The «Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights» for 2021 is awarded to the independent trade union movement in Belarus, represented by the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) and its affiliates. They receive the award for their fearless struggle for democracy and fundamental trade union rights in Europe's last dictatorship.
Belarus is considered one of the worst countries in the world for violating workers' rights. Human rights organizations have for many years expressed deep concern about the human rights violations in the country; «disappearances», police violence and lack of freedom of expression and association. Despite the Lukashenko regime's attempts to take control of the independent unions and complicate recruitment, organizing and regular trade union activity, they have never given up and have continued to work for its members.
In connection with the presidential election in the autumn of 2020, where the result was obviously falsified, the situation in the country deteriorated further. All forms of opposition have been cracked down on through heavy police brutality, imprisonment and harassment. The independent trade union movement became central early in the fight against the falsification of the election result and the fight for democracy. There was a wave of strikes, actions and demonstrations demanding the cancellation of the election results and the release of all political prisoners.
The strikes and demonstrations were met with terror, mass arrests and torture. A number of trade union representatives and activists have been fired from their jobs, and many have been imprisoned or forced to flee the country. Union offices have been raided and closed. Nevertheless, the unions in the BKDP have recruited new members, formed new local unions and continued the struggle. This will be crucial for the Lukashenko regime to fall in the end.
The Prize Committee will state that in shaping a new political and economic regime after the fall of Lukashenko, a vibrant trade union movement, independent of political authorities, will be crucial in creating a society that serves the vast majority.
In 2012, Barbara Figueroa Sandoval was elected president of CUT, becoming the youngest and the first woman to lead the most important trade union centre in Chile. Before this she was active in the teachers’ union «Colegio de Professores» where she assumed a leading role in the great demonstrations in 2011 against privatisation and commercialisation of education. Through this work a solid alliance between student movements and unions was built.
During the autumn 2019, Chile faced the deepest social and political crisis since the dictatorship, with new mass demonstrations. Barbara Figueroa Sandoval and CUT were key in forming the broad social coalition «Mesa Unidad» which together with other organisations brought millions of Chileans to the streets. This broad alliance between trade unions, students and other civil society organisations demanded among others increased minimum wages, pension reform, reduction of the working week, strengthening of workers’ rights and a National Constituent Assembly.
To suppress the popular uprising, president Piñera declared state of emergency and adopted and implemented heavy repressive measures. Thousands of protesters were jailed and wounded, and at least 26 were killed by the security forces. Human rights organisations have reported restrictions of human rights and on mass media. Barbara Figueroa Sandoval and several other trade union leaders have faced intimidation and harassment, and their activities have been systematically surveilled by intelligence agencies.
The trade union centre CUT has through a combination of mass mobilisations and negotiations achieved increased minimum wage and reduced working week in spite of great political resistance. Barbara Figueroa Sandoval is the sole female leader of a trade union centre in the region and has made CUT a pioneer in trade union transparency and accountability.
Barbara Figueroa Sandoval is a worthy winner of the «Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights». She has shown great courage, efficaciousness, and she is a role model for many. She has lead the way creating a more open, vital and transparent trade union, while at the same time having strengthened CUT as a social-political trade union with close ties to other civil society organisations. She may also pave the way for new female leaders in a very male dominated culture, as well as strengthen support for trade unions among women in the region.
The Arthur Svenson Prize committee also want the award of this year’s prize to contribute to more awareness of the situation in Chile, and be a contribution to strengthen the trade unions’ fight for workers’ rights in the country.
See also ITUC about the award to Barbara Figueroa.
Video of the prize committee leader, Frode Alfheim, telling why Barbara is awarded the prize.
The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights 2019 is awarded to the Philippine trade union activist France Castro. She is awarded the prize for her struggle throughout many years to organize teachers and to fight for basic workers’ rights in the Philippines.
According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) the Philippines is among the 10 worst countries in the world for workers and trade unionists. According to ITUC the country does not respect the basic workers’ rights: The right to organize and collectively bargain, and the right to protection against child labour, discrimination and forced labour. In a context of extreme state violence and suppression of civil liberties, workers and trade unionists face threats and intimidation from both the regime and companies, and have to fight for their rights.
Despite threats and intimidation there are brave people who fight for democracy and human rights. Some active trade unionists, in particular journalists and teachers, have been targeted by the regime and those around them. Some have been killed or imprisoned. Death threats are common. The last months police officers have organized illegal profiling and vilification of unionized teachers, a massive union-busting and invasion of teachers’ privacy.
France Castro is one of the brave persons who stands up for democracy and workers’ rights. She worked as a teacher and established a union in Quezon City. After a few years she was elected Secretary General of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), and took the lead assembling teachers in one trade union.
