Activists’ hard work fighting for workers’ rights often goes unrecognized. This week, however, two leading labor activists received global recognition for their defense of vulnerable workers and innovative organizing and advocacy campaigns. The AFL-CIO applauds our long-standing partners Kailash Satyarthi and Alejandra Ancheita.
Hundreds of millions of fans around the globe cheer on their national teams at major sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup. Beneath the fanfare, host countries require vast amounts of labor to pull off the massive infrastructure updates and stadium construction needed for such events. The sad truth is that those who stage these events often undercut laws protecting wages, organizing rights, and health and safety protections. It is often migrant workers who pay the price for these fast-paced projects with injury, wage theft, forced labor and even death.
A new initiative called Contratados, which refers to being contracted under a temporary work program, aims to give workers more power in the recruitment process and makes sure employers and recruiters are held accountable for their actions. Spearheaded by Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM), a trans-national migrant worker center with offices in Mexico and the United States, Contratados features an interactive website, a hotline, pocket-sized know-your-rights comics, audio novelas and a transnational radio campaign designed to provide workers with resources to more securely navigate the recruitment and employment process.
Cambodian garment workers sewing products for companies such as H&M, Gap, Adidas, Zara and Puma make $100 a month and suffer through long hours in harsh working conditions. Their labor supports a $5 billion industry, but their demands for a living wage have only been answered with violence. When workers and their unions held protests late last year to demand a living wage increase, police killed five workers and imprisoned another 25 union activists on criminal charges that have not been dismissed.
The federal judiciary of Mexico extended protection late last week to the embattled leader of the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers (Los Mineros), Napoleón Gómez Urrutia. In what will go down as a historic victory for the Mexican labor movement, the three judges of the circuit court unanimously declared the arrest warrants against Gómez unconstitutional, siding with Gómez’s legal defense team that the charges were without merit and politically motivated. This ruling will allow Gómez to return to Mexico in absolute freedom, as the Mexican government must now cancel extradition requests pending in Canada and with Interpol.
Last week African trade union leaders from across the continent converged on Washington, D.C., to push U.S. and African leaders to focus on decent work, worker rights and job creation during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. They challenged the growing “Africa Rising" narrative, which mainly focuses on macro-level economic growth, trade opportunities and growing consumer markets for international corporations, and sought to refocus the debate on policy changes that would improve the lives of working families.
For months, thousands of children and families from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have been turning themselves in at the southern U.S. border, fleeing widespread violence, poverty and corruption in their communities. This influx of refugees has strained the resources of front-line responders and evoked both humanitarian responses from community groups and local unions and xenophobic backlash from right-wing politicians and activists.
Today marks Nelson Mandela International Day, a celebration of the great South African leader’s birth, life and legacy. It was launched in 2008 with a unanimous decision by the U.N. General Assembly. Mandela dedicated his life to fighting for equality, justice, democracy and the dignity of working people. He encouraged us all to act together to change the world for the better. And around the world today, people are committing to service projects in his honor.
Today, workers, women, and activists from the LGBTQ community protested outside the Embassy of Brunei in Washington, D.C., as part of an international day of action against the sultan of Brunei’s ongoing union-busting and human rights violations. Brunei is a tiny, oil-rich country in Southeast Asia, ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who has used his role as absolute monarch to amass an estimated wealth of $20 billion and maintain strict control over society. Under the banner of “Don’t Sleep with the Sultan,” UNITE HERE Local 25 led a broad array of workers and activists in the demonstration, which drew attention to labor and human rights violations in both the United States and Brunei.
By caring for our homes and loved ones, domestic workers do the work that makes all other work possible. Unfortunately, the important labor of some 100 million domestic workers worldwide frequently goes unrecognized. In fact, domestic workers are vulnerable to labor exploitation, sexual assault and even forced labor and trafficking because they are mainly women, their workplace is behind closed doors and, in many places, they still are not covered under labor laws. In the United States, domestic workers are excluded from the most basic fairness and safety regulations on the job, including minimum wage and hour laws.