Solidarity Center: 20 Years Working for Worker Rights

Over the past 20 years, the Solidarity Center has helped eliminate child labor in Liberian rubber plantations; assisted Iraqi trade unions in passing an unprecedented labor law that addresses sexual discrimination at work; campaigned to end workplace-based racism against Afro-Brazilians; and enabled the Burmese labor movement to flourish in a newly democratic Myanmar.

Over the past 20 years, the Solidarity Center has enabled workers like those in Bangladesh garment factories to achieve safer working conditions through thousands of occupational safety programs. With support and training for union organizers, the Solidarity Center has assisted union leaders like those in Georgia empower workers in a wide range of industries to achieve collective bargaining.

Over the past 20 years, the Solidarity Center has helped migrant workers in Moldova and other countries learn about their rights at work while seeking to prevent human trafficking. With a focus on achieving gender equality in the workplace, Solidarity Center programs have trained women workers to take leading roles at their workplaces, in their unions and in their communities.

Over the past 20 years, the Solidarity Center has consistently fought for worker rights—and over the next 20 years, we will expand our work to enable workers to assert their fundamental rights at work and build a better future for workers around the world. Here are a few highlights.

Eradicating Child Labor in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the Solidarity Center jump-started the process to eradicate child labor from the garment industry, laid the groundwork that nurtured young women leaders at major unions and associations, wrote the first labor law for export-processing zones and is a catalyst to the current resurgence in helping workers form unions.

A Bangladesh garment worker is among tens of thousands of union members who can bargain for rights at work with their unions, with Solidarity Center assistance. Credit: Solidarity Center

Achieving First-Ever Rights for Domestic Workers

As part of worldwide campaign to enshrine labor rights for domestic workers, the Solidarity Center joined other global advocates in pushing for passage of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention 189. Passed in 2011, Convention 189 marked a major milestone, signaling recognition that the 53 million mostly women workers who labor in households, often in isolation and at risk of exploitation and abuse, deserve full protection of labor laws.

Passage of the ILO convention on domestic workers' rights at work culminated a multiyear effort by the Solidarity Center and allied organizations. Credit: Equal Times/JP-Pouteau

Supporting Iraqi Trade Unions Pass an Historic Labor Law

The Solidarity Center was among the first organizations to support Iraq’s blossoming trade union movement and has consistently partnered with the Iraqi labor movement since 2004. It has carried out skills-building programs with dozens of unions and hundreds of their members in every province of the country, and helped Iraqi unions coalesce around and draft a labor law, passed in 2015, that provides for collective bargaining, further limits child labor, improves rights for migrant workers and is the country’s first legislation to address sexual harassment at work.

In May Day rallies and at other public events, Iraqi workers, with support from the Solidarity Center, pushed for passage of a expansive labor law. Credit: GFITU

Winning Living Wages on Liberia Rubber Plantations

Solidarity Center training and support of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL) laid the groundwork for a landmark collective bargaining agreement in 2008 that eliminated child labor at the Firestone rubber plantation by addressing exploitative wages and workers’ impossible quotas. With Solidarity Center legal support, Liberian union members advocated for the 2015 passage of the Decent Work law, and key provisions, including a minimum wage for informal workers, job safety and health, and workers compensation.

Sorbor Tarnue attended school at the Firestone rubber plantation because her parents' union, FAWUL, a Solidarity Center ally, negotiated work quotas that adults could meet without their children's assistance. Credit: Solidarity Center/B.E. Diggs

Ensuring Safety and Health at Workplaces in Tblisi, Georgia

The Georgian union movement withstood deep attacks on worker rights throughout the 2004–2013 regime of Mikheil Saakashvili. With consistent backing from the Solidarity Center, the Georgia Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) tapped into international mechanisms to protect worker rights, and unions fought back against a broad array of union-busting tactics instigated by the government. Now Solidarity Center programs are enabling Georgian workers to form unions in metal factories, coal mines, schools and hospitals and, through the three-year, “Strengthening Worker Organizations in Georgia,” program, helping transit and other workers address critical safety and health issues at work.

At the Gldani Metro Depot in Tbilisi, Georgia, the Metro Workers’ Trade Union of Georgia is addressing safety issues through collective bargaining. Credit: Solidarity Center/Lela Mepharishvili

Sustaining Burmese Unions Throughout a Long Dictatorship

The Solidarity Center’s nearly 30-year support of exiled leaders of the Federation of Trade Unions–Burma following a brutal crackdown by Burma’s military junta, enabled the union movement to return in 2012 to Myanmar. Today, the Confederation of Trade Unions–Myanmar has now helped more than 60,000 workers form unions.

Farmers across Myanmar are the fastest growing group of workers forming unions since 2011, when a new law allowed creation of unions. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

Ensuring Colombia Port Workers Have a Voice on the Job

In Colombia, the Solidarity Center helped workers form the national port workers’ union and provides ongoing support for the union’s worker organizing efforts in a sector that is rife with rights violations. The union now has affiliated more than 10,000 workers and negotiated three collective bargaining agreements—the sector’s only contracts in the past 25 years. These contracts have improved wages and labor conditions for some 2,000 workers, the majority of whom are of Afro-Colombian descent.

With Solidarity Center support, more than 10,000 Colombia port workers have a voice at work through a union. Credit: Solidarity Center/Rhett Doumitt

Leading International Efforts to Protect Bahraini Workers

In Bahrain, the Solidarity Center played a key role in international efforts, and through a bilateral trade agreement, to defend the local activism of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, which advocated to protect workers from arbitrary dismissal and discrimination in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Fired Bahraini women protest in front of Bahrain Labor Ministry. Credit: Solidarity Center/Kate Conradt

Achieving Rights for Migrant Workers

Over the past 20 years, the Solidarity Center has helped unions move beyond xenophobia to embrace migrant workers in their unions in the construction sector in the Dominican Republic; persuaded policymakers globally to eliminate onerous recruitment fees for migrant workers, which often result in debt bondage; connected unions in South Asia with unions in the Middle East to facilitate protection of South Asian migrant worker rights; and provided migrant farm workers in South Africa with increased access to justice for nonpayment of wages and discrimination in the workplace.

Construction workers in Dominican Republic, many of Haitian descent, now have a voice at work through their union. Credit: Solidarity Center/Ricardo Rojas

Challenging Racism against Afro-Brazilians at the Workplace

The Solidarity Center, together with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, worked in Brazil with the Inter-American Union Institute for Racial Equality (INSPIR) for the past 20 years to help eliminate racism against Afro-descendants in the workplace and throughout society.

Jos Williams, recently retired leader of the Metro Washington Labor Council, took part in the 2015 celebration of INSPIR's 20th anniversary. Credit: Fabio Mendes