In the wake of Colombia’s narrow rejection of a peace accord and the subsequent bestowing of the Nobel Peace Prize on the country’s president last weekend, Colombian trade unions vowed to remain part of the process to end the Western Hemisphere’s longest war and work toward a more inclusive society.
On October 2 and to the disappointment of the Colombian labor movement, citizens narrowly rejected a deal that would have ended 52 years of war. The three national trade union centers—the Central Workers’ Union (CUT), Confederation of Colombian Workers (CTC), General Labor Confederation (CGT)—issued a joint statement reaffirming their “commitment to the peace process” and said the labor movement would continue efforts “to bring about an end to the armed conflict” in the country.
The agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) took more than four years to negotiate. The accord addressed victim rights and reparations, marking a breakthrough for trade unionists, who were officially recognized as victims of the conflict.
Colombia Unions Praise Decision to Award Santos Nobel Peace Prize
In statements, the CGT, CTC and CUT also lauded the decision to award Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the conflict last weekend. They expressed continued support for, and participation in, an inclusive process that will eventually lead to a sustainable peace.
In addition to ending the war, the accord could pave the way for a national decent work policy, create jobs, expand protections for union action in public spaces and bolster freedom of association rights.
Colombia was long the most dangerous country in the world for worker rights activists. Since 1977, 3,100 union activists and members were murdered, with many cases going unsolved, according to the National Union School (ENS), a Solidarity Center ally.
For its role in brokering a peaceful path to democracy, Tunisia’s labor movement today was named a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Nobel Committee recognized the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet—comprised of longtime Solidarity Center ally the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers—for establishing “an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war.”
The Quartet, formed in 2013, was “instrumental in enabling Tunisia, in the space of a few years, to establish a constitutional system of government guaranteeing fundamental rights for the entire population, irrespective of gender, political conviction or religious belief,” Nobel Committee Chairman Kaci Kullmann Five said at the presentation ceremony.
“This is a great joy and pride for Tunisia, but also a hope for the Arab World,” UGTT chief Houcine Abassi told Reuters. “It’s a message that dialogue can lead us on the right path. This prize is a message for our region to put down arms and sit and talk at the negotiation table.”
In 2012, the UGTT received the AFL-CIO’s 2012 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award along with the labor federation of Bahrain, the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, for their mobilization of thousands of people in their countries to carry forward a message of social justice during the popular uprisings that swept the Middle East in 2010 and 2011.
This is the second year in a row that worker rights activists have been honored with a Nobel Peace Prize. Last year Kailash Satyarthi, head of the Global March against Child Labor, also a Solidarity Center ally, shared the prize with girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai.
Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi led a rally against child labor at the Lincoln Memorial. Credit: Solidarity Center/Jeff C. Wheeler
Saying that “168 million children are producing wealth, producing clothes, producing shoes, the things that you and I use,” child rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi told a crowd gathered yesterday at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.: “We are here to say that we denounce all forms of child slavery, of human slavery.”
On the 157th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech on slavery, Satyarthi, winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, spoke of the urgency with which child slavery must be eradicated. The Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation organized the meet-up for childhood freedom June 16, days after the global community marked World Day Against Child Labor.
Many of the 168 million child workers around the world are forced into slavery or prostitution or serve as child soldiers. Most, Satyarthi said, work in hazardous and even life-threatening conditions. While this number is down from 246 million in the 1990s, Satyarthi said there is still a long way to go.
“Every child should be free to be a child,” he declared. “Every child should be free to love, free to play, free to go to school, free to have a dream.”
Satyarthi called for organizations to work together to end child labor. “I have worked with civil society, I have worked with trade unions, I have worked with teachers’ organizations,” he said. He explained how such organizations are vital to promoting human rights, especially for children. “Companies like child labor because it is cheap, because children can be easily exploited,” he said. “Children cannot form unions, they cannot go to the polls.”
Satyarthi recalled the visions of freedom activists who came before him, including not only Abraham Lincoln but also Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. “I feel pain,” Satyarthi said. “I am angry that we have not been able to pay the real tribute to these men by eradicating slavery.”
He also insisted that child labor and poverty could not be vanquished without serious investment in education. He lamented poorly financed school systems in some developing countries, where funds for education amount to less than three percent of gross domestic product. Children’s education also receives less than one percent of humanitarian aid worldwide, Satyarthi reported.
“We cannot have a just, dignified world without education,” he declared. “My children in the world cannot wait. Freedom must happen now.”
Labor and human rights activist and long-time Solidarity Center ally Kailash Satyarthi won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel committee announced this morning. He shares the prestigious award with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who survived a brutal 2012 Taliban attack for her stance on girls’ education.
As a grassroots activist, Satyarthi has led the rescue of more than 78,500 child laborers and survived numerous attacks on his life as a result. As a PBS profile describes Satyarthi’s work: “His original idea was daring and dangerous. He decided to mount raids on factories—factories frequently manned by armed guards—where children and often entire families were held captive as bonded workers.”
Solidarity Center Asia Regional Director Tim Ryan said, “Kailash’s lifetime commitment to the cause of eradicating child labor is an inspiration to every human rights defender around the world to promote the rights of the most vulnerable, the most economically exploited young workers and the paramount importance of finding ways to secure basic education for all children around the world.”
Satyarthi’s decades of work to end exploitive child labor have encompassed advocacy for decent work and working conditions for adults, including domestic workers, because impoverished families must often make the difficult choice of sending their children to work for the sake of family survival.
“Child labor is a largely neglected, ignored, denied aspect of human rights,” Satyarthi told the Solidarity Center in a recent interview. “This is crime against humanity and is unacceptable in any civilized society.”
In 1998, Satyarthi created the Global March Against Child Labour, a coalition of unions and child rights organizations from around the world, to work toward elimination of child labor. Global March members and partners are now in more than 140 countries. Many of these civil society groups, including the Solidarity Center, came together to launch End Child Slavery Week November 20–26, with the focus this year on pushing the United Nations to make ending child labor a key priority of its 15-year action now under development.
Winning the Nobel “will help in giving bigger visibility to the cause of children who are most neglected and most deprived,” Satyarthi said upon learning he won the prestigious prize. “Everyone must acknowledge and see that child slavery still exists in the world in its ugliest face and form. And this is crime against humanity, this is intolerable, this is unacceptable. And this must go.” (Listen to his interview with the Nobel Prize team.)
At age 26, Satyarthi gave up a promising career as an electrical engineer and dedicated his life to helping the millions of children in India who are forced into slavery by powerful and corrupt business and land owners.
In 1994, Satyarthi spearheaded Rugmark (now known as GoodWeave), the official process certifying that carpets were not woven by children, and aimed at dissuading consumers from buying carpets made by child laborers through consumer awareness campaigns in Europe and the United States.
His life’s achievements encompass a range of human rights work. Satyarthi created a series of “model villages” free from child exploitation, and some 356 villages have emerged in 11 states of India since the model’s inception in 2001. The children of these villages attend school and participate in a wide range of governance meetings to discuss the running of their villages, through child governance bodies and youth groups.
“Showing great personal courage, Kailash Satyarthi, maintaining Gandhi’s tradition, has headed various forms of protests and demonstrations, all peaceful, focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain,” said Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland said.
Satyarthi’s award of the Nobel Prize is the latest high-profile recognition of worker rights activists in the last month. Earlier this week, Alejandra Ancheita, founder and executive director of the Mexico City-based ProDESC (Project for Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights), won the prestigious international Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. And in September, Ai-jen Poo, founder and director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, became a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant recipient.