When hundreds of thousands of Colombians took to the streets for weeks last spring to protest the government’s move to give wealthy corporations and rich individuals huge tax breaks while raising taxes on working people, workers and their unions were at the forefront.
Despite the state’s brutal response, in which violence—including illegal detention, torture and the use of lethal weapons—was directed against workers, women and Black and Indigenous communities, the National Strike Committee, a broad coalition of rural workers, the LGBTQ community, environmentalists, women’s organizations and young people, won big victories, says Francisco Maltés.
Maltés, president of the Unitary Workers Center (CUT), the largest union confederation in Colombia, speaks with Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau in a special episode of The Solidarity Center Podcast.
“We were able to do away with the worst tax reform proposal that had ever been seen in Colombia,” says Maltés, describing one of the movement’s gains. Just as important, he says, is that for “the first time in the history of social struggles in Colombia,” unions and their allies can define an agenda and help shape public conversation.
“We are now able to talk about basic income, free tuition, wage subsidies for small and medium businesses. Issues that matter to workers and the average people in Colombia.”
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Stay Tuned for Season Two!
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.
We will back in a few weeks with Season Two, so be sure to join us for a new episode each Wednesday!
Meantime, listen to our special summer episode with union leader Phyo Sandar Soe who speaks from a safe house in military-controlled Myanmar to share how workers have risked their lives on the frontlines for democracy since the February 1 coup.
Also: Check out the full first season of The Solidarity Center Podcast.
This podcast was made possible by the Ford Foundation and 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.
More than 40 labor organizations in Haiti joined a call for vast nationwide legal reforms, including free and fair elections and the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse. The move follows weeks of massive demonstrations against rampant government corruption and wasteful spending that has devastated the economy.
The most recent round of protests began September 2, sparked by fuel shortages, spiraling inflation, a lack of safe drinking water, environmental degradation and food scarcity. Factories, schools, and businesses have sporadically closed with the near daily protests. In one of the largest rallies to date, thousands turned out on Sunday in a peaceful demonstration, with human rights organizations, popular artists, and business leaders joining unions, young workers and the many others hard-hit by the country’s economic crisis.
In the Joint Declaration for a National Rescue Government, issued October 11, more than 100 organizations—including three Solidarity Center union partners–urge all segments of society to join together to demand a return of public services and implementation of an emergency program for the most vulnerable groups. The Joint Declaration also seeks an end to the culture of impunity in the judicial system and demands a clean accounting of public finances.
More than 60 percent of Haitians survive on less $2 a day, and more than 2.5 million fall below the extreme poverty line of $1.23 per day. Haitians are outraged that the island has received millions of dollars in aid since the 2010 earthquake, but public services and infrastructure are nearly nonfunctional.
A Solidarity Center survey this year found that the daily minimum wage for export apparel workers in Haiti is $5.07—more than four times less than the estimated cost of living. These workers—the majority of whom are women who support families—are forced to toil longer for less due to diminished purchasing power and are unable to cover daily necessities, including food.
“The High Cost of Low Wages in Haiti,” which tracked living expenses for garment workers from September 2018 through March 2019, recommends the government increase the minimum wage to an estimated $18.30 per day and allow workers to select their own representatives to the country’s tripartite minimum wage committee. Unions are advocating for these measures and raise them as key remedies to addressing the crisis underway.
Recent massive teacher protests in Morocco demanding the government create permanent employment contracts is not an issue confined to the education sector—the extent to which decent jobs are available affects the future of the country, say leaders of the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT).
A recent government decree making it no longer possible for workers with renewable two-year employment contracts to integrate into the public sector as before means workers have no access to fair wages and social benefits like retirement. The move “outlines the direction and policies of the state to dismantle the public service as a right of citizenship and to disengage from its responsibility towards citizens,” according to a CDT statement.
At least 10,000 teachers protested Sunday in Rabat, Morocco’s capital, to demand the government replace renewable contracts with permanent jobs that offer civil-service benefits, including a better retirement pension.
The Sunday protests came hours after police used water cannon to disperse an overnight demonstration. Many teachers had spent the night in the streets of Rabat after the first event before marching on Sunday from the education ministry to Parliament.
The weekend protests follow nationwide strikes in the education sector on March 13 and 14, and union leaders say more protests are likely.
More than 25% of Young Workers Are Employed
While overall unemployment hovers around 10 percent, more than one-quarter of young people in Morocco are without jobs.
Half of Moroccans who have jobs work in the informal economy, generally in precarious positions with low wages on farms, in construction, textiles and in the food and tobacco industry.
“Despite the strong opposition of the unions, the government is determined to continue hiring with contracts in the education sector and in the public sector in accordance with the recommendations of the international financial institutions, which demand a reduction in the wages,” the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT) says in a statement.
International lenders are pressuring Morocco to trim civil-service wages and cut back on public-sector services.
In addition to CDT and UMT, other unions supporting the march include the Democratic Federation of Labor (FDT), General Union of Moroccan Workers (UGTM) and the National Teaching Federation (FNE).