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10th Arthur Svensson award ceremony

In a ceremony at Rockefeller music hall in Oslo 12th of June the Philippine trade unionist France Castro received the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights 2019. 200 representatives of Norwegian and international trade unions took part honouring her.

Chairman of the prize committee, Frode Alfheim, had the following speech explaining why France Castro received the prize:

"Dear honourable guests, friends and comrades.

First of all I would like welcome you. It is a pleasure to see that so many of you have come to the Arthur Svensson international prize for trade union rights ceremony.

My name is Frode Alfheim, I am president of the union Industri Energi, and I am honoured to represent the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights Committee.

Together with me in the prize committee, I have the following persons:

Gerd Kristiansen

Trine Lise Sundnes,

Liv Tørres,

Atle Høie,

Randi Bjørgen and

Haldis Holst

These knowledgable persons are primarily representing themselves, but they also represent a wider national and international trade union movement. Including The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), Norwegian People’s Aid, The Nobel Peace Center, the Confederation of Vocational Unions, IndustriAll Global Union, Education International and The Norwegian Union of Commerce and Office Employees. I will use this opportunity to express my gratitude towards you.

This year marks an anniversary for the Arthur Svensson prize. Today is the 10th time the prize is awarded . The prize is presented to a person or organisation that has worked predominately to promote trade union rights and/or strengthen trade union organizing around the world. And during these years the prize has been awarded to trade union heroes from all continents. The first one was Wellington Chibebe from Zimbabwe, thereafter strong trade unionists like Shaher Sae’d from Palestine, Valentin Urusov from Russia, Napoleon Gomez Urrutia from Mexico, and Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila al-Salman from Bahrain. Also organisations have received the award, the first being the textile workers union C.CAWDU in Cambodia, later the union for workers at South African wineyards, CSAAWU and last year the independent trade unions of Kazakhstan.

Common for all these prize winners are that they are fighting for basic trade union rights and to organize workers under harsh conditions. Several of the countries where they come from are on the ITUC list of the ten worst countries in the world for workers.

In 2016 the prize was awarded to an organisation campaigning for trade union rights and conveying news every day about workers’ fights all over the world. This was LabourStart, and we are happy to welcome their founding editor, Eric Lee, here today. Welcome, Eric Lee.

The prize is named after the Norwegian trade union legend Arthur Svensson.

Arthur was the president of the Norwegian Union of Chemical Industry Workers for 17 years. He made a great impression on Norwegian society and was very involved on the international stage. We are proud to have the prize bear his name – and we are very happy to have his two daughters – Eva and Kristin Svensson – with us here tonight.

This year the prize once again is awarded to a trade union hero from one of the worst countries for workers, according to ITUC. On behalf of the prize committee,

I congratulate France Castro from the Philippines with this years’s award.

We are proud to have you amongst our laureates.

You are now entering an exclusive community of 10 strong union heroes and organizations.

Last year the independent trade unions of Kazakhstan received the prize. Their leaders were not allowed to travel abroad and could not come to Oslo and receive the award. Partly they were in prison, partly in house arrest. Please direct your attention to the screen. Our comrades from Kazakhstan, represented by Larisa Kharkova, want to congratulate France Castro with the prize.

(A video of Larisa Kharkova saluting France Castro was shown)

Thank you Larisa and thank you for the solidarity from Kazakhstan. Unfortunately the struggle for trade union rights in Kazakhstan is still hard, but we know that Larisa and her comrades in the independent trade unions still fight to organize the workers and to get recognized by the authorities. Finally the workers will win.

A strong bond exists between organized workers. It is a sense of solidarity that would be hard to describe to those who have never experienced it. A bond that is hard to understand for those who have never been a part of the struggle and never stood up for the rights of others.

It is the kind of solidarity that doesn’t distinguish between industries, that does not know colour, sexual orientation or religion, and does not stop at any border.

The solidarity between workers can be felt - from the mines in Mexico and Russia to wineyards in South Africa. From the the oil rigs of Kazakhstan and textile factories in Cambodia to the classrooms in Bahrain and in the Philippines.

Dear France Castro. What you have in common with our other laureates, is that you have organised strikes, protests and you have for years stood in the front of the fight for decent wages, working conditions and welfare for workers.

According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) your country is among the 10 worst countries in the world for workers and trade unionists. The Philippines 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.

You are one of the brave persons who stands up for democracy and workers’ rights. You worked as a teacher and established a union in Quezon City. After a few years you were elected Secretary General of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), and took the lead assembling teachers in one trade union.

Under your leadership the union has in a short time grown to become one of the largest trade unions in the Philippines. And 3 years ago your union negotiated the first collective agreement for public school teachers, an agreement which recognizes the right to strike.

You represent teachers who have been persecuted, imprisoned, shot at and even killed. You have gone far beyond what is expected. You have been willing to put youselve in danger to defend the rights of workers. You have sacrified a lot.

You took the struggle for important workers’ issues into the Parliament when you were elected into the Parliament in 2016 as candidate from your union. You pushed for the expansion of maternity leave for all women, you have fought for higher minimum wages. As representative for teachers you have fought against neoliberal reforms in education. Besides these issues you have 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. You and your union have for years been engaged in indigineous people’s right to education, an engagement that last November led to you being attacked by paramilitary forces and detained during a solidarity mission in Lumad schools in Talaingod. Both inside and outside the Parliament you have been fighting for the poor, the workers and the human rights against powerful opponents.

We are deeply impressed by your courage, and honored to stand by you.

Today we are not only celebrating the working people and awarding the Arthur Svensson prize. We are also making the world smaller.

Our movement is an international movement and leaders of all countries and all businesses must know that we are also a movement of solidarity. An injustice to teachers in the Philippines is an injustice to all workers. Of all nationalities and of all industries and trades.

The Arthur Svensson award is a reminder that no worker should stand alone.

For every year that passes our eyes are opened to new struggles and to new injustice done to working people.

The annual reports from the international confederation of trade unions show that it is getting tougher for workers in almost every part of the world. Free speech is being limited, attacks on union members are increasing, the right to strike is being restricted and more workers are being denied the basic right to form and join unions.

The crackdown on union rights is not a national, but a global phenomenon. We see it in all parts of the world.

Even in Norway we see precarious work and union busting on the rise.

Our struggles reminds us of what is on stake. But it is also a reminder that we live in a country that gives us the right to fight for our rights. A right that is an essential part of any democracy.

For us, that right is not only a privilege, but an obligation. We must use our freedom to stand up for the freedom of others. That is what the spirit of Arthur Svensson is about.

Labour rights are fundamental human rights. You cannot choose to follow these standards only when it suits you. They are not rights preserved for speeches and the rhetoric of diplomacy. On the contrary labour rights together with other human rights forms the very core of a civilised society

We are outraged when the freedom to organize is broken. We expect it to be respected. And it is not respected until all workers freely can form and join unions without consequences, without fear and without government persecution.

Our message to the authorities of the Philippines is that we will not rest until trade unions are respected as well as their leaders and members.

Dear France.

When I look back on the list of laureates of the Svensson award it makes me proud. It makes me proud to think about the personalities and the organisations that we have had the pleasure to get to know during these ten years.

It is with great admiration I recognize the difference they have made for working people all over the world.

When I look at the struggles of the unions in the Philippines the pride for this award and the commitment of international solidarity grows even stronger.

You stand up against great forces and your struggle continues.

You have shown solidarity and strength even when being attacked by superior forces. You have been a beacon of freedom in a region that is far from free.

You are a defender of human rights and labour rights. For this, we honour you with the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights.

Dear France Castro, please come up on the stage and receive the prize.


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