Podcast: Now Imprisoned, Belarus Union Leader Spoke of Hopes for Democracy

Podcast: Now Imprisoned, Belarus Union Leader Spoke of Hopes for Democracy

In April, at least 18 union leaders were recently arrested in Belarus, where an autocracy has run the country since the fall of the Soviet Union. Among those arrested was Sergey Antusevich, vice president of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, who was a guest on The Solidarity Center Podcast in 2021. On the show, re-aired here, Antusevich spoke passionately about how Belarusian workers took to the streets to protest fraudulent elections in 2020 that meant the country’s autocrat would continue in power. ”

“My inspiration is the people, people who stand and fight,” Antusevich told Solidarity Center Executive Director and podcast host Shawna Bader-Blau. “I have neighbors, have workers at several enterprises, a lot of enterprises in Belarus, who want to live in a free and democratic Belarus and in a European country.”

(You can support jailed Belarusian union leaders—take action here.)

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Governments Must Listen to Migrant Perspectives

Governments Must Listen to Migrant Perspectives

When addressing migration, governments must focus on human rights: “When you prioritize human rights, you naturally shift from criminalization and focus on rights-based approaches,” says Mishka Pillay, a migration and lived experience advocate and campaigner.

“Migration is historical, it’s natural it’s been here for centuries—and it needs to be normalized by countries.”

Pillay spoke today at a launch event for the “Migration,” which includes six articles targeted at decision-makers in the context of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Approved by United Nations member states in 2018, the Global Compact for Migration reaffirms countries’ commitment to respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights for all migrants. In May, the International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) will assess progress on the compact and the Spotlight Report seeks to ensure that grassroots migrant perspectives on progress and challenges are central to the discussions.

“Morally and ethically it is imperative to listen to people’s lived experiences. Government needs to listen and learn how migration is affecting real people,” says Pillay, an author in the report.

The Global Coalition on Migration, which includes the Solidarity Center, and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung institute, released the report. Today’s launch emphasized the importance of migrants’ agency, including the agency of migrant workers, in the policy and process decisions that affect their lives, including in their workplaces.

Decent Work Key to Addressing Migration

A focus on decent work in origin countries “is necessary to break cycles of exploitation and prevent labor migration pathways from perpetuating global power and wealth imbalances,” writes Neha Misra, Solidarity Center global lead for migration and human trafficking. Misra co-authored the Spotlight Report article, “People Not Profit: Coherent Migration Pathways Centered in Human Rights and Decent Work for All.”

“For too long, failed foreign and trade policies have prioritized the interests of corporations and low-wage, export-oriented growth while actively undermining democracy and accountability, contributing to the push factors driving people to migrate,” the article states.

Shannon Lederer, AFL-CIO director of immigration policy and Yanira Merino, president of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), are co-authors.

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • Migrant workers, regardless of status, must have rights in line with international labor standards for all workers
  • Migrants must have rights at international borders
  • There must be alternatives to detention of migrants
  • Migrants must have access to public services and social protections, regardless of status
  • Coherent policies must be developed for those migrating due to climate related factors
  • Countries must adopt regularization policies and rights-based regular migration channels—that allow migrants the freedom to move, settle, work and fully participate in society—over expanding temporary or circular work programs. Countries should promote regular migration pathways that ensure full worker rights, facilitate social and family cohesion, and provide options for permanent residence and meaningful participation in civic life.

Commenting on the report during the panel discussion, Fernando de la Mora, who is part of IMRF discussions through the Economic, Social, Human Rights and Humanitarian Section of Mexico’s UN mission, reiterated his government’s support for a commitment to decent work in origin and destination countries, and summed up the report’s goals this way:

“Borders divide—but they also unite.”

Myanmar Union Activists Assaulted, Detained by Military

Myanmar Union Activists Assaulted, Detained by Military

Two women unionist activists in Myanmar were assaulted and arrested late last week after the taxi they were traveling in was rammed by a military vehicle in eastern Yangon. According to eyewitnesses at the scene, six soldiers exited a military vehicle after ramming the taxi and assaulted the unionists before loading them and the taxi driver into their vehicle and driving away.

Along with 18 others, the two union activists had participated in a march to protest the ongoing assault on civic freedoms by the military junta, which seized power from the elected government in February 2021. The Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM), the Myanmar Labor Alliance (MLA) and the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM) organized the protest. (Support Myanmar workers under attack here.)

