Trade union rights: dead serious

I've worked almost all my adult life as a trade unionist. Under Mrs Thatcher, we were the enemy within, and over the years I've spent a lot of nights trying to bring a union and their employer together to avoid a strike. But my lot is easy compared with many trade unionists around the world. Last year, for instance, 76 of my brothers and sisters were actually murdered just for being trade unionists and thousands more were beaten, imprisoned or harassed.

Today, the International Trade Union Confederation – the global body to which the TUC and 311 other trade union movements in 157 countries belong – publishes its annual survey of violations of trade union rights. Sadly, those deaths are a regular occurrence. Life is very dangerous indeed for trade unionists in Colombia, Guatemala, the Philippines and Venezuela, in Honduras, Nepal, Iraq, Nigeria, Panama, Tunisia and Zimbabwe.

Around the globe, unscrupulous employers often work hand in hand with corrupt governments to deny people the right to join trade unions and to campaign for higher wages, and safer, fairer work.

At a time of global economic downturn, when employers are shedding jobs and putting pressure on workers to accept less pay, employees need a union more than ever to stand up for them. Yet in some parts of the world, simply becoming a union member and fighting for a better deal for colleagues, can be enough to see individuals thrown into prison, beaten up and at worst, murdered.

You can

Brendan Barber

TUC General Secretary

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