October 31, 2011
Arabic unions fight for democracy and union rights
On December 17th 2010 a young informal worker in Tunesia - Mohamed Bouazizi - committed
suicide and in so doing changed the world. His action radically affected Arabic countries. Revolutions
were organized. Tunesia first, then Eypt, then Libya. And now maybe others such as Syria, Yemen and
Bahrain. However, the effects of the revolutions went beyond the Arabic world. Young people
throughout the world were inspired by what happened in the Arabic counties began to organize their
own protests and so the world-wide movement called Occupy Wall Street was born. This week
RadioLabour is reporting directly from the country where it all began – Tunesia. We will be talking to
some of the main labour organizers of the revolutions in the Arabic countries.
But first, to keep you up to date with the latest international labour news here is a RadioLabour news
In Australia Quantas airlines shut down all it flights for 48 hours starting Saturday October 30 instead
of negotiating seriously with its unions. It resumed flights after a court ruling canceled the lock-out and
banned more one-day strikes by the airlines workers. A four-day general strike scheduled by unions in
Swaziland for this week has been called off because the government obtained a court order against the
strike. The unions in Swaziland are demanding democratic and union rights. The president of the Fiji
Trade Union Congress has been arrested by the country's military gov't. His whereabouts are unknown.
Workers at Phillipine Airlines organized a blocade of the company on Saturday October 29. The airline
has fired 2,300 of its workers and contracted out their jobs. In Tunesia tourism workers in the hotel and
travel agency sector will hold a strike on November 1. They are trying to win a collective agreement.
Five workers employed at the Egyptian Telecom company have been released from arrest after a huge
demonstration in Cairo. They were arrested for helping to organize a strike.
One of the key union leaders responsible for helping to organize the revolution in Tunesia is Kacem
Afaya. Mr Afaya is the general secretary of the Federation of Health care workers in Tunesia. I asked
him how the unions in Tunesia, and specifically his union, supported the revolution. The interview was
conducted in French.
Mohamed Bouazizi was a martyr. The social and political issues his death raised were those we had
been fighting for for years. The day after his suicide we began to organize demonstrations. The
differenent levels of the UGTT – the central labour organization – the local and regional bodies as well
as the headquarters - brought together not only the unionists but others to participate in the
demonstrations. After December 17 there were many events organized by the unions – hundreds. Then
on January 14 many regions joined in a general strike. The health sector was also involved. While
guaranteeing that emergency services would be maintained the health care workers organized a two
hour general strike. There was a direct connection between the health care workers and the welfare of
people, including the sick. On this day tens of thousands participated in demonstrations against the
regime. And to tell president Ben Ali to leave. It was of course not just the unionists who participqted
but also activists from political parties and NGOS. Since then we have been communicating about our
revolutionn as a form of encouragement to others.
During the week we will be talking to unionists from other Arabic countries – including a
representative from the first independent union in Egypt. The unionists are in Tunis this week as part of
a communications workshop organized by the Public Services International – the PSI. The PSI is the
global union federation which represents unions in the public sector.
And that's it. Now you're up-to-date with the latest international news you can use. On behalf of myself
Marc Belanger and the rest of the team at RadioLabour, thank you for listening. And remember: it's all
about Global Solidarity Forever.