Khaing Thinzar, CTUM communications director, and Ei Phyu Phyu Myint, a member of the Glory Fashion Factory Union, were arrested and taken to an interrogation center in Shwepyithar, according to CTUM. Under the junta, physical torture, including sexual assault, is widespread weapon against dissent.

Military authorities are pressuring landlords to evict the families of those arrested by the end of the month. CTUM is calling on international partners to protest the arrests and assist in providing them legal representation.

Thousands of people have been killed and many more imprisoned since the coup. The military has especially targeted union leaders, arresting dozens, and many have fled the country or are in hiding. The military has pledged to “annihilate” those who oppose the regime.

Workers–women in particular–took an early lead in the protests, with the country’s 450,000 garment workers especially active in organizing civil disobedience actions and shutting down factories. They have asked multinational fashion brands to cease doing business in Myanmar until democracy is restored.

Since the coup, workers have risked their lives and livelihoods to stand up for a return to democratic governance.

“We are facing a bloody crackdown, but all people protect each other,” says CTUM Assistant General Secretary Phyo Sandar Soe.

“We are finding solutions to fight back.”

(Listen as Phyo Sandar Soe, speaking on The Solidarity Center Podcast from a safe house, describes what’s it like for workers and their unions on the front-lines of the fight for democracy.)

Kill a River, Kill Our Livelihoods: A Brazilian Community’s Fight for Survival

Kill a River, Kill Our Livelihoods: A Brazilian Community’s Fight for Survival

A community that makes its livelihood from the Amazon is standing up to the Brazilian government that, without consulting the people most affected, is on the verge of undertaking a blasting and dredging project along a river waterway that would destroy their livelihoods.

On this episode of The Solidarity Center Podcast, Carmen Foro, a rural activist and secretary-general of the Central Union of Workers in Brazil (CUT), describes how the community where she was born is demanding the government honor international treaties respecting Indigenous and Tribal People’s right to safeguard and manage the natural resources on their lands.

(Listen in English or Portuguese.)

“We know that if this hydro way is constructed, then it will bring with it agribusiness interests, monoculture, land conflicts, pollution, a lack of respect for the populations who live there,” Foro says.

“Unchecked greed—by governments and corporations—has fueled environmental destruction and climate change, worsened inequality and eroded worker rights,” says podcast host and Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau.

Foro describes how a diverse coalition that includes representatives from the Quilombolo community, fishers, family farmers, youth, women and a range of grassroots groups formed the Caravan in Defense of the Tocantins River to raise awareness about the negative impacts of the waterway construction.

“We want public policies to preserve the river. And we believe this is the democratic way to build and preserve our rights. This is the way to ensure our future and our life.”

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Podcast: Minimum Wage Boost in Palestine Big First Step for Workers

Podcast: Minimum Wage Boost in Palestine Big First Step for Workers

Workers worldwide are demanding a boost in the minimum wage—a fair’s day pay for a fair day’s work.

In Palestine, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) spearheaded a successful campaign for a minimum wage boost, effective in January, that for the first time in years enables workers to earn above poverty-level wages. The PGFTU is the umbrella federation for unions across the West Bank and Gaza.

“We connected this achievement with activating labor courts to look through workers’ cases that are delayed at the courts. And there are bottlenecks at courts that may reach 10 years. So, we wanted this to be accelerated, and to give the workers their rights,” says Mohammad Badri.

Badri, who works in the West Bank at the Palestinian cellular firm, Jawwal, where he heads up the union at the company, describes the campaign on the latest episode of The Solidarity Center Podcast. (The episode will be available in Arabic later this week.)

Solidarity Center Executive and Podcast host Director Shawna Bader-Blau says, “Unions in Palestine have an especially high hurdle to ensure workers are paid a decent wage because getting a minimum wage agreement with the Palestinian Authority is only the first step.

“Mohammad describes a tedious, time-consuming process that involves connecting with individual employers, many of whom are hostile, to ensure workers are paid the new wage.

“The employers are very greedy. They did not commit to this resolution and they don’t want to give higher salaries for their workers,” says Badri, who recently was elected to PGFTU’s executive committee and general secretariat.

“We will keep struggling and working at the federation, and we will not give up the labor rights. We will protect the rights of our workers.”

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