Imagine that you want to form a trade union at your workplace for some reason. It may have to do with bad working conditions, low wages or no influence in your working environmnet. Imagine also that because of this, you are harassed, threatened or even murdered directly or indirectly sanctioned by the political regime in your country. This happens today in Colombia, Turkey, Iran, Zimbabwe etc.
I visited a seminar in Visby during the political week in Visby, Gotland, with the title "Why is there so much violence against people active in trade unions". The theme was abuse of workers who are active in trade unions around the world.
Agneta Carlesson, Vanja Lundby-Wedin and Ella Niia discussed what Swedish labour unions can do to help unions in countries which supress them. Photo: Mats Öhlén/Stockholm News.
A pessimistic report
The first speaker was Agneta Carlesson, from "Labour market journalists" and she presented a report from 2009 produced by the two dominating trade Unions in Sweden LO and TCO. The report showed some really depressing figures. In 140 of all (appr. 200) countries today, abuse of union rights was reported.
The abuses of union rights are most frequent in one-party regimes and/or new and weak democracies. Groups that are extra vulnerable are children who often work in poorer countries, and migrant workers.
Naming and blaming
Anja Lundby Wedin was the second speaker. She is the chairman for the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) and also chairman for the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).
Ms Lundby-Wedin claimed that a country which violates the ILO (International Labour Organization) rules of how to treat workers and unions, is not punished. However the internationel organisations like ILO and ETUC can criticise the country in public.
Vanja Lundby-Wedin contiuned saying that she has often criticised China and other countries in personal meetings for their treatment of workers and labour unions. This has, she concluded, often created a tensed atomsphere, but at the same time the whole idea with the criticism is to make them feel uncomfortable. To name and blame is the only weapon.
What can the Swedish labour unions do?
The two main Swedish unions; LO and TCO has together formed "The LO-TCO Secretariat of International Trade Union Development Co-operation". This provides advice and financial support to trade unions who are in trouble with harassments and so on.
They have in the last years worked in several countries to assist their sister organisations. According to Vanja Lundy-Wedin, this is hard work with no quick success but rather long-term work which demands patience.
New centre for migran workers in Stockholm
Vanja Lundby-Wedin and Ella Niia also spoke about the tough situation for migrant workers in Sweden. They informed that there is now a new centre for migrants in Sweden with no papers. These "illegal" immigrants have a very weak position in the Swedish labour market and have more or less nothing to say against their employer who can just threaten to call the police.
If you are one of these paper-less workers, you can contact the centre. the phone number is 020-1601006 (if you call from Sweden).