necessary to end GBVH in the world of work.

“We are commemorating the one-year of the passage of Convention 190, a vitally important convention that addressed one of the most pressing issues facing workers, violence and harassment in the world of work,” says Rosana Fernandes, at the Secretariat of the Committee to Combat Racism of CUT in Brazil. C190 “has translated into many victories—it has opened new areas of dialogue and negotiation for local unions with employers in their collective bargaining agreements, ranging from use of bathrooms to verbal abuse.” (See more videos with union activists on C190 here.)

Creating Space to End the Culture of Silence and Create Change in the Workplace

Since C190’s adoption by governments, employers and worker representatives one year ago, unions have conducted extensive education and awareness training among members, a process that has mobilized members to confront GBVH at their workplaces through collective bargaining.

“The Nigerian Labor Congress has strategically mainstreamed Convention 190 into all programs, activities and events to popularize and continuously sensitize our members and all workers,” says Mercy Okezie, chairperson of the NLC Women Commission.

The NLC has undertaken actions, including “media campaigns, advocacy and engagement with the government,” says Rita Goyit, head of the NLC Women and Youth Department and Secretary of National Women Commission. “There is increased outcry against gender-based violence. People are also ready to speak out to condemn such actions.”

In Indonesia, “many trade unions have also initiated keeping records of cases and victims of violence and harassment in the world of work, says Sumiyati, chairperson for Women and Children’s Affairs at the National Industrial Workers Union Federation (SPN–NIWUF), a Solidarity Center partner. “Another positive thing we have identified is that some companies, through their management, join our forces in campaigning for the elimination of all forms of violence and harassment in the world of work.”

“We have seen changes in the way some unions have negotiated their collective bargaining agreements,” says Rose Omano, national chair at the Central Organization of Trade Unions in Kenya. The union is planning to push for negotiations with employers “so that we can have a modern collective bargaining agreement that talks about GBV at the workplace. It is also very important for us to educate women, educate men, educate young girls and boys on the effects of gender-based violence on the workplace.”

“We are working on an education campaign with print materials and social media information to empower the working class and our members to stand up against violence and harassment,” says Francisco Xavier Santana, director of Bahia Domestic Workers Union.

Cida Trajano, president of the CNTRV national garment workers federation in Brazil, says “we have worked to build the capacity of workers, women and men, to confront and prevent gender-based violence in the world of work, and included these demands in our negotiating platforms. We are organizing to hold employers accountable for their responsibility to prevent and eradicate GBVH.”

“When we address gender inequality and violence as union issues, it means we, as women, can set an agenda in our organizations, in our collective bargaining agreements and in our political advocacy,” says Cassia Bufelli, vice president of the UGT confederation in Brazil.

COVID-19 Highlights Connection Between Violence at Home and Work

Many sisters from Solidarity Center partner unions reflected on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that it has left women in particular more vulnerable to GBVH, including the impact of domestic violence on the workplace.

“Gender-based violence has increased to the extent that in the first eleven days of the COVID-19 lockdown, we had 700 cases of gender-based violence, ” says Fiona Magaya, gender coordinator for the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

C190/R206 explicitly recognized the profound impact of domestic violence in the workplace, and calls on governments and employers to address its impact on worker safety, dignity and health and its broader effects on the full and equal participation of women in the economy and society.

Women—the primary targets of domestic abuse—have struggled to protect themselves and their children, often while attempting to continue working or weathering recent unemployment in an unsafe home. For many women around the world, including child care workers, in-home healthcare workers, cleaners and other domestic workers, as well as many small enterprise handicrafters, a home already was their workplace.

“We need to ensure all our sisters and brothers and comrades can work free from violence,” says Andrea Morales Perez, secretary general of FETRADOMOV, a domestic worker union in Nicaragua. “This pandemic has left us even more vulnerable, and suffering even more rights violations—and highlights the importance of the work of domestic workers.”

