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Economy

A Deadly Year For Union Leaders Worldwide

According to the International Trade Union Confederation, some 100 union members were killed in 2010. A bleak picture that shows no sign of improvement.

Labor protest in Colombia, where 49 union activists were killed in 2010. (El Turbión)
Labor protest in Colombia, where 49 union activists were killed in 2010. (El Turbión)

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PARIS - On May 26, on his way to work in Morales, Guatemala, Idar Joel Hernandez Godoy, the finance secretary of the Izabal Banana Workers Union, was shot dead. In early April, Oscar Humberto Gonzalez Vazquez, one of his colleagues was also found dead, shot 35 times.

In its 2011 report on the "violation of union rights," the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) painted a bleak picture of the situation in 143 countries: nearly 100 union members killed in 2010 (49 in Colombia alone,) dozens of attempted murders and thousands of arrests -- and of course the countless masses laid-off from their jobs because of their affiliation with labor unions.

In April, authorities in Swaziland launched a brutal crackdown on demonstrations, sparking international outrage. "Unions are allowed, but as soon as we get together, the police use violence against us," said Sibanesenkhosi Dlamini, President of the Federation of Swaziland Unions.

Behind the most obvious violent acts, the anti-union atmosphere has never been stronger, according to the ITUC. "The social net is under pressure and the trend is to downgrade labor laws," says Nadine Thevenet who's in charge of union freedoms at the ITUC. Social movements multiply and unions become the enemy.

In Central America, Asia and Africa, it turns to murder. In Cambodia, Bangladesh and Turkey, arrests and lay-offs. In Eastern Europe, authorities try to limit the influence of independent unions, taking control of unions or favoring more pliant ones. Maia Kobakhidze, leader of the Georgian professors and scientists union was challenged by a dissident faction, favored by the Ministry of Education. "They asked me to resign, offering me another, well-paid job, in the ministry," she says. Ever since she refused, the union has seen its funding choked off.

With this picture, unions in western countries seem to be idyllic. But for the ITUC, the anti-union atmosphere is global. "In a company, signing up in a union is seen first and foremost as declaration of war against the boss," says French CGT Union leader Bernard Thibault. The physical violence of the 20th century has morphed into harassment, time constraints or workplace humiliation.

Read full article in French by Remi Barroux

photo - El Turbión

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