As a trade unionist in a country like Scotland I take communicating with others and expressing myself freely for granted. It is central to living in an open and fair society. However, across the globe fellow trade unionists do not have the same freedoms and it is those comrades that we should salute on Blog Action Day.
Governments pay lip service to ‘free speech’ in almost every constitution in the world, some even sign up to international conventions like the ILO. However, the reality isn't so free. Across the world trade unionists are thrown into prison, or worse, for speaking out. As Amnesty International puts it; "Our right to seek, receive and share information and ideas, without fear or unlawful interference, is crucial for our education, to develop as individuals, help our communities, access justice, and enjoy all our other rights."
Let's look at some examples.
Trade unions in Colombia were until around 1990 among the strongest in Latin America. However the 1980s expansion of paramilitarism in Colombia saw trade union leaders and members increasingly targeted for assassination, and as a result Colombia has been the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists for several decades. Between 1986 and 2010 over 4000 were killed according to one source. Most assassinations were carried out by paramilitaries or the Colombian military; some were carried out by the guerrillas. By 2009 only around 4% of workers in Colombia were unionised.
Amnesty has recently reported that four other trade unionists and retired military officers close to opposition groups were arrested in Conakry, Guinea, between 4-6 October, days before the contested 11 October presidential elections. They have been charged with contempt of the head of state and defamation - something I do almost daily on Twitter and Facebook, as well as in this blog!
Ismail Abdi, Secretary General of Iran’s Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA), has been detained in Tehran's Evin Prison since 27 June this year for "organising and participating in illegal gatherings” for his legitimate trade unionist activities. Again, organising meetings like this is something I would take for granted. In September 2015 trade unionist and prisoner of conscience Shahrokh Zaman, died in Iranian custody.
On April 21 2014 the Turkish police burst into a peaceful gathering of trade union representatives who were organising their activities for May 1 in a hotel near Taksim Square, Istanbul. The police intervened with tear gas & shields, injuring people and 12 DISK union members were detained. The ETUC condemned the ongoing violations of trade union and human rights in Turkey and called on the Government to abide by International Labour Organisation conventions which they have signed.
UNISON Scotland's Stephen Smellie recently reported in the Morning Star on his visit to Kurdish areas of Turkey where trade unionists are under physical attack, he said:
"Sometimes international solidarity is more than passing motions at conferences and signing petitions on social media. The Turkish trade unions are in a struggle with an anti-trade union government that uses war against its own citizens for electoral advantage."
Finally, the U.K. government's Trade Union Bill illustrates why we should not be complacent nearer to home. Plans include the criminalising of some picketing activity, and even controls over blogs, Twitter and Facebook activity during disputes. A Tory MP has described these plans as reminiscent of Franco's Spain. In addition, Government plans to repeal the Human Rights Act are not only a threat to our liberties in the UK, but they also send a shocking message to illiberal regimes across the world.
So, on Blog Action Day let's support those who stand up for human rights in countries were they put themselves in real physical danger. And defend human rights in the UK from those who seek to curb our liberties. #raiseyourvoice