Supporting the Campaign for Human and Democratic Rights in the Middle East

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2011 National Delegate Conference
13 June 2011

Conference notes:

1)the movement for social and economic justice and political freedom that have swept across the Middle East and North Africa, following the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt

2)and welcomes the success of the popular movement in Tunisia in bringing to an end the rule of dictatorship in that country;

3)the courage and determination of trade unionists and human rights groups campaigning in Egypt in order to establish a democratic and accountable political system in that country and throughout the Middle East.

4)with concern that governments in a number of other Middle Eastern countries have adopted different tactics to pacify and frustrate the popular movement for democracy and human and democratic rights;

5)the worsening of the human rights situation in Iran and the regime’s attempts to prolong its rule through employing brute force and attacks on the workers and trade union organisations.

6)the mass participation of youth, women, workers, patriotic middle classes in the movement to bring democracy, accountability and social justice;

7)the important role played by the organised labour in the success of the popular struggle. Tunisian General Trade Union (UGTT) played a major role in mobilising for the final demonstration and the General Strike on the 14th January that forced the government of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s dictator, to step down;

8)UGTT is supporting a model of development which “will provide and guarantee equal opportunities, right to work, decent and sensible employment opportunities, and steady income to afford the basic necessities of the working people.”;

9)that in response to the Egyptian government’s intransigence in accepting the popular demands for change in Egypt, the trade unions started a series of strikes. Although some stoppages are mainly about wage demands, but it is clear that they are timed to support the pro-democracy movement. Tens of thousands of workers stayed away in Alexandria to demand Mubarak’s resignation. Employees of the state-run Suez Canal Company, public transport workers in Cairo and iron and steel workers in other areas have also joined the strikes.

10)that the responses of Western governments to the recent events in the Middle East have subtly changed since mid- January as they attempt to position themselves to be ‘friends’ of the new regime in Tunisia, whatever shape that might take.

Conference further notes:

a)the Iranian government has embarked on a calculated policy of repressive measures ranging from high number of executions since January 2011 to arrest and imprisonment of democratic and progressive personalities including leaders of the women and youth and students movements in the country. Trade unions are suppressed and trade union leaders are imprisoned.

b)Through multiple arrests, imprisonment, torture and executions, the Iranian government continues to oppress the independent trade union movement in Iran. Often these attacks are made on the allegation of Moharebeh (enmity towards God). This allegation has been used as excuse to execute activists such as teacher Farzad Kamagar.

c)Leaders of trade unions have been imprisoned, particularly from the Sugar workers and the syndicate of workers of the Tehran Bus company (Shareket-e Vahed) who have had hundreds of activist arrested or imprisoned, including at one point most of their executive board.

d)The most well known trade unionist in prison is Mansour Osanloo, President of Vahed, who having been arrested and tortured in 2005 and 2006 has been in prison since June 2007.

e)During this time Mansour has been at serious risk of ill-health due to the regimes failure to provide adequate medical aid for a serious medical condition.

Conference believes, Osanloo’s case is symbolic. He stands for all trade unionists in Iran and around the world who are persecuted by their government, even murdered, simply because they created a free trade union. It is our moral duty to stand by them in solidarity.

Conference, therefore, calls on the necessary procedure to be enacted by our union, to confer honorary membership of UNISON upon Osanloo, in recognition of his commitment to trade unionism and as a message to all trade unionists in Iran of our support and solidarity for their struggle.

UNISON fully supports not only demonstrators in Cairo and the rest of Egypt but also all those across the region who are seeking an end to dictatorship and authoritarian rule and are fighting for real, open, secular and inclusive democracy. Conference fully supports these demands for democratic freedoms and the calls of campaigners in Egypt for the end of the abuse of trade union rights and for a halt of repression. In particular we welcome the formation of independent trade unions and support the role they are playing in support of those seeking genuine reform.

Conference welcomes the positive role played by the International Trade Union Confederation in supporting both existing affiliates in the region, many of whom were actively involved in the uprisings, and the newly emerged free and independent trade unions in countries such as Egypt. Conference notes that the ITUC has launched an appeal to support unions in the Middle East and North Africa, including the setting up of an ITUC office in Cairo, and welcomes UNISON’s contribution to this appeal.