A day of action to protect the right to strike

On Wednesday February 18, 2015 we marked a day set aside by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) as a day of action to protect the Right to Strike.

Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), an affiliate of ITUC, joins all workers across the world in this campaign to protect workers’ fundamental right to strike.

The campaign involves, among other things, soliciting for Government support to protect the right to strike and secondly to get support for the dispute on the right to strike to be resolved speedily by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). BFTU has so far written to the Government of Botswana to solicit support as mentioned above and also Botswana Confederation of Commerce Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM) to get their stand on this matter.

The right to strike is a powerful and fundamental foundation of democracy and economic justice. When employers refuse to negotiate with workers, when populations rise up against dictatorship, people can withdraw their labour to balance the dominance and privilege of the few with the power of collective action. Time and again this fundamental right is all that stands in the way of injustice and exploitation.

The world’s employer groups are now trying to kill the right to strike. They want a global workforce that is powerless and passive.

They want to remove the bulwark against dictatorship. They intend to change the balance of power in the workplace and in society for the worse, and forever.

Virtually every country in the world recognises that workers have the right to take strike action. Some 90 countries have it enshrined in their national constitutions, putting the rights established over many decades at the International Labour Organization into law.

The international Labour Standards especially Convention 87 has been cited by many jurisdictions in determining cases on the right to strike. The latest case being a landmark ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court that has pronounced that the Right to Strike is protected by Convention 87. In Botswana Section 13 of the Constitution gives workers the right to organize and belong to trade unions. The Trade Dispute Act gives organized workers the right to strike under section 39.

Since 2012 employers are trying to turn back the clock on over 50 years of international legal recognition of the right to strike, starting at the ILO and moving from there to pick apart national laws that guarantee this most fundamental of legal rights.

They have tried to paralyze ILO procedures, holding its vital work to ransom in order to get their way. They have created a stalemate at the world’s labour body, and working people are paying the price as ILO judgments on vital employment issues are blocked.

There is a way out of the deadlock. The ILO’s rules say that when a dispute between employers, workers or governments cannot be settled at the ILO itself, then the International Court of Justice (ICJ) must be asked to rule on the dispute. But the employer groups are trying to block the rule of law by opposing the ICJ. They don’t want justice to prevail. They prefer to try and blackmail their opponents into submission.

Many governments support the union movement’s demand to follow the ILO

Constitution and take the case to the ICJ. But some are sitting on the fence. Those governments, and all the employer groups, must be called to account for their refusal to respect international law and the crucial role of the ILO.

The clandestine action of some employers and their ally regimes and the indifferent ones must be looked at with impunity. Such behaviour is underhand tactic of weakening the collective option of the workers.

The strength of workers against capitalism has never been anything beyond what workers can say or do as a collective. In all fairness the right to strike is a key component of the collective bargaining process and extends also to the employer; employers may lockdown premises and disallow workers in the premises of their employment.

Across the world workers undertake in a strike with difficulty, as they also stand to lose in terms of earnings. It is a measure of last resort against bullish employers.

A strike action brings societal attention to concerns that the employer wants to turn a blind eye to.

When matters are in the public sphere they cannot be swept under the rug any longer, as answers are demanded by the masses of the people. In instances, making the employer aware of the strike option is all what is needed to get the employer to have a change of heart towards bargaining.

BFTU, on behalf of its affiliates, on behalf of workers across the nation and in unison with workers across the globe recognises the day of action to protect the Right to Strike.

As part of its activities on this campaign BFTU and its affiliates will stage demonstrations in Jwaneng and Orapa to raise awareness against the impending injustice on the labour movement.

The demonstrations will be held at 5pm today and all workers and sympathisers are invited.

We further call upon all workers across the country to join hands with us wherever there are and observe this day of action in whatever manner they deem fit.

At the demonstration we will observe a moment of silence to remember our fallen heroes across the globe who died in defense of workers’ rights and in particular the right to strike. We will also remember those who have been dismissed from their employment for exercising their right to strike.

Long live workers’ Power. Indeed we have nothing to lose but our chains!

Mr Gadzani Mhotsha (74869660) Secretary General,

Botswana Federation of Trade unions (BFTU)

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