May Day in distress
It seems that Governments around the world are cracking down on trade union activities on international workers’ day more than usual. From Bahrain to Swaziland and from Iran to Somalia and Turkey, trade unions are reporting interference from their Government. These attacks on the rights to freedom of assembly and expression suggest that Governments are more worried than ever about the threat to dictatorships that trade unionism represents. But these attacks aren’t just about whether people can protest in the streets – what motivates trade unionists to protest under the shadow of beatings and imprisonment are much bigger issues.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have protested about the Government of Bahrain‘s decision to prohibit the May Day rally organised by the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, one of the few free trade unions in the region.
In Iran, where the Government has a record of stopping May Day rallies, and plenty of brave trade unionists are languishing in the regime’s jails, global manufacturing union federation IndustriALL has written to the Government demanding that it let trade unionists protest on May Day.
The Somalian trade union movement FESTU was told that it could not hold its own May Day event, but its affiliates would be ‘allowed’ to pay towards the Government’s ‘celebrations’. The TUC was one of the organisations which protested to the Somalian Government, and FESTU held an event in the capital Mogadishu on Thursday evening. The organisation’s rally will be in Garowe, Puntland on May Day itself.
In Swaziland, the International Trade Union Confederation has protested that the dictator King Mswati has threatened police violence against trade unionists taking part in a planned rally in the major commercial city of Manzini. Police have announced that only ‘recognised unions’ will be allowed to celebrate May Day and said that they will enforce ‘law and order’ at any rally. The authorities have refused to recognise the legitimate trade union centre TUCOSWA as part of a blanket repression of free speech and freedom of association. Five years ago, union activist Sipho Jele was arrested at the May Day rally in Swaziland and later found dead in his cell, and opposition leader Mario Masuku was arrested – and remains behind bars – after shouting political slogans at last year’s union rally.
And we’ve heard today that Turkish unions have continued their calls to meet in Istanbul’s Taksim Square for May Day celebrations, but the Istanbul Police Department has begun taking excessive security measures to prevent unions from gathering at the square after the governor’s office prohibited rallies in the square. The May Day Organizing Committee, consisting of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK), the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), have called union members and members of the public to meet in Istanbul’s city center but in a different way this year.