Participants at the 2016 Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) convention joined the Solidarity Center to celebrate 20 years of working together at a gathering that also launched the first of a year-long series of events marking the Solidarity Center’s 20th anniversary in 2017.
CBTU President Terry Melvin and Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau open the 20th anniversary event. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Speaking at the May 27 reception in Washington, D.C., CBTU President Terry Melvin, who serves on the Solidarity Center Board of Directors, said, “The issues affecting workers of color are very similar around the world. I believe there are things we can learn from South Africa, from Europe, that can help us be better trade unionists.”
Opening the event, Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau said “We are proud the Solidarity Center has been allied with CBTU in the struggle to achieve worker rights around the globe for the past 20 years.”
In 2014, CBTU met with top African union leaders in high-level meetings organized by the Solidarity Center during the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington, D.C., and presented recommendations on jobs, gender equality, inclusive economic development and pro-poor investment to African heads of state.
Solidarity Center and CBTU Partners in Brazil
The Solidarity Center and CBTU also have worked in Brazil with INSPIR (the Inter-American Union Institute for Racial Equality) for the past 20 years to help eliminate racism against Afro-descendants in the workplace and throughout society. Afro-descendants comprise more than half the Brazilian population, yet are systematically discriminated against in the labor market.
UAW members Janice Hodges from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and Melvin Prince from Kansas City, Missouri, were among CBTU members taking part in 20th anniversary celebrations. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Former CBTU president and AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Emeritus Bill Lucy, who recently retired from the Solidarity Center Board, told participants that after his first fact-finding trip to Brazil with the AFL-CIO 20 years ago, he saw “directly how racial discrimination played out in many ways similarly to what we were fighting (and continue to fight) together against and organizing to overcome in the US.
“The Solidarity Center office in Brazil since then has been a key supporter and funder of this work, which I was proud of then and continue to be glad to see,” he said.
“The Solidarity Center mission is to strengthen workers’ rights around the globe,” said Jos Williams, who recently retired as leader of the Metro Washington Labor Council, and as Solidarity Center Board member. “They did that knowing that one of the best partners they have is CBTU.”
CBTU Members Take Part in International Labor Workshops
Earlier that day, CBTU conference participants attended an international plenary featuring Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation Africa Region (ITUC-Africa) and Maria Julia Nogueira, secretary for racial equality at the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT) in Brazil.
“We are all facing the same struggle”–Lois Carson, a state vice president of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees/AFSCME. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
The workshops focused on the struggles African unions and communities are waging against corporate globalization, and on the historic parallels and similar dynamics of racial inequality in the United States and Brazil.
“We are all facing the same struggle,” said Lois Carson, a state vice president of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees/AFSCME, who attended the plenary. “No matter what country, what region, everywhere workers are underpaid, working in bad conditions.”
From Kansas City, Missouri, Melvin Prince, a UAW Local 31 member and CBTU conference participant, put it this way:
“The only way we’re going to get something done is to work together and stick together.”
At the event, the Solidarity Center made available for donation more than one dozen framed photos and posters depicting workers we work with around the world. All donations go to help Solidarity Center’s efforts to help empower workers around the globe.
Uzbek human rights defender Elena Urlaeva has been detained against her will in a psychiatric hospital in Tashkent and the government should release her immediately, the Cotton Campaign said today. The Cotton Campaign is a coalition of worker rights and human rights groups that includes the Solidarity Center.
“Holding Elena Urlaeva in a psychiatric hospital without a clear medical rationale is a grave breach of medical ethics,” says Umida Niyazova, director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF). “She should be released immediately, and the Uzbek government must cease using hospitals as extrajudicial detention centers.”
Urlaeva’s Efforts Key to Reducing Child Labor
Urlaeva for years has documented forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, where some 1 million teachers, medical professionals and others are forced to toil during harvest seasons. She has been credited with helping significantly reduce child labor in cotton fields, and this month was among human rights defenders in Uzbekistan to receive the International Labor Rights Forum 2016 Labor Rights Defenders Award.
Urlaeva was detained last year after interviewing and photographing teachers forced by government officials to work in the cotton fields, and says that she was physically assaulted during the subsequent interrogation.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has pushed the Uzbek government to end forced labor. Following a complaint by Uzbek civil society, the World Bank attached covenants stipulating its loans to Uzbekistan could be stopped and subject to repayment if forced or child labor was detected in project areas by ILO monitors contracted by the World Bank to carry out labor monitoring during the harvest. In March, members of the Cotton Campaign urged the World Bank to make good on its promise.
Uzbek Government Targets Human Rights Defenders
The Uzbek government has responded to global pressure to end forced labor by cracking down on Uzbek labor rights activists who monitor cotton harvests.
Uktam Pardaev, another Uzbek labor rights activist was jailed while he was monitoring last fall’s cotton harvest in Uzbekistan and now is serving three years’ probation at his home, where he is under constant surveillance by security services. (You can take action to help Pardaev.)
Also last fall, Uzbek human rights defender Dimitry Tikhonov reported that his home office was burned and all the equipment and documentation he collected on Uzbekistan’s use of forced labor in the country’s cotton harvestsm destroyed. No other room in his home was touched by the fire, he said. Tikhonov also was arrested and beaten by police as he took photos of some 20 busloads of teachers and school employees forced into the cotton fields for the annual harvest. Tikhonov has since fled the country.
The stories of all three Uzbek human rights defenders are featured in a video created as part of the Labor Rights Defenders Award ceremony, in which a voice-over points out that “the Uzbek government treats them as enemies of the state because of their peaceful human rights activities.”