ACT under the leadership of France Castro has in a short time grown to become one of the largest trade unions in the Philippines. In 2016 the union negotiated the first collective agreement for public school teachers, an agreement which recognizes the right to strike.
France Castro took the struggle for important workers’ issues into the Parliament when she was elected MP in 2016 as candidate from her union. She pushed for the expansion of maternity leave for all women to 105 days, a bill that recently passed the Parliament, and she has fought for higher minimum wages. As representative for teachers she has fought against neoliberal reforms in education and filed bills for the rights and welfare of education workers. Besides these issues she has amongst others fought against lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, the mandatory Reserve Officer Training Corps in senior high school and targeting of minors in the regime’s «anti-drug war» which has resulted in extrajudicial killings and illegal detention and arrests of thousands of young people. She and her union has for years been engaged in indigineous people’s right to education, an engagement that led to her being attacked by paramilitary forces and detained during a solidarity mission in Lumad schools in Talaingod last November..Both inside and outside the Parliament France Castro has been fighting for the poor, the workers and the human rights against powerful opponents.
The trade unions are under fierce pressure all over the world. When inequalities and the pressure on democratic rights increase, it is the workers and the trade unions who often are the first victims, as they are the most important defenders of democracy and just distribution. In this fight we need tough and brave leaders like France Castro.
Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan
The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights this 2018 was awarded to the Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan, represented by Larisa Kharkova, Nurbek Kushakbaev and Amin Eleusinov.
Trade Union leaders and activists of Kazakhstan face severe repression in due to their involvement with trade unions rights, and the rights of the working people in their country.
Kushakbaev and Eleusinov have been imprisoned, but were released just before the award ceremony. Now there share faith with Kharkova who is living with great restrictions of civil liberties. A national court ruling has banned the confederation of independent trade unions (KNPRK), and unfair fines are a heavy burden for the three union activists.
Union rights has been under immense pressure for years, and the authorities show little respect for the right to organize. The ruthless approach was above all illustrated in 2011 during a strike in the oil city Zhanaozen, where at least 14 workers were shot and killed by their law enforcement.
The right to organize is a human right. That right is under attack in countries like Kazakhstan, where independent trade union leaders are prosecuted and harassed by their government. There can be no human rights without trade union rights. The Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan was awarded the prize for their relentless efforts on behalf of workers in Kasakhstan and the world.
The South African trade union CSAAWU (Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union) was awarded The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights 2017 due to their constant struggle for the underpaid, overworked and discriminated workers of South African vineyards.
CSAAWU received the prize for their constant fight for decent working conditions for severely exploited workers, and their ability to organize a grassroots movement with very limited resources.
CSAAWU is a young union, yet it has already launched two important strikes. However several important battles remain in the struggle for fair and just working conditions in the South-African vineyards.
The Arthur Svensson prize for 2016 was awarded to LabourStart for their successful promotion of labour rights throughout the world.
Labour start has run about 240 e-mail campaigns in 18 years directed at governments and companies that have failed to respect labour rights. During these years the organization has built up a global network of 140.000 individuals who receives information and can be mobilized to participate in campaigns within hours.
LabourStart campaign for previous winners of the Arthur Svensson prize
It is probable that these campaigns have been crucial to several objects such as to free imprisoned union leaders and to make sure that companies puts an end to harassment of union leaders and engage in collective agreements. This has been the case for Jalila al-Salman who won the Arthur Svensson prize last year together with her colleague Mahdi Abu Deeb. As a result of a successful Labour start campaign in 2012 she was released from prison and Abu Deebs sentence was reduced. In 2016 on april the 4th Dheeb was finally released from his unjust imprisonment.
Quick response is crucial
Labour start maintains a close relationship with international labour movement. The campaigns are often initialized from requests from a global union and Labour start maintain close contact and collaboration with the unions throughout the campaigns. Regardless Labour start is still an independent network of activists and takes its own decisions. The ability to act within short time frames are crucial to be able to counteract severe violations of labour rights such as when union leaders are faced with imprisonment or death.
Mahdi Abu Dheeb
and Jalila al-Salman
The 2015 Arthur Svensson Prize was awarded to the Bahrain Teachers Association (BTA) by leader Mahdi Abu Dheeb and deputy leader Jalila al-Salman. They were imprisoned in 2011, tortured and humiliated because they encouraged strikes among teachers.
Mahdi Abu Dheeb was sentenced to five years in prison in 2011.
Jalila al-Salman was released after nearly six months in prison, but still suffers from a job ban and restrictions on her rights to speech. Abu Dheeb was released in 2016. Abu Dheeb was listed as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International and they were ready to do the same with al-Salman.
Freedom of expression and freedom of association are suppressed in The Kingdom of Bahrain. The people is denied basic rights. Opposition against the Government is cracked down. Public employees, especially within health, education and municipalities have the last years been suspended or fired on suspicion of political acitivity. Several have been arrested, and there have been torture-related deaths in prison.
