Monday, October 8, 2007

State of the union

"An appalling total of 144 trade unionists were murdered for defending workers' rights in 2006, while more than 800 suffered beatings or torture, according to the Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights Violations, published by the 168-million member International Trade Union Confederation. The 379-page report details nearly 5,000 arrests and more than 8,000 dismissals of workers due to their trade union activities. 484 new cases of trade unionists held in detention by governments are also documented in the report.

The anti-union activities of a number of multinational companies, including repeat offenders such as Coca Cola subsidiaries and suppliers, Wal-Mart, Goodyear, Nestlé and Bouygues come under the spotlight. Heavy repression by suppliers to well-known global brand names, especially in the textiles and agriculture sectors, is also described.

Public service and education workers faced anti-union discrimination in Algeria, Benin and Ethiopia, where the government continued its harassment of the Teachers Association. The Djibouti union centre UDT was subjected to heavy government harassment, and one of its senior officials had to flee the country in fear for his life. The Libyan and Sudanese governments also maintain heavy restrictions on freedom of association, while Egypt also imposes limits on union rights.

Tentative steps towards trade union rights in Oman and positive developments in Bahrain were overshadowed by continued severe restrictions or outright bans on union activity in much of the Middle East, notably in Saudi Arabia. Restrictions on freedom of association also continued in Jordan, Kuwait and Yemen, and the Syrian authorities exercised virtually total control of the official trade union organisation, the only one allowed. Many migrant workers throughout the Middle East faced hazardous and exploitative working conditions without any effective legal recourse. Iraqi trade unionists faced ongoing and targeted violence. Among the many attacks, one of the most appalling involved a health union leader who was abducted, tortured with an electric drill and then shot to death. Iran continued to deny basic rights to its workers, cracking down hard on independent trade union activity with mass arrests and detentions including that of a 12 year old girl who was beaten and thrown into a police van. Mansour Osanloo, head of the Tehran bus drivers' union, was held in solitary confinement for four months, and beaten and arrested a second time in November. Following his release on bail, he was once again arrested by the authorities in July 2007 and remains, along with several colleagues, in prison.

Continued violence in Palestine also affected the trade union movement. In one case, masked men threw a hand-grenade a union-run radio station and then set it on fire, injuring four people. Continued restrictions on movement of Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza by the Israeli authorities made trade union activities even more difficult. "

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