|JOINT EFFORT: Australian unions and Fiji community working together for change.|
Coupfourpointfive talks to Eric Lee, the founder of LabourStart - the online news service of the international trade union movement. LabourStart has a website, a syndicated news service, plus a huge mailing list and has conducted dozens of global online campaigns, usually in conjunction with the International Trade Union Confederation, (ITUC). Recently, it ran the online campaign Fiji: Withdraw anti-union laws, respect workers' rights, which last week helped secure the release of Daniel Urai and Felix Anthony.
"Labourstart's campaign prompted more than 4,000 message of protests to Fiji embassies worldwide in less than 24 hours ... servers crashed and began sending out messages that they were over quota"
C4.5: For those who don't know, what is Labourstart and what are its goals?
LEE: LabourStart is the news and campaigning website of the international trade union movement. It was set up in 1998 and is today based in London. There are about 900 volunteer correspondents who provide the news in around 30 languages, and about 80,000 supporters on its mailing lists. Its goals are to strengthen the trade union movement around the world and to defend workers' rights.
C4.5: With all of the workers issues worldwide that need highlighting, how does Labourstart decide what to campaign on?
LEE: We are often approached by national unions but our preference is to work with global union federations and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) where possible. We never launch a campaign on our own initiative.
C4.5: How did it become interested in workers rights in Fiji?
LEE: We have had a long interest in Fiji going back several years. In this particular campaign, we were approached by the ITUC for help.
C4.5: What in particular makes Fiji a cause for Labourstart and the union movement worldwide?
LEE: The arrests of trade union leaders are a terrible thing - a clear violation of human rights. And in Fiji, this is part of a pattern of violations of human rights. Even though Fiji is a small country, the repressive policies of your regime are well know throughout the world, particularly in the trade union movement.
C4.5: The Daniel Urai and Felix Anthony case/s hits home the reality of labour rights in Fiji at the moment. Tell us what you think is important to note in what's happening to the two unionists.
LEE: The extraordinary thing that happened here was the speed of the international trade union response - we had over 4,000 email messages of protest delivered to Fijian embassies around the world in just a few hours. The email servers for the Fijian embassies in Paris and Wellington crashed, and began sending out error messages they were "over quota". This only encouraged us to continue. Within 24 hours, both Urai and Anthony were out of jail.
C4.5: You may or may not know but support on the ground for Urai and Anthony has been divided. We therefore have a situation where the international community is more supportive of the two unionists than their fellow citizens are. In your experience, what is a way for people to move forward?
LEE: I can't speak with any authority about internal Fijian politics. In all countries, people are often (and sadly) divided by their ideas, religions, ethnicities, and so on. But what unites us - or should unite us - is a respect for basic human rights. We encourage trade unionists everywhere, regardless of their nationality, or skin colour, or beliefs, to work together to make our movement stronger, and our societies better.
|Struggle in Colombia|
LEE: There are countries with much worse situations, to be honest. Colombia, for instance, continues to hold the world record for the most trade unionists killed every year. And there are many countries which do better - including most of the Commonwealth countries. One cannot imagine in many countries a government trying to bust up unions the way Fiji's rulers have done.
C4.5: Will there be other campaigns and initiatives to highlight Fiji's cause?
LEE: Right up until Anthony's arrest, we were already running a different campaign to protest new legislation introduced in Fiji which was widely seen as anti-union. We closed that campaign to launch the one in support of Urai and Anthony. We're committed to continuous campaigns in defence of human rights and workers' rights in Fiji and I expect there will be more such campaigns until your country has its democracy restored.
C4.5: There's been criticism from some Fiji people for what they say is a belated union interest in Fiji. What's your thoughts on such a gripe?
LEE: From my limited experience, I've seen unions interested in Fiji from the moment there was a military coup, if not earlier. Unions get involved anywhere and everywhere that workers' rights are trampled upon. Fiji is only one of the countries union are focusing on.
C4.5: Is there anything else you want to add?
LEE: I hope that trade unionists in Fiji who benefit from international trade union solidarity will reciprocate by showing their support for LabourStart's other campaigns. Right now we're campaigning against vicious strike-breaking and union busting in two former Soviet republics (Georgia and Kazakhstan), in support of Turkish leather workers sacked for "occupying" their factory, backing Egyptian unions' demand for a new labour law, and supporting telecoms workers in the USA whose German employer is denying them the right to form a union. Though these campaigns may seem a bit remote to you in Fiji, don't forget that for the thousands of trade unionists in countries like the USA and Turkey, Fiji seems pretty remote too. But they supported the campaign to release Anthony and Urai because they believe in the old trade union slogan, now relevant more than ever: "An injury to one is an injury to all."
|AIMING HIGH: Democracy rally in Egypt. LabourStart led new labour law campaign.|
More international exposure for Fiji's cause: see below
Taking action works: even half a world away
ACTU & ACCI call for freedom of association in Fiji