Last year the Belarusian independent trade unions that received the Arthur Svensson prize two years ago, were banned and the leaders were jailed or managed to flee the country. The activists in exile has established the organisation "Salidarnast" that continues the fight for trade union rights and support the workers of Belarus. At a solidarity conference in Bremen this week, the independent Belarusian trade union movement was finally presented with the symbol of receiving the Arthur Svensson Prize in 2021. In 2021, the pandemic meant that we could not have a regular prize ceremony to honor the prize winner, and the following year the regime banned the entire trade union movement and imprisoned activists.
Trade unions banned and leaders jailed
In 2021, the independent trade union movement in Belarus was awarded the Svensson Prize for its courageous fight for workers in the country. The prize winners have been opposed for several years by Lukashenko's regime, a regime many see as Europe's last dictatorship.
The persecution was particularly intensified after the presidential election in 2020. When Lukashenko falsified the election results and declared himself the winner, it led to large demonstrations and strikes. It peaked when the independent trade union movement was completely banned last year, and union leaders and activists were jailed.
The Lukashenko regime has banned the free and independent trade union movement. calling them etremists. The leader of the main organization BKDP, Aliaksandr Yarashuk, was sentenced to four years in prison for his trade union activity. Today, around 50 trade union leaders are in prison or in penal colonies, under very poor conditions, together with at least 1,400 other political prisoners.
Solidarity conference in Bremen 23-24. October
Some of the leaders and activists nevertheless managed to escape and established last autumn the organization "Salidarnast" (Solidarity in Belarusian) in exile. Their avtivities revolves around disseminating information, running political campaigns, networking, training trade union activists, legal assistance to prisoners and help to prisoners' families. In addition, Salidarnast works to be as well prepared as possible when Lukashenko is once removed from power and it becomes possible to carry out trade union work again.
This week they hosted a solidarity conference in Bremen, Germany, where representatives from the global and European trade union movement, together with Belarusian trade union leaders in exile, discussed the way forward.
At the conference Espen Løken could hand over the symbol showing that the independent trade unions of Belarus were awarded the Arthur Svensson Prize in 2021. In 2021, the pandemic meant that we could not have a regular prize ceremony to honor the prize winner, and the following year the regime banned the entire trade union movement and imprisoned activists.
The sanctions must not end up as paper decisions without effect
Right now, the focus is particularly on following up the UN's ILO's decision to introduce sanctions against the Belarusian regime for violating the fundamental convention on freedom of association. Salidarnast is mobilizing for these sanctions, which were adopted by a large vote in ILO, to be comprehensive and effective, and not just remain as paper decisions. Many countries ignore the decision.
The ILO's sanction options are in practice the UN's only real option to introduce sanctions against a regime. Trade unions are very concerned that the decision is not effectively followed up by all members, and fears that the ILO will also become a toothless body without ability to put power behind decisions. This is something that the Norwegian trade union movement must also follow up on.
See also the web page of Salidarnast for news and more information about the situation for the trade unions