In Swaziland the Solidarity Center is building labor solidarity in Africa and at the international level to help Swazi federation Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) exercise its right to Freedom of Association and protect its leadership from government attacks. The Solidarity Center has also worked with transportation unions, successfully increasing their organizing and bargaining capacity, and helped TUCOSWA conduct research on working conditions in Swaziland’s textile industry.

Over the past decade, Swaziland’s GDP growth—based largely on exports—was stagnant and well below that of other developing sub-Saharan countries, and income inequality has remained stark. Those in the lowest 20 percent of the income bracket own only 4 percent of the wealth and 63 percent were living at or below the poverty line in 2009.

In recent years, the textile and garment sector has lost ground to lower-wage countries in developing Asia, and many workers have lost jobs. Women have been especially hard hit because more than 90 percent of garment and textile workers are female.

Work in the garment and textile sector is harsh and workers sometimes experience abuse, according to a June 2014 survey of more than 400 textile workers from 28 companies in Manzini, Swaziland. The survey, conducted by TUCOSWA, with Solidarity Center assistance, also found that employers routinely violate many of the country’s labor laws and target union activists for punishment.

Unions and opposition parties pressing for a transition to greater parliamentary democracy have been severely repressed, with grassroots leaders beaten and imprisoned and groups banned from participating in civil society. TUCOSWA, a Solidarity Center ally, has consistently been targeted by the government.

Citing the Swazi government’s systematic violations of fundamental worker rights, including barriers to union registration, the U.S. government in June 2014 took the rare step of suspending trade benefits for Swaziland under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

TUCOSWA has strongly criticized the Swazi government’s actions leading to AGOA suspension and has taken a position that trade benefits can be restored when the government chooses to meet benchmarks required under the Act’s eligibility requirements. Yet rather than taking the necessary steps, the government in October 2014 ordered all worker and employer federations to stop operations immediately, effectively disbanding TUCOSWA.

The Solidarity Center is working with trade union federations in Africa and at the international level to build solidarity and urge the Swazi government to protect freedom of association, register TUCOSWA and cease attacks on TUCOSWA’s leadership.

The Solidarity Center also has recently worked with unions such as the Swaziland Transport and Allied Workers Union (STAWU). Following Solidarity Center assistance in building STAWU’s organizing and bargaining capacity, the union helped develop a multi-stakeholder industrial committee that led to wage increases for truckers and bus operators in 2013 and key organizing and bargaining successes in the aviation industry in 2014.