“GBVH is so common that it has come to be seen as a normal part of our work or something that should not be questioned. Domestic workers are more exposed and vulnerable to violence at work than those in some other sectors for reasons including: asymmetrical power relationships, isolation, under-recognition of this occupation as work, and insufficient, ineffective legal protections,” says Maria Isidra Llanos, co-secretary general of SINACTRAHO Mexico.

“We face growing violence in the workplace in our society, especially in the context of the COVID crisis,” says Marcia Viana, secretary general of Sorocaba Garment Workers Union in Brazil. “In São Paulo, we are launching a campaign with all the unions in our state to combat violence against women, to create a moment to engage workers and employers to end violence in our workplaces and our society.”

Says Solidarity Center Equality and Inclusion Co-Director Robin Runge: “By raising broad awareness of the intricate connection between domestic violence and violence in the world of work, this unprecedented crisis offers a significant opportunity for the type of education and awareness-raising among among governments, employers and the broader public that can ensure the right to a violence-free workplace, one that is protected under international law.”

Unions Urge Ratification of C190 Around the World

Just as women trade unionists led the struggle to win C190/R206, they are now at the forefront of the struggle to ensure governments widely ratify and implement its framework. Uruguay recently became the the first country to officially ratify C190, with several others expected to do so in the coming months. Women trade unionists have been pushing governments around the world to ratify C190/R206.

“We urge our government to ratify, implement, and enforce Convention 190 on its one-year anniversary,” says Silma Perez, president of SINTRAHO in Honduras. “We are domestic workers and must defend our rights,” states Miriam Sanchez, also of SINTRAHO.

“Convention 190 is an important tool for us to be able to denounce abuses, the Brazilian government must ratify this convention,” says Luiza Batista, president of FENATRAD, Brazil. “The struggle continues.”

“This is especially important for us as women workers, who face constant harassment and violence, we need ratification in Paraguay, and we need real enforcement and implementation,” says Marcia Santander, Secretary General of SINTRADESPY in Paraguay.

In Ukraine, “we talk about C190 ratification at every government meeting,” says KVPU vice president and gender committee head, Nataliya Levytska. “We need to protect workers from violence at the workplace. Employers, government and trade unions must do everything to ratify the convention. Recently, we provided our proposals to the National Action Plan to the National Human Rights Strategy to ratify C190 and implementation of its norms into Ukrainian legislation. We hope that our proposals will be implemented.”

“We as trade unions must do everything to ratify C190 and to eradicate violence at the work. Our workers deserve protection.”

“In C190, we find the mechanisms that will enable us prevent and and defend workers against violence and harassment. Up with women! Together we will win!” says Selfa Sandoval, SITRABI Izabal banana workers union in Guatemala. Sandoval is also coordinator for Gender Equality of the Latin American Coordinating Body of Banana and Agricultural Unions (COLSIBA).

“In El Salvador, we are fighting to ratify Convention 190, a tool that will help us eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work,” says Marta Zaldaña, secretary general of FEASIES federation in El Salvador. “YES to ratification of ILO C190!”

Through education, mobilization and advocacy on a global scale, workers and their unions are taking the lead in this transformative change.

Lesotho Garment Workers Strike, Win Back Pay

Lesotho Garment Workers Strike, Win Back Pay

Tens of thousands of garment workers in Lesotho waged a successful one-day strike for unpaid wages, returning to work after the government agreed over the weekend to honor the agreement it made in April to pay workers during the novel coronavirus lockdown.

Some 50,000 workers will now receive the $47 pay they were promised in April when their unions negotiated three months’ salary with the government. After paying one installment, the government refused to provide the rest of the negotiated wages. The workers are represented by the United Textile Employees (UNITE), National Clothing, Textile and Allied Workers’ Union (NACTWU) and the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL).

“The strike was very successful because workers have now realized that without them coming together as one, there is nothing that they will get,” says IDUL Deputy General Secretary May Rathakane.

“They have realized that without unity, there is nothing and unions working together made them realize the importance of unity.”

Unions say the government deployed special forces in the capital, Maseru, and surrounding areas, with police shooting one worker three times with rubber bullets, and beating and arresting others.

Pin It on Pinterest