Workers rights are human rights. And they were violated everywhere in 2022

In an opening of 2023 for Cross-Border Talks, Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat comments on the 2022 annual report of the International Trade Union Confederation that revealed a grim reality of workers’ right being violated virtually everywhere in the world. In fact, only nine countries were assessed by ITUC as states which really treat right to unionizing and collective bargaining seriously. Elsewhere, labour unionists have been fired from work, persecuted and even killed – like in Colombia or different African states.

Hello, everybody, following Cross-border Talks. What are we recording now? Is not really a talk, but a kind of solo commentary. Let us know if you like or not, this form of commenting on things.

And I decided to record it because I was truly moved by the report on the trade unions and the State of Workers’ Rights that was published by the International Trade Union Confederation. This is not really a brand new document, but it did not get enough publicity at the time when it first saw the sunlight. And I think that as Cross-Border Talks are a social-oriented medium, as we give a lot of attention to people’s self organizations to protest and everything concerning the worker’s rights, we should start the year 2023 with an assessment of workers liberties.

In what situation are we now? It is even more important, given the fact that humanity as such is going through the crisis of livelihood. Another global crisis of capitalism hits everybody in the world, albeit with different severity. Even workers in the global North, even workers in Europe, the supposed Garden of Freedoms are now discovering that workers’ rights are neither given forever nor something really obvious, even in so called major democracies. Unfortunately, violations of workers rights are a trend that that has been recorded by the International Trade Union Confederation, among others.

The report on the workers’ rights shows us that in nine year trends most of the key indicators of workers’ freedoms are becoming worse and worse. The right to strike, which seems obvious for people in the more developed economies with a history of workers movement is absent in most African countries, is being violated in the South-Eastern Asian countries and is definitely also not obvious in the Americas and even in Europe. The violations of workers rights have been recorded everywhere. Only nine countries in the world were given the highest note – ‘sporadic violations of rights’. All other countries of the world were labelled as those wwith repeated violations of workers rights, regular violations, systematic violations, or even no guarantee of any rights to working people.

By workers rights, we understand the right to strike, the right to form trade unions, the right to collective bargaining. So everything that the organized workers movement has been working for, for nearly one for more than 150 years.

Let me just name the nine countries that were rated best. All of them are located in Europe. This is perhaps no surprise. We see a couple of Nordic countries there: Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark and Finland. Also two German speaking countries, Austria and Germany, plus Ireland and Italy. They were basically labeled the best from the point of view of working class freedoms or the workers rights to organize and articulate the demands.

Other European countries ended up either in regular violation of the right category or repeated violation of the rights category system. However, there are European countries also in the group of states blamed for systematic violations of rights, and here we find Greece and Romania. As far as Europe is concerned, and in the fifth category – guarantee of rights, we see Belarus, which is outside of the European Union. But for many people on the left, it is seen as some area where the tradition of the working class movements or socialism is respected or even where a social system functions. Definitely not!

And just in case you are curious. Russia and Ukraine were not ranked due to lack of data. But if they did, their position would not be very high either. As you can see on Cross-Border Talks, we wrote about both attacks on the independent trade unions in Russia and on the anti-union legislation in Ukraine.

Another point which is truly terrifying. If you have a look at the map complied by the International Trade Union Confederation, you will see regions of the world where workers rights are something truly exotic, something that people might have heard of, but which has nothing to do with the reality. The two worst regions in the world would be the Middle East and North Africa and then Asia Pacific region. There is virtually no country in this area that really offers labor unions a possibility to work, a possibility to shape the reality. As next ones, there comes Africa. Americas and Europe. Still the last one is relatively the best place to live for workers.

And yes, there are still places where being a trade union organizer means that you risk your life. In 2022, there were more than ten countries where trade unionists were actually killed for their activities and even more countries where workers were attacked violently, where they were murdered during the strike or protest actions. Among these countries we see Bangladesh with India, Myanmar, the Philippines and Colombia as infamous record holder. This country has been very dangerous for any kind of civil activists for decades. In addition, if we go back a bit to the Belarusian example and see what happened to the attempts to form independent working class organizations after the 2020 protest also shows how the democratic rights are connected to the rights of the working clas. Wherever democratic standards are violated so blatantly as Alexander Lukashenko did, that the trade unions are usually among the first victims.

The trade unions and the working class organizations can be really powerful. If workers stop production, then the whole economy is hit. And this is something that no undemocratic government can really allow. There were a lot of things being said about civil liberties being destroyed in Belarus, and we must not forget that the right to assembly, the right to have a trade union organization was among those violated, and the only trade unions allowed to continue their activities are those that follow completely the government line.

Nevertheless, the report also shows that so-called major democracy or old democracy is no 100% guarantee for workers rights either. As I said, only nine countries of the world got this best note in the rank from the point of view of the workers and such countries as France with huge democratic traditions, or Great Britain, which is never accused of being a dictatorship, also did their steps against workers rights. If you followed events in France during the last years, you might remember what level of brutality was used against the Gilets Jaunes, the Yellow Vests, during their protests. More recently in 2022, the state openly stepped in to finish the strike of the refinery workers. And when we are recording this video on 16th January, there is an ongoing dispute in Great Britain over the new legislation that would complicate the activities of trade unions even more.

So as you can see at the moment, when humanity is fighting to survive both in climate crisis and in livelihood crisis, the organizations that should be defending working people, that should articulate the demands of an absolute majority of people in the world, are being under fire, are being under attack, and are being limited in different ways. Even in the states which do not murder the trade unionists, there are all the time there are attempts to limit their actions all the times. There are attempts to limit their capacities, there are attempts to put their action into some framework that would be satisfactory rather for the business, for the owners, than for people who want to fight for their basic rights. And these basic rights are the wages that allow us to survive and basic safety at the workplace.

This is not really an optimistic piece of information, but I think that we should be aware of the state of things now. And if we even live in European countries, we should not be so confident that some workers rights, some freedoms that were that seem apparent to us that will stay forever. They are not obvious for most of the working people in the world, and they might come under attack in our European homelands as well.

Well, thank you very much. That was the comment on the 2022 report of the International Trade Union Confederation. And we are going to continue writing on worker’s rights, workers’ protest and social issues on Cross-border Talks. Please follow us.

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