PBI-Canada and Labour Day 2019

Published by Brent Patterson on

Monday September 2nd is Labour Day in Canada.

Peace Brigades International-Canada both recognizes and celebrates this day and affirms the critical role played by the labour movement in the advancement of human rights. We are thankful for the solidarity and support provided by Unifor and National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) to our work.

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has highlighted, “The first Monday in September has been an official holiday in Canada since 1894.”

The CLC adds, “But the origin of Labour Day came 20 years before that, when unions started holding parades and rallies in Toronto and Ottawa to celebrate the successful 1872 Toronto printers’ strike – the original ‘fight for fairness’ that won major changes including the decriminalization of unions in Canada.”

The struggle for workers rights continues in this country and around the world.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association Maina Kiai has defined any person or organization defending labour rights as a human rights defender, as articulated in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The dangers that trade unionists face in countries where Peace Brigades International has staff and volunteers are still all too real.

In Colombia, 19 trade union activists were killed in 2017. In Honduras, 31 trade unionists were killed between 2009 and 2015. Between 2004 and 2017, 87 labour leaders were murdered in Guatemala. Many more were harassed and threatened.

Colombia

The Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project accompanies NOMADESC (the Association for Research and Social Action).

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has noted that “Berenice Celeita [is the] leader of CUPE’s partner in Colombia, NOMADESC.”

She and members of the SintraEmcali union were targeted in 2004 in an assassination plot for their opposition to the privatization of Emcali, a state-owned company providing water, telecommunications, and electricity services in the city of Cali.

In an interview Celeita did with CUPE, she highlighted, “It’s very important to keep sending labour delegations to Colombia to visit us and see with your own eyes what is happening. I am convinced that I am alive today because of the actions of solidarity.”

PBI-Colombia has also accompanied the Foundation Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (FCSPP) since 1998. The FCSPP was formed by several trade unions, social movement groups, and well-known Colombians in the context of the widespread persecution of political opposition, including union, social movement, and student leaders.

Overall, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) reminds us that despite the signing of the peace accord “violence, land grabs and dislocation” have not stopped in Colombia and that “regrettably some of these violent incidents are also associated with Canadian companies that have been emboldened by the 2008 Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.”

Mexico

The Peace Brigades International-Mexico Project works closely with the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Project (ProDESC) and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), two groups that are part of the Focal Group on Business and Human Rights.

The Focal Group works to ensure that the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are respected, including the “fundamental rights set out in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.”

Guatemala

The Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project accompanied workers with the SITRALU (the Lunafil Thread Factory Workers Union) in the late 1980s. The workers at that factory located just outside of Guatemala City were told that they would have to work additional twelve-hour weekend shifts without overtime pay. During the strike that ensued, PBI-Guatemala provided protective accompaniment to the workers 24 hours a day from June 1987 until July 1988 when the strike was settled in favour of the union.

PBI-Guatemala has also paccompanied an agriculture workers union (Movimiento de Trabajadores Campesinos). This past May Day, PBI-Guatemala highlighted a report by CODECA (the Campesino Development Committee) that found that 90 per cent of agricultural workers in Guatemala earn a monthly salary below what the minimum wage should provide.

Indonesia

The Peace Brigades International-Indonesia Project has collaborated with labour in the Jakarta area through a program in which human rights defenders participate in internships with local organizations, including unions.

One intern researched the situation of dock workers in Jayapura, while another did a research project on the right to organize for factory workers in Manokwari.

Peace Brigades International accompanies the human rights struggle for decent work, dignity, and respect for all workers.

For a listing of Labour Day activities across the country this year, please see this Canadian Labour Congress webpage.

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