More than two dozen worker, union and human rights experts from around the world gathered last week in Kenya to discuss some of the most intractable global labor issues: informalization of work, gender inequality, migrant worker rights and the erosion of workers’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association.
The two-day “Expert Consultation on Freedom of Association and Assembly for Workers” was convened by Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association (FOAA), in collaboration with the Solidarity Center. Shawna Bader-Blau, Solidarity Center executive director, co-facilitated the meeting.
Maina Kiai (left) opens the discussion, with Wisborn Malaya (center) representing informal workers in Zimbabwe and Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch. Credit: UN
High-level representatives from key organizations—Asia Monitor Resource Center; Asia Network for Rights of Occupational & Environmental Victims; Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS, National Union School, Colombia); Human Rights House Foundation; Human Rights Watch; International Center for Not-for-Profit Law; International Corporate Accountability Roundtable; International Domestic Workers Federation; International Labor Organization; International Trade Union Confederation; Kenya National Union of Teachers; Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA); Labor Research Service; National Guestworkers Alliance; Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC, the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Project, Mexico); Social and Economic Rights Institute of South Africa; UNITE-HERE; World Movement for Democracy; and Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Employment Organizations—discussed the status of vulnerable workers and their rights, gender-based violence and discrimination, the ability of workers to exercise their rights to freedom of association and assembly, particularly in global supply chains.
The experts closed the meeting by looking at ways to bolster FOAA for vulnerable workers, including strengthening legal frameworks at the national level, monitoring and improving the practices of non-state actors, and establishing global governance mechanisms.
Discussions and conclusions from this consultation will feed into the Special Rapporteur’s next thematic report on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, which he will present to the UN General Assembly in October 2016.
“The Special Rapporteur’s focus on these very serious labor issues can have a real impact, and the organizations consulted during this kick-off meeting were excited to support the effort,” said Bader-Blau. “This is a critical moment for working people around the world, so many of whom are seeing their rights as workers deteriorate because the freedoms of association and assembly are under assault.”
More than 300 the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) members took part in the PGFTU Congress in Nablus late last month, where delegates voted to boost representation of women and reinforced the federation’s commitment to worker rights. They were joined by representatives from 16 international organizations, including the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Solidarity Center and the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Delegates at PGFTU’s Fifth Congress voted to increase from 20 percent to 30 percent the representation of women across all PGFTU bodies over the next four years; agreed to enforce Palestine’s minimum wage law and work to make it a living wage; and reinforced the PGFTU’s stance in defending the freedom to form unions.
Also during the three-day conference, PGFTU General Council members elected Shaher Saad as secretary general and voted in 24 representatives of national general unions, including four women, to the executive committee, along with seven men and women unionists to the financial and administrative audit committee. All will serve four-year terms. The elections were observed by representations from the ILO, the Arab Labor Organization and U.S. and European trade unions and federations.
Delegates backed ongoing dialogue with allies as the PGFTU campaigns for fair labor laws that guarantee decent work for workers and a fair social security law for workers and their families. In ensuring that women make up 30 percent of the federation’s leadership, delegates seek to guarantee their input in designing labor policies and executing union resolutions and reinforced their commitment to promoting the role of Palestinian working women as a key force in the national and local markets.
Participants also emphasized the need to network with civil society organizations and legal groups that to work toward establishing a democratic and transparent civil society.
In his remarks, Saad said workers will achieve social justice and fairness through a strong and independent trade union movement that seeks to elevate workers’ voices and protect him from exploitation.
Since April 2015, at least 14 Honduran union leaders and members have suffered threats or violence, including one who was disappeared and another one who was murdered, part of a campaign of intimidation against worker rights documented in a new report by the Union Network against Anti-Union Violence in Honduras.
Days after the report’s release, Nelson Geovanni Núñez Chávez eceived renewed death threats for helping banana workers form unions, according to the Honduras-based nonprofit ACI-Participa. Last November, Núñez Chávez was forced to leave his home with his family after repeatedly being followed and harassed.
Nuñez Chavez is an organizer for the Honduran agricultural workers’ union, Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria y Similares (STAS), and host of the radio program, “Unionist on the Air.”
Four of the 14 union members and leaders who were victims of violence were active in the Network against Anti-Union Violence—a trend Honduran human rights activists say is a troubling development that may indicate those who actively seek justice for perpetrators of violence are targeted for attack.
Héctor Martínez Motiño, president of a local sectional union of Workers of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (SITRAUNAH), was murdered in June despite protection from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Environmental activist Berta Cáceres Flores, who was murdered last month in Honduras, also had IACHR protection. Observers say there was no police presence around either Martínez Motiño or Cáceres when they were killed. ACI-Participa has documented the assassination of 13 recipients of precautionary measures.
Two union leaders also faced death threats as they defended worker rights at agro-industrial plantations cited in a 2012 complaint filed by the AFL-CIO and 26 Honduran unions and civil society organizations over the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The complaint alleges the Honduran government failed to enforce labor rights under its labor laws.
A report released yesterday by an international fact-finding commission, “Justice for Berta Cáceres Flores,” cited the “ineffectiveness of the Honduran state’s human rights protection system, as well as a prevailing institutional practice that ignores the rights of the victims of human rights violations as active rights holders.”
Honduras passed a law six months ago that protects human rights defenders, but has not issued a regulation on its implementation or enforcement.
The Network against Anti-Union Violence in Honduras, a Solidarity Center ally, was created in 2014 to document violence against union members and push for an end to impunity for those who commit such crimes. No formal statistics on violence against trade unionists existed before the network formed.