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Belarusian independent trade unions don't give up

The repression against the independent trade unions in Belarus continues. Trade union leaders and local activists still get arrested. A regional court just decided that the local trade union at JSC Grodno Azot belonging to the largest union, BITU (BNP), is extremist, prohibits its activities and has ordered to liquidate the union. The confederation BKDP says in a recent statement that the detention and arrests of the leaders of the independent trade unions demonstrates that the Lukashenko regime is weak. The detention is aiming at intimidation of ordinary members, especially frighten them to take part in protests against the deterioration of the economic situation.

But the trade unions do not give up.14th of May the confederation BKDP made the following statement:

"The detention and arrest of leaders of the independent trade union movement demonstrates the weakness of the regime. At the January meeting of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, delegates voted in favour of a statement on negotiations between independent trade unions and the authorities to resolve the political and economic crisis in Belarus. Detentions and arrests can be regarded as a response to this statement. Refusal to negotiate and repression testify to the absence of the authorities’ intention to conduct a dialogue with the people on an equal footing. They can only talk to us in pre-trial detention centers.

However, everyone is already aware of the essence of Article 342 which is incriminated. It is also no secret that trade unions have nothing to do with organizing protests. The detention of BKDP leaders and trade union activists is aimed at intimidating ordinary members. A hint that if you join an independent trade union, you can end up in the KGB pre-trial detention center.

Another goal is preventive – the deterioration of the economic situation in the country will inevitably provoke economic protests on the part of impoverished workers. However, a protest can be effective if it is organized and controlled by the trade union. The result of the protest is negotiations and the signing of a compromise agreement. This is a civilized way of resolving conflicts, which has always been followed by independent trade unions. The authorities seem to opt for a different path – the violent suppression of spontaneous protests, the continuation of repression – not only political, but also economic. The repressive apparatus has already been trained for this.

It is difficult to imagine what trade union leaders and activists who remain at large can oppose in such a situation. We are grateful to everyone who expressed their support for independent trade unions at this difficult time. There are no effective countermeasures in international law. Many international trade union associations, national trade union centers and individual trade unions have already expressed their protest against the actions of the Belarusian authorities. However, things haven’t got forward an inch.

There are also less effective methods of influence, which for some reason are not used – about which independent trade unions have been discussing with various associations for a long time. This is membership in international trade union associations of the FPB (the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus) structures, which in fact are appendages of the authorities and employers. Their activity is not based on democracy and voluntariness, which is the main requirement of the charter of any international trade union association. These include the Belkhim trade union, transport workers, doctors, education sector, and, possibly, others. They are recognized as trade unions, while the leaders of democratic trade unions are placed in the KGB pre-trial detention center.

Democratic trade unions in Belarus have been under pressure and extermination on the part of the authorities since the very beginning of their existence, there were no easy times or liberalization for them. Previously, the authorities used to listen to the opinion of the ILO and make some concessions. However, this was a long time ago, and now “we have other things to worry about rather than the law”. Any ILO recommendations are ignored. However, trade unions have a real opportunity to show their solidarity – solidarity in action, when words and statements do not work. Trade union action is always more effective.

Our main objective is the release of our colleagues. Even if they are not physically tortured there, the fact of being placed in the KGB pre-trial detention center is psychological torture – the suspect or the accused is treated as a convict. Therefore, all forces – primarily international ones – should be aimed at liberation, since there are practically no internal forces left.

The trade union remains in the status of an operating legal entity and continues to work, based on the opportunities that are available. Every effort is made to unlock the sealed office. Union members can ask for help at any time."

Sources: BKDP and BITU


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