Catalysts for Change: Workers Forging Democracy with Innovation

In Tunisia, women helped spur protests that ended autocratic regimes in their country and throughout the Arabic-speaking world. Zimbabwe trade unionists fought years of economic deterioration with innovative research. Across the Dominican Republic, domestic workers challenged a male-dominated culture in a years-long struggle for rights and respect.

In each case, working people—in search of a government that is transparent and accountable, respects the rights of its citizens and acts to better all citizens’ economic circumstances—found innovative ways to challenge the status quo. In doing so, they became catalysts of change.

As part of a new, ongoing series, the Solidarity Center takes a close look at five examples where working people, their unions and civil society activists are advancing worker rights and greater equity in their societies, often under trying circumstances. Their experience and efforts provide concrete, transferable lessons for others seeking to effect positive change, and are highlighted in the Solidarity Center’s Catalysts for Change series, now available upon request.

In addition to the examples of citizen-worker action in TunisiaZimbabwe and the Dominican Republic, the series examines how a broad coalition stopped a regressive labor law from passage in Cambodia and looks at grassroots efforts to ensure Sri Lankan migrant workers know their rights and have legal and socioeconomic support when they work abroad. The series also includes three video clips based on interviews with Tunisian women activists.

“We cannot talk about democracy if we miss the sense of citizenship,” says Souha Miladi, a school teacher and union member active in the Tunisian uprising. But Miladi and the other worker-activists interviewed for this series all recognize that attaining broad-based democracy takes much more than individual effort. “We realized on our own we cannot actually influence the change,” says Dr. Godfrey Kanyenze, director of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ). “To influence policies, we need a critical mass.”

Around the world, labor unions, worker organizations and citizen activists like Miladi and Kanyenze are joining together to advocate for fundamental human rights, ensure the voices and aspirations of workers are part of the national dialogue and advance policies that better serve civil society and promote equitable economic growth and humane development.

The full series includes five reports, each in English, Spanish, French and Arabic.