Podcast: Defending Democracy—Workers on the Front Lines

Podcast: Defending Democracy—Workers on the Front Lines

Democracy is under siege around the world with the subversion of democratic processes and outright coups—and attacks worker rights are a big part of authoritarian efforts to cut off civil liberties.

On this week’s Solidarity Center Podcast, two worker advocates from countries where democracy is under threat—Belarus and Brazil—discuss how workers are pushing back against repression and are building a better future for their countries, one that recognizes worker rights are a foundation of true democracy.

Maximilano Garcez, president of the Brazilian Association of Union Lawyers, represented families of the 272 people who died in a preventable mining disaster in 2019. The Brumadinho mining waste dam, held by walls of sand, collapsed during rainy season cutting a path of destruction from the mine and for miles into the surrounding community. It is among nearly 100 mining dams in the country built the same way.

The mining disaster was “industrial homicide”—the result of corporations “incentivized to greed” in a system where “killing people has been worthwhile,” says Garcez.

Workers Rise Up in Belarus Against Repressive Regime

Also on the show, Sergey Antusevich, vice president of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, describes the recent uprising against the country’s repressive regime in which workers, led in many cases by women, have taken a key role.

“Many factories began to express a position actively, protest against violence and fraud, and started for the first time in Belarus history to set up strike committees” despite a strike ban, he says.

“At the same time, the protesters made demands: resignation of Lukashenko and his clique and an end to violence and repression and holding fair elections. At the same time, workers and employers began to quit the state trade unions and tried to create independent trade unions.”

The Solidarity Center Podcast, “Billions of Us, One Just Future,” highlights conversations with workers (and other smart people) worldwide shaping the workplace for the better.

Join us for a new episode each Wednesday at iTunesSpotify,  AmazonStitcher or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Solidarity Center Podcast Schedule

  • March 24: Preeda, a migrant worker rights activist in Thailand working with unions to help migrant workers meet the challenges of COVID-19.
  • April 7: Francia Blanco, a domestic worker and trans rights activist reaching marginalized workers through her all-trans domestic workers union.
  • April 14: Adriana Paz, an advocate with the International Domestic Workers Federation who understands firsthand the power of unions in ensuring domestic workers have safe, decent jobs.
  • April 21: International Trade Union Confederation President Ayuba Wabba, who explores the Nigerian labor movement’s response to the COVID crisis on workers and discusses the global labor movement’s plans to build back better for workers around the world.

This podcast was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under Cooperative Agreement No.AID-OAA-L-16-00001 and the opinions expressed herein are those of the participant(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID/USG.

Brazil Unions Challenge Attacks on Worker, Human Rights

Brazil Unions Challenge Attacks on Worker, Human Rights

Following the deadly mining dam collapse in January that buried alive 186 workers and residents of the town of Brumadinho, Brazil, and concurrent legislative attacks on worker rights, unions representing members across Brazil are requesting the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) investigate and address both issues.

The Vale-owned dam, which sat above Brumadinho, was held back by little more than walls of sand and silt, and is among 87 similarly constructed mining dams in the country. More than 131 people have not been found, and the “tidal wave of waste and mud that engulfed homes, businesses and residents” also wreaked enormous damage to the environment. The United Nations has said the disaster “must be investigated as a crime.”

The Brumadinho collapse, one of the worst mining disasters in the country’s history, follows a 2015 iron-ore dam collapse at another Vale mine that killed 19 people. Both catastrophes are the direct result of the privatization of Brazilian companies, a process that often results in precarious and dangerous working conditions, says Maximiliano Nagl Garcez, an attorney representing the unions.

Privatization in Brazil’s strategic sectors “means disrespect for international treaties, a threat to the country’s national and energy sovereignty and, above all, an enormous risk to the health and safety of thousands of workers at risk with negligence to their condition, to the detriment of an ever-increasing profit in the interests of large multinationals,” he says. Garcez will present the unions’ requests for investigations during the IACHR meeting in Jamaica in May.

Attacks on Worker Rights, Environment Connected

The mining collapse took place in an environment of stepped-up legislative attacks on land, community and worker rights, including the abolition of Brazil’s Labor Ministry and the transfer of oversight of indigenous lands and the forestry service to the Agriculture Ministry.

Most recently, the government enacted a “temporary law,” a measure typically reserved for emergencies, that changes the process of union dues collection. The impact of the new law is clear, says Garcez: It will destroy the financial viability of trade unions, undercutting their ability to effectively oppose the anti-worker government. These and other measures are a direct threat to workers’ right to freedom to form unions, he says.

The Central Union of Workers in Brazil (CUT) and other unions and organizations are requesting the IACHR address the attacks on worker rights, and Garcez requested hearings during upcoming IACHR investigations.

The Brazilian Bar Association this week challenged the measure to change union dues collection, and the country’s supreme court will hold a hearing on its constitutionality next week.

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