This has especially affected teachers and their union. The teachers union was “dissolved” by the government. Government keeps an iron hand to control teachers and students, damaging democracy, which also leads to weaken educational institutions and undermine people’s right to learn. This is ongoing outside media attention and in the dark of the world spotlight.
The Arthur Svensson committee and the Norwegian labour movement believe it is important to reinforce the spotlight on the conditions that teachers and students in Bahrain are suffering under.
The committee also underline the importance of their struggle for basic trade union rights in a very suppressing regime.
The 2014 Arthur Svensson Prize is awarded to Napoléon Gómez Urrutia, General Secretary of Los Mineros, the National Miners’ and Metalworkers’ Union of Mexico (SNTMMSRM).
Napoleón Gómez Urrutia and Los Mineros plays an important role in the struggle to be able to engage in free and democratic trade union work in Mexico, and for decent wages and safe working conditions. The fight has demanded high sacrifices. Gómez Urrutia has been the victim of huge and brutal anti-union campaigns from both the authorities and the mining companies.
One important reason for this, is the strong condemnation Gómez Urrutia and Los Mineros expressed in the aftermath of a mining tragedy in 2006 in which 65 workers lost their lives.
Los Mineros and Gómez Urrutia were horrified when they arrived at the scene of the tragedy: the company Grupo Mexico and the labour department inspectors had ignored the hazardous working conditions at the mine, and failed fatally in the rescue operation.
It was Gómez Urrutia and Los Mineros’ clear opinion that Grupo Mexico was more concerned with saving its own reputation, than workers’ lives. Gómez Urrutia also publicly accused Grupo Mexico and the government of “industrial homicide”.
Consequently four trade unionists were murdered, and after he himself had been exposed to death threats and extensive repression, Gomez Urrutia left Mexico in 2006.
Gomez Urrutia went back to Mexico from his Exile in 2018 when he was elected to the senate.
The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights for 2013 was awarded to Russian trade union leader Valentin Urusov and his struggle for labour rights and freedom of association.
Urusov spent several years in jail after leading a strike against dangerous working conditions and low pay in the diamond industry. Urusov was jailed on what were obviously fabricated accusations, and both the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Russian and international trade union organisations have been involved in attempts to get him released.
Valentin Urusov led the trade union Profsvoboda at Alrosa, the world's second largest diamond mining company, based in the northern Sakha province of Russia. In August 2008 a thousand workers, led by Urusov, held a hunger strike in protest of inhumane working conditions and low pay. A week later, Urusov was arrested, driven out to the taiga and beaten up. The police threatened to kill him and forced him to
sign a confession admitting possession of drugs. The police had brought one of Alrosa's managers along as a witness, an example of how the company controls the courts and the police in the republic.
Urusov was released in March 2013 after it became known he had been nominated for the Svensson prize. The rest of his sentence was converted fines and prohibition to leave the country.
The 2012 Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights was awarded to Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union. They received the prize for their persistent grass root struggle and mass mobilization for better pay and working conditions in the Cambodian clothing industry.
Union work is dangerous in Cambodia. The Cambodian law grants organizing and collective bargaining rights. However, there are numerous cases of harassment and violent attacks on union members; violations carried out by both employers and the state authorities. Several trade union leaders have been killed, and several times more sacked for union activity and joining strikes for decent working conditions.
C.CAWDU succeeded in pressuring the authorities to negotiate and increase the 61 USD minimum wage, a wage that is still below a living wage.
C.CAWDU was also crucial to the establishment of the Cambodian main association CLC.
Shaher Sae'd received the Arthur Svensson award in 2011 for his work for the Palestinian labour movement and for the rights of Palestinian working people. He showed deep commitment to this struggle despite harsh political conditions.
Highlighting the political battle the candidate represents was an important factor in the choice of winner this year. Shaher Sae'd has shown outstanding leadership of the Palestinian trade union movement, while the political and financial framework has made this work especially difficult.
The Palestinian people have fought against occupation, as well as an independent state for more than 60 years. Under the leadership of Shaher Sae'd, PGFTU has shown a will for dialogue and cooperation with Histadrut, the organisation of trade unions in Israel.
Sae'd has carried out his work at the risk of his own and his family's safety and has been imprisoned a number of times. Nevertheless, he has continued his work directed towards the Palestinian Self-Government administration to improve the rights of Palestinian workers.
The 2010 award was an expression of deep respect for Chibebe's fearless commitment to labour rights and democracy in Zimbabwe. His untiring efforts have gotten him arrested, tortured and imprisoned several times. The jury considered Wellington Chibebe a symbol for the global struggle for union rights.
The award was also a recognition to the ZCTU as an organization and their relentless struggle for union rights in Zimbabwe.