Labor unions have played a critical role in democratic transitions, in sustaining democracy and as civil society groups advancing pluralism and democratic norms. So the latest annual Global Rights Index from the International Trade Union Confederation is cause for concern:
- Trade unionists were murdered in ten countries – Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey and Zimbabwe.
- 85% of countries have violated the right to strike.
- 80% of countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining.
- The number of countries which exclude workers from the right to establish or join a trade union increased from 92 in 2018 to 107 in 2019.
- Workers had no or restricted access to justice in 72% of countries.
- The number of countries where workers are arrested and detained increased from 59 in 2018 to 64 in 2019.
- Out of 145 countries surveyed, 54 deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly.
- Authorities impeded the registration of unions in 59% of countries.
- Workers experienced violence in 52 countries.
“Trade unions are on the front lines in a struggle to claim democratic rights and freedoms from the corporate greed that has captured governments such that they act against workers’ rights,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “We need a New Social Contract between workers, governments and business to rebuild trust as people lose faith in democracies. It’s time to change the rules.”
“The challenge for everyone in the human rights community is to stand together to fight to create more decent work opportunities, better livelihoods and more human dignity and freedom,” the Solidarity Center’s* Shawna Bader-Blau told a recent Cornell forum.
Just over thirty years ago on June 4, Poland conducted its first semi-free elections since the country fell under communist rule and Soviet domination after World War II. Freedom House’s Arch Puddington discusses American labor’s role in the struggle for democracy in Poland and elsewhere with Eric Chenoweth, co-director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe.
*A core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.