Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–September 14, 2012. Yesterday, Hassine Abassi, Gerneral Secretary, Tunisian General Union of Labor (UGTT) and S. Salman Jaddar Al Mahfoodh, General Secretary, General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU), received the 2012 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award on behalf of their respective labor movements, as emblematic of the labor movements across the Middle East working to preserve democracy, justice and freedom during a ceremony at the AFL-CIO’s headquarters in Washington.
At the ceremony, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recognized the labor movements throughout the Arab region for their ongoing role in the struggle for democracy:
I’m proud to honor the brave working people of Bahrain and Tunisia, who transformed a wave of protests into the mass movement of democracy and economic equality that has come to be known as the Arab Spring. Unionists are a leading voice against corruption, for women’s rights and for a robust democracy with the rights of working people at its core…
Their courage inspires us, and we at the AFL-CIO have been proud to join the unions of Tunisia and Bahrain in this struggle. We will use every available channel to pursue the fundamental human rights that they so courageously champion. And we will not stop until you’ve achieved the goals you want and need.
“This award is recognition of the revolution for freedom and dignity in Tunisia, and it is confirmation of strong global labor solidarity. While we take pride in being recognized, we feel a growing responsibility to continue our common struggle for freedom and democracy with strong will and determination,” Hassine Abassi, General Secretary of the UGTT.
Said S. Salman Jaddar Al Mahfoodh: “This award does not only belong to the GBFTU, but first and foremost, it belongs to the more than 4,000 Bahraini workers and unionists who have been suffering from unjust firings and the consequences of expressing their opinions. It also belongs to the Bahraini people, who are still struggling for freedom, democracy and social justice.”
Additional Background on Labor Movements and the Arab Uprisings
As Tunisians took to the streets in January 2011, the Tunisian General Union Labor (UGTT) emerged at the forefront of the people’s movement for dignity, coordinating actions across the country and demanding political change and a more equitable society. After 23 years of authoritarian control, President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali fled the country, paving the way for democratic transition. The extraordinary events in Tunisia set in motion an unprecedented rise in protests, with working women and men from Morocco to Yemen raising their voices for change.
In Bahrain, the people converged on the “Pearl Roundabout” calling for equity and democracy, only to be violently repressed. The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) has remained a constant and unwavering voice for peace, democratic change and dialogue in spite of an ongoing campaign of repression again trade unionists and a broad range of civil society, including human rights defenders, teachers and medical professionals.
The courage of these two federations represents a broader movement for justice in the region. In Egypt, workers and independent unions led unprecedented strikes and job actions, which gave strength and power to the protest in Tahrir Square that successfully brought down the longtime President Hosni Mubarak. Unions in Morocco continue to stand with protest and youth movements in that country to advance their longstanding demands for meaningful political reform, and independent unions in Algeria are at the forefront of citizen struggles for democracy, economic justice and worker rights in that authoritarian state. Despite hostility, workers in Iraq have held fast to demands for their rights—including for revisions to a Saddam Hussein-era labor law— while protests and strikes, such as those in Kuwait, are helping to make gains for workers and for real political change. In Yemen, hundreds of thousands of Yemeni citizens have bravely rejected their government’s half-hearted reforms through rallies and protests that they have sustained for months.
About the Meany-Kirkland Awards
The annual Meany-Kirkland Award, created in 1980 and named for the first two presidents of the AFL-CIO, recognizes outstanding examples of the international struggle for human rights through trade unions. Previous winners have included Wellington Chibebe of Zimbabwe; Ela Bhatt, founder of India’s Self Employed Women’s Association, the Liberian rubber workers of FAWUL; Colombian activist Yessika Hoyos and the General Secretary of “Los Mineros” Mexican Labor Union